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Munich’s M8 Coupé has all the power and tech of the M5, in a more svelte package

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The M8 is now just one of a vast array of BMW’s M cars – although it’s a ‘proper’ M rather than a car with a conventional BMW name and an ‘M’ prefix.

If you’d been able to visit the M part of BMW’s website before websites existed, it would have consisted of a couple of models at most. Today, there are more than 20.

Good fun and with an impressive interior, the M8 gets better as you push harder

Even the M8 has three different bodystyles – coupé, four-door saloon and convertible – and a non-Competition variant available overseas, but not in the UK. This, the M8 Competition Coupé, feels like the most natural, traditional M of the various Eights, then – a two-door vehicle with a rigid shell and as much power as you’ll find in a modern M.

That means 616bhp driving through all four of its wheels, or just the rears if you decide to flick the correct switches, of which, as we’ll learn, there are rather a lot. For this amount of power, BMW asks you £123,470, although even at this price it’s possible to add a few more pounds. Our test car comes in £20k richer.

For this kind of outlay, then, there are loads of alternatives – everything from a Porsche 911 to a Bentley Continental GT to an Aston Martin Vantage and lots else in between. Here comes the best test in the business to see if the M8 is the best grand touring sports coupé.

The 8 Series line-up at a glance

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An entry-level 8 Series coupé is just below £75,000. For the equivalent M model to cost less than double as much is about the only way you might think of the M8 as keenly priced, when other M cars can now come at a far greater relative premium. There are six-cylinder petrol and diesel options in the mainstream range, as well as the turbo V8 M850i xDrive.

That BMW offers the flagship M in all three 8 Series bodystyles shows you how much more wide-reaching a business the M division has become over the past two decades. All three have the same axle dimensions and powertrain – and the fact that the Gran Coupé is expected to dominate the sales mix is reflected by its price.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - BMW M8


BMW M8 Competition coupe 2020 road test review - hero side

BMW has a large car platform that underpins its big vehicles – 5, 7 and 8 Series. They have an engine in the front, mounted longitudinally, and variously drive the rear or all four wheels.

Given power outputs starting with a six are common not just to the M8 but also the BMW M5, which has a job to do as a family car as well as a super-saloon, it’s not surprising that four-wheel drive is the default for BMW’s most powerful.

Laser lights are part of the £20k Ultimate Pack that, externally, also adds some carbonfibre trim. The lights turn night into day.

The M5’s four-wheel-drive powertrain, 4.4-litre twin-turbocharged V8 and automatic gearbox are carried straight across with even the same power output – 616bhp developed at 6000rpm and a fulsome torque figure of 553lb ft developed with table-top flatness all the way from 1800rpm to 5800rpm.

As with Mercedes-AMG’s twin-turbocharged V8, the two turbos sit between the two cylinder banks – in a ‘hot vee’, colloquially – which makes the response better because the exhaust feeds more quickly into them. Because the turbos aren’t mounted to the side of the engine, it can be more easily packaged, too, (often lower in the car than a wider engine), despite the unit’s higher centre of gravity.

Away from the driveline, it’d be unfair to say the M8 is just a two-door version of the M5. The suspension hardware is mostly common to both cars, it’s true, but 201mm has come out of the wheelbase, the body rides 10mm closer to the ground and there is more underbody bracing in the M8 than the M5. The front subframe reinforcement plate is attached to the sills and there’s reinforcement at the rear, too.

The rear track is also 38mm wider than an M5’s and all of these combined, says BMW, means there’s no need for an active roll control or rear steer system as is sometimes fitted to large or heavy cars – and, at 1885kg and 4867mm long, the M8 is both of those.


BMW M8 Competition coupe 2020 road test review - cabin

Given the 8 Series is all but the length of an executive saloon car on the outside, you might expect it to be quite a roomy car inside. And you’d be wrong, away from the front seats, at least. You can fit occupants in the rear chairs – although not a very big one behind an occupied driver’s seat – but this is very much a 2+2. That’s not necessarily unusual in this class, and it’s more accommodating than a Porsche 911, say, but it’s worth bearing in mind. There’s a 420-litre boot behind, with an opening wide enough to accommodate an obligatory golf bag.

The front two occupants are well catered for, at least, with a pair of multi-way electrically adjustable, lavishly finished and accommodating seats that remain comfortable over distance yet provide good lateral support. BMW’s driving environment – a widely adjustable driving position, with a round wheel that you can pull close to your chest and pedals and seat laid out straightly – suits a low-slung GT car.

You could fit more functions on the steering wheel if the buttons were – surprised to say this – a bit more like Jaguar Land Rover’s, and could multi-function.

Once upon a time, this reassuringly straightforward approach would have extended to the minor controls and the dials, too, but a modern BMW seemingly has more controls to worry about – or gives its driver more to worry about – than a big round pair of instruments and a few clearly marked buttons. Next to the gearlever and iDrive controller are the buttons for a rather bewildering array of driving modes and it’s a theme continued on the thick-rimmed steering wheel, which features not just one but two shortcuts to your favourite drive mode and its runner-up in the preference stakes.

With familiarity, all of this gets more comfortable, of course, and it’s preferable by a fair margin to some Mercedes-AMGs. But still, we’d prefer an interior with a little less going on.

BMW M8 Competition infotainment and sat-nav

Each iteration of BMW’s iDrive, which started life as a single rotary dial and not much else, gets better and better and for a long while has been augmented by programmable buttons on the dashboard. That helps no end with often used features – navigate to home, reset the radio from whatever the kids tuned it to.

To those functions, recently, you’ve also been able to add a touchable centre screen and motion-sensing controls. Throw in voice activation as well and there are more ways than we can fathom to operate some of the BMW’s myriad systems. And because we’re all different, having several different ways to achieve the same thing is excellent.

If you decide your phone doesn’t have the best apps, BMW’s are very good. Its navigation system is among the best in the business. With the Ultimate Pack, you get an upgraded Bowers & Wilkins stereo, which sounds ace, too.


BMW M8 Competition coupe 2020 road test review - engine

One of the reasons, of course, for the startling line-up of options the BMW gives you about the way it drives is that it has rather startling performance.

The current conditions that are a drag on so much of life have precluded us from undertaking performance tests, but BMW seldom undersells in the figures it puts out. For the M8 Competition, that includes a 0-62mph time of 3.2sec. It’s worth revisiting the BMW M5 in this case, then – a car of similar weight but less slippery through the air.

Tyre sizes are a closely matched 275/35 ZR20 on the front and 285/35 ZR20 on the rear – as befits a four wheel-drive car.

In our hands, the M5 wanted 3.3sec to reach 60mph and just 7.5sec to hit 100mph, and it went through a standing quarter mile in 11.5sec at 125mph and a standing kilometre in 20.8sec, by which time it was doing 159mph. The M8 should better all of these. The M5 was a non-Competition version with ‘just’ 592bhp – and when we figured it, it was damp.

Now, all of that’s fine, but we have driven the M8 on circuit in the UK, both at its launch and for video, and the nature of the performance is quite different from the one the figures suggest. Never – obviously – does it feel slow, but there is a subtleness and softness to the M8’s remarkable speed of the sort for which they practically invented velvet/iron glove/fist clichés.

Turbo lag is notable for its absence, the eight-speed auto (a torque converter rather than a dual-clutch unit) shifts smoothly and sweetly and even the noise, augmented through the loudspeakers as it is, is on the understated side.

The £20,000 of extras on our test car were all part of the Ultimate Pack, which includes carbon-ceramic brakes that stand up to abuse on a circuit terrifically well (a theme we’ll return to in a moment) yet have fine pedal feel at lower speeds. It also includes an M Driver’s Package – a way to delimit the car’s top speed from 155mph to 190mph.


BMW M8 Competition coupe 2020 road test review - on the road front

A few weeks ago we ran a feature on ‘Goldilocks cars’ and, you might wonder, occupying a space between pure sports cars like a Porsche 911 Carrera S and pure GT cars like the Continental GT, perhaps the M8 sits in a similar sort of place – if one is too hot or cold, maybe the M8 is just right?

Maybe, but probably not. The sports car basics are there: there’s a low amount of roll, the steering is precise and, on a track, as befits the Competition title but not necessarily the typical use of a five-metre-long GT car, the M8 can pull off some seriously impressive feats. It hides its girth well and the harder you push it, the more keenly it responds, up to and including the point where you can put it in rear-drive mode and treat it like a muscle car. Even with four-wheel drive retained, its behaviour up to its limit, and slightly beyond it, feels largely rear biased.

Easy to be impressed at how good a track car the M8 is – and the lengths BMW goes to, including an additional oil chamber off the sump to prevent oil starvation under repeated cornering.

But on the road – more likely the given location for a four-seat 1885kg car with Isofix child seat mounts – the M8 is more wanting. There’s a reasonable amount of road noise – more than a 911, in our experience – and combined with it is a surprising and not entirely welcome firmness over any sudden vertical movements, particularly on the kinds of bad roads of which the UK has a speciality.

Out here, the way it disguises its mass at extremes isn’t just less noticeable: it’s less necessary, too. And we’d swap some of that for more compliance. Ultimately, driving it back to back with the aforementioned Bentley and Porsche alternatives, it’s not just the one with the ‘B’ on its nose but both alternatives that make better-riding cars.

That the M8 can’t cope with the plushness of the Continental GT is understandable; but less so that you’d prefer a 911 to the M8 for a day-long road trip of many hundreds of miles.


BMW M8 Competition coupe 2020 road test review - hero front

Big GT cars like this, especially ones without a really clear purpose and prices deep into six figures, tend to be at their most compelling as buying propositions several years down the line, once they’ve shed rather a lot of their value.

But without people to buy them now, those with more modest resources won’t be able to enjoy them later, which is why BMW will find a way to take a down payment and then put an M8 on your drive for around £1100 a month (or £1350 with the Ultimate Package).

The Ultimate Pack is expensive but might be the easier way to sell an M8 afterwards, making it more appealing.

We managed to return around 23mpg overall during our time with the car – which included some moments of exceptional right-footedness, but drive more sensibly and you can get 27-28mpg, which endows the M8 with a range of around 400 miles.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - BMW M8


BMW M8 Competition coupe 2020 road test review - static

The M8 is a car of hidden depths. Get it in the right location, get it into the right modes, and it’ll do things that you scarcely think are credible, given its mass and its size. And in its own way, that’s hugely impressive.

But for us, it’s not enough, especially at nearly £150,000 as tested, to become truly compelling. We’d like a car at that price to be more appealing, more frequently. As it is, though, there are pure GT cars that do the grand touring job more effectively (including BMW’s own M850i, an engaging and comfortable road car, incidentally) while there are sports cars that aren’t just more sporty but also just as capable and more cosseting than the M8 over distance.

Highly capable but doesn’t truly satisfy as either a sports car or GT

Somehow, the M8’s approach – be a little firm, do a little sportively – works better in the BMW M5, perhaps because a super-saloon has the extra appeal of its greater interior space and has fewer direct or indirect rivals. When it comes to the M8, though, the circumstances in which it shows its best side are too narrow. Hidden depths, sure – but we’d like some more obvious ones.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - BMW M8

Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017, arriving from Evo magazine, and is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests, performance benchmarking and supercar lap-times, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found on Autocar's YouTube channel

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year, and focuses mainly on the more driver-orientated products, as is tradition at Autocar. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Away from work, but remaining on the subject of cars, Richard owns an eight-valve Integrale, loves watching sportscar racing, and holds a post-grad in transport engineering. 

BMW M8 First drives