BMW thinks this M8 Competition model is the closest it's yet got to the all-conquering Porsche 911. But is it? Jonathan Crouch gets behind the wheel.
BMW's M8 Competition models provide a real alternative to more exotically-badged super saloons and high performance luxury sporting coupes and convertibles, offering searing speed, sleek styling and an engine that has few peers.
BMW's M division certainly knows how to build driver-focused sports cars. This though, is something slightly different - a larger, more luxurious driver-focused GT. Offered in Coupe, four-door Gran Coupe or, as in this case, Convertible form, it delivers masterful performance - on a major scale. If you must have the ultimate BMW, then this may well be it. It's tempting to think of this model as nothing more than an M5 saloon in a more sporting suit. After all, it shares the same 625hp V8 twin-turbo engine, much of the same M Division technology and, as a result, pretty much the same performance figures. BMW though, thinks differently, pointing out that this car has a stiffer set-up, a shorter wheelbase body and cleaves a cleaner path through the air. Whatever your perspective though, this M8 Competition model, available in Coupe, Gran Coupe or Convertible form, looks to be a devastatingly effective piece of high performance engineering. The kind of car in which, for instance, you might drive to the Alps - but take in the Nurburgring on the way. Developed in parallel with the M8 GTE endurance racing car, it's a force to be reckoned with.
Imagine the mighty BMW M5 super saloon as a two-door GT sportscar with a shorter wheelbase for extra agility and a stiffened set-up for even sharper responses. That's essentially what we've got here with this M8 Competition model. The 'Competition' tag refers to this car's stiffer engine mountings which aim to facilitate sharper turn-in. And the wheelbase has been reduced by a significant 201mm. Otherwise, everything's much as you'd find in an M5 - which is good. So there's the same 625hp twin turbo V8 mated to a more direct-shifting DCT M Steptronic paddleshift gearbox (rather than the lazier Speedtronic auto you get on a lesser M850i). Plus there's 4WD, an electronically-governed mechanical limited slip differential and a set of grippy 20-inch Michelin tyres, the rears slightly wider than the fronts. In addition, as with the M5, there are lots and lots of mode settings which you can programme in and customise via two buttons on the centre stack marked 'M Mode' and 'Set-Up'. Once you've arrived at your favourite two combinations of throttle response, gearshift timing, stability programming and damping feedback, you can save them via two red anodised levers on the steering wheel marked 'M1' and 'M2' - one perhaps for country roads, the other maybe for fast-flowing major routes. As with the M5, you can also select an 'M-Dynamic' setting that turns all the safety systems off and limits the drivetrain to rear wheel drive. It's a mode we'd advise you to use only for tyre-smoking circuit drifting. In any mode, this M8 is very, very fast of course - 62mph is dispatched in just 3.2s and if it weren't for the 155mph speed limiter, 180-190mph would no doubt be possible.
The M8 Competition models aim to display the hallmark proportions of luxury-class sports cars whether you choose two-door Coupe, four-door Gran Coupe or Convertible. In each case, the dynamic appearance is shaped by a low-slung body and a stretched outline. Passengers in the Convertible version are protected from the elements by a high-quality fabric roof pulled taut over the cabin. The multi-layer soft-top opens and closes in 15 seconds at the touch of a button while the electric mechanism can be activated while driving at up to 31mph. Once opened, the soft-top stows away flat under a high-quality cover whose surface structure matches that of the instrument panel, door and side-panel trim. The interior is awash with high-precision details and features a driver-centric cockpit and low-set sports seats featuring integral head restraints and trimmed in soft Merino leather. There's space for a couple of small children in the rear and the backrest sections can be folded down either individually or together in order to further increase load capacity. Out back, there's a 420-litre boot in the Coupe model; it's 440-litres in size with the Gran Coupe and 350-litres with the Convertible.
From launch, pricing for the M8 Competition starts at around £121,000 for the four-door Gran Coupe version, rising to around £123,500 for the two-door Coupe body style and around £130,500 for this Convertible variant. Standard equipment includes a sports exhaust and 20-inch M light alloy Star-spoke style Bicolour alloy wheels. Inside, there are heated 'M' sports seats trimmed in super-soft 'Merino' leather upholstery, carbonfibre cabin trim, soft-close doors and the BMW Live Cockpit Professional package, which gives you a 12.3-inch instrument binnacle dial display and a 10.25-inch centre-dash infotainment screen. If you've more to spend, you might want to consider the optional 'M Driver's package' which increases the top speed to 190mph and costs around £2,100 - which seems an awful lot to pay for a software tweak. That's also included as part of the optional 'Ultimate Package' which, for a cool £20,000 more, also gives you 'Laserlight' headlights, M carbon ceramic brakes, extra carbonfibre interior and exterior trimming, a thumping upgraded Bowers & Wilkins sound system, ventilated front seats, a TV tuner, an M Carbon engine cover and all the extra camera safety features of the optional 'Driving Assistant Professional' pack.
You won't be expecting a super sports car of this power and price to be in any way affordable to run - and this one isn't. If you get anywhere near the quoted WLTP combined cycle fuel consumption figure of 25.2mpg (it's 25.4mpg for the Coupe body style), then you shouldn't have bought this car in the first place and it'll deserve a better home: you know where we are. The NEDC-rated CO2 figure is 242g/km for the Coupe, 244g/km for the Gran Coupe and 246g/km for the Convertible. Routine maintenance is dictated by 'Condition Based Servicing' that monitors oil level and engine wear, taking into account how long it's been and how far the car has travelled since its previous garage visit. To help plan ahead for the cost of regular work, at point of purchase you'll be offered a 'BMW Service Inclusive' package that lasts for three years and 36,000 miles. With this, after a one-off payment, you'll have the peace of mind of knowing that all normal work on the car has been paid for during this period, including items such as oil, spark plugs and filters. On to the warranty package. BMW offers a warranty that lasts for three years, no matter how many miles you complete. You can also insure your car through BMW, though as most M8s will be funded with company money through a lease deal, this brokerage fees are likely to be bundled into that.
It really comes down to how driver-focused you want to be. If you want the most driver-orientated super sportscar you can buy for less than £200,000, this isn't it. If though, you want one that can combine Nurburgring Nordschiefe dynamics with GT luxury, then this M8 makes a very strong case for itself. It's certainly fast enough - and there's a competition-bred feel to the handling that rivals from Jaguar, Lexus and Audi can't quite match. A tougher question to answer lies in whether this car is worth nearly 25% more than BMW's mechanically rather similar M850i model. That's a question of personal preference of course. What's not up for debate is the way this M8 can make you feel, for its buyers delivering a perfect symbiosis of performance and exclusivity, dynamism and prestige. Or, to put it another way, a super car they could tail-out slide on a trackday, then cruise across Europe in afterwards. These people will love this M8, despite its high running costs and even higher price. There's a need, after all, to pay for the most consummate of pleasures. If you can afford to do that though, you'll find much to admire here. Powerful elegance - that's pitch-perfect.