BMW M8 Competition review – the car the 8 Series was always meant to be?
Can the M treatment solve the 8 Series' one big problem?
James is a freelance motoring journalist who has written for the likes of AOL Cars and the Press Association.
As avid DriveTribers will doubtless be aware, BMW has been hawking a new luxury coupe. It’s called the 8 Series, and it’s basically the 6 Series’ replacement – a flagship grand tourer that sits somewhere between the chauffeur’s 7 Series luxo-barge and middle management’s 5 Series saloon.
Big GTs are my thing, and I really wanted to love the 8er. But I didn’t. Yes, its positive attributes are more numerous than Cruella de Ville’s dogs, but technical excellence and character are rarely seen hand-in-hand (just ask Alfa Romeo) and the 8 Series just left me a little bit cold. And before the BMW bores get upset, I’d like to point out I’m not alone on this. Car Magazine said the 8 Series was “missing a little drama”, while Top Gear said its rivals were “more special”.
The 8 Series: Nice, but a bit boring.
Happily, though, BMW has built something called the M8 Competition, which shows a bit more promise. Yes, at £123,435, it costs more than a three-bed semi-detached house in the north of England, but it ekes 625hp from its 4.4-litre V8 and sends most of that to the rear wheels. And it has two red ‘M’ switches on the steering wheel that remind me of Brian O’Conner’s nitrous buttons. Who cares that they don’t actually do anything especially innovative?
There’s also a rear-biased four-wheel-drive system with a setting designed specifically to let the tail slide. And, if you have the freedom of a race track, no sense of self-preservation and/or testicles the size of R101, you can make it even more rear-drive.
It sounds as though BMW has done that most un-German of things, and tried to imbue the M8 with a sense of fun. It’s a strange departure for a company – and indeed a country – usually tied up in a kind of automotive Top Trumps that assumes power equals driving pleasure.
That’s not to say they’ve binned that attitude altogether, though. The M8 Competition has the most powerful engine ever fitted to an M-car, which means it only takes a smidge over three seconds to get to 62mph, and that’s faster than a Ferrari F430. There are annoyingly obvious concessions to performance, too, such as the exposed carbon roof.
Nevertheless, the M8 is more special than the lesser 8 Series models; albeit not for any reason I’ve yet mentioned. Despite what I said earlier about Alfa Romeo, the M8 is more soulful than the ‘cooking’ 8 Series exactly because it’s better engineered. It feels much more direct in the way it steers and handles, and although the ride is supple enough to make it an epic grand tourer, you can still feel the road through the pockets of your Levi’s.
Like an 8 Series, only faster. And more fun.
This matters not because you can go a little faster around Silverstone, but because it makes the car feel like a living, breathing entity. Where the 8 Series isolates you from the outside world, the more analogue M8 plonks you right in the thick of it. It’s a bit like the contrast between controlling a USAF drone and flying an English Electric Lightning. You probably don’t need to ask a fighter pilot which would be the more visceral experience.
Maybe I’m over-egging it a bit with that analogy, but the point remains that the M8 is much more tactile than the 8 Series. Maybe it’s too expensive, maybe it’s too big for British roads and maybe other cars are better at what they do, but those aren’t the questions we asked. We wanted to know whether the M8 is the car the 8 Series should always have been. The answer, I think, is a resounding yes.
And we got all the way through without making any M8/m8/mate puns.