It used to be the Ultimate Driving Machine – actually BMW will say it still is – but now the Munich manufacturer has tweaked its slogan slightly for its most powerful production car ever.
I was told the £120,000-plus projectile returns “Sheer Driving Pleasure”. I’ve heard that sort of thing many times before at countless new car launches where sometimes you feel as if you’re being asked to believe that the wheel has just been re-invented when, in fact, the reality is that the new model displayed before you has little more than a fine set of new-style door handles.
But the superlatives are justified for the M8, BMW’s latest interpretation of the traditional muscle car that will appeal to hardcore performance enthusiasts with a few bob to spare.
The M letter is well-known to BMW aficionados who enjoy the extra oomph it brings to what would otherwise be straightforward family saloons. The M5 is one of the best performance saloons I’ve driven in the recent past and the M8 – the first time an M version has appeared in the luxury segment – shares its engine and gearbox, suspension and 600-plus bhp power output but is livelier in dynamics and balance because of its shorter wheelbase. Add to that BMW’s xDrive four wheel drive, a limited slip differential, stiffened engine mountings, traction control, ESP and 20-inch wheels with slightly fatter tyres at the rear to get the most from the increased torque depending on which driving mode is selected, and you have a heady mix of superb performance and technological sophistication to create an amazing machine.
Under the bonnet is a wonderful, high-revving 4.4-litre V8 engine with twin turbochargers – positioned in the “V” between the cylinder banks for optimised efficiency – and indirect charge air cooling linked to an eight-speed M Steptronic transmission that throws the car from a standing start to 62mph in a touch over three seconds. It sounds good too thanks to the model-specific exhaust system with 100mm diameter twin tailpipes and the acoustic character can be adjusted by the driver through the M Sound Control button on the central console. By selecting Sport Plus, the engine’s response and sound comes close to replicating machines in the world of motor racing.
The road-going car owes its heritage to the previous M8 GTE racing version with some of the grunt being refined, not subdued, to let the driver enjoy amazing performance on the open road.
Stepping into the cabin, you feel the quality and sophistication and while the overall layout is familiar BMW styling, this car bristles with technology, which can be a bit overwhelming. I spent a glorious full day with both the coupe and the convertible versions and while I played with most of the toys – including the Intelligent Personal Assistant voice command system that can be activated by saying “Hey BMW” and telling it what you want – I only scratched the surface of what was available. I think any buyer would have to enrol in a full-day training session just to establish all the ingredients and then put in several weeks of learning to get the full benefits.
There’s a dazzling display of controls, such as red levers marked M1 and M2 and other buttons marked “M Mode” and “Set Up”, which allow the driver to choose various settings for the engine, suspension, steering and braking, independently of one another. The all-wheel-drive system can be adjusted to distribute power between the front and rear wheels while the engine characteristics can be controlled by the Efficient, Sport and Sport Plus settings, with Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus chassis options for the electronically controlled dampers along with adjusters for the electromechanical steering and new braking system.
On the road it is truly superb and delights in having demands put upon it, a credit to the skill of the engineers and a huge testing programme in southern France, at BMW’s winter testing centre in Sweden and at the Nürburgring Nordschleife, and other race circuits.
This sort of performance demands great stopping power and that’s provided by the huge drilled, inner-vented discs on the front wheels with six-piston fixed callipers. If you feel that’s not enough, there’s an option of carbon-ceramic brakes that come as part of the Ultimate Package, which adds £20,000 to the bill but which many customers will think is a necessity.
The car – either in coupe or convertible form – looks sensational and is still practical with a cavernous boot and there are some clever innovations, like the Drive Recorder, which automatically saves from camera the previous 20 seconds of the journey, automatically capturing footage in the event of an accident or incident.
This is the ultimate of the BMW range but I kept asking myself as I drove this almost £150,000 investment, would I be happy as an owner or would I rather have three £50,000 tasty machines for my daily drives?
- Model: BMW M8 Competition Coupe 4.4i
- Price: £120,715 (£141,500 as tested)
- Performance: 0-60mph in 3.2 seconds
- Top speed: 155mph (limited)
- Economy: 25mpg combined
- CO2 emissions: 253g/km