The M8 is awesome, but is it the ultimate M car?
Sold from 1991 to 1999, the BMW 8 Series nameplate has returned as the fiercest predator in the Bavarian food chain. Now, for the first time ever, BMW has built an M version of the car, obviously called the M8, which will be available as a coupe, convertible, or four-door Gran Coupe. During a BMW drive event, we had a chance to sample the M8 Convertible out on the road and the M8 Coupe on the race track.
Both examples we drove were fitted with the Competition package, boosting the output from 600 to 617 horsepower and in the process, dropping the 0-60 mph time from 3.2 seconds to 3.1 (for the convertible). We loved the non-M Series M850i, so we were eager to get the $155,500 M8 Competition Convertible out for testing. Here is what we loved about it and what we might change.
BMW's 4.4-liter twin-turbo has always garnered our respect but in the M8, it outright demands it. Here it produces 600 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque or 617 hp if you opt for the Competition. We can't say the extra 17 hp and 0.1-second difference in the 0-60 time will feel noticeable from the driver's seat but you'll certainly feel the V8's presence the second you mash the throttle. As always, the eight-speed ZF automatic transmission is the best in the industry, shifting flawlessly by itself, waiting for the moment you pull the paddle or hit the accelerator.
If you do decide to shift yourself or place the car into one of its many sport modes, the transmission changes personalities from reserved to ferocious. And if BMW's various driving modes aren't enough, the M8 includes different settings for the shift ferocity, giving you even more of a "race car" experience. All of the power is routed out to M xDrive all-wheel-drive, meaning your launch will be flawless every time.
We're all for the switch to digital gauges, as they free up automakers to go wild with their design and display more information right in the driver's line of vision. But BMW has historically had very simplistic gauges and it has taken a similar approach with its virtual ones. While we prefer the design and layout of the M gauge cluster compared to those on non-M models, it still feels basic compared to other automakers with little color and minimal customizability. On the M8, BMW mitigates some of our gripes with the gauge cluster with one of the largest head-up displays we've ever tested.
We're also not overly enamored with the paddle shifters used on the latest generation of M cars. Older M models like the M2 still use large blades that protrude from the steering wheel but the latest line of M cars like the M8 use the same smaller paddles used on lesser BMW models. M cars should have better paddles than the rest of the BMW lineup and the M8 simply does not.
The best part about opting for the M8 Convertible is having better access to the quad exhaust pipes in the back. With the roof down, your aural senses will be tingled with the loud bark of the twin-turbo V8 engine. A detuned version of the engine in the M850i produces a low bark but the M Division has completely changed its sound character. The exhaust now wakes the dead instead of rumbling in the background.
If we had to describe the M8 driving experience in just a few words, we'd say it is a nice mid-point between a Mercedes S63 and a Porsche 911. It isn't quite as precise or nimble as the Porsche but doesn't feel as soft or lumbering as the Mercedes. Don't get us wrong, the M8 is still a compliant car we'd be happy to drive every day but it isn't nearly as cushy as the S-Class. Sit in the M8, and the side bolstering designed to hold you tight on a race track is instantly noticeable. The only trouble is, we doubt too many owners will take their 4,560-pound convertible to the track, so we'd prefer to have softer seats with massage functions for long journeys.
We had a chance to drive the M8 Coupe at the BMW test track and right away we noticed that the M8 feels large on the track but the size and weight are easily managed with over 600 hp and AWD. And before you complain that the M Division has lost its way by using AWD instead of RWD, let us ease your mind by saying the M8 can still slide with the best of them.
Even with the AWD system on, the traction control allows a perfect amount of slip so you can get the back end out under throttle. If you are feeling even braver, you can turn the systems off entirely and lock the car into RWD, enabling some spectacular drifts. The M8 never feels tame or boring and can still snap on you even with AWD engaged.
Our biggest issue with large convertibles like the M8 is that they just aren't practical despite their immense size. It still seats only four people (barely) despite being much larger than other BMW convertibles like the 2 Series and 4 Series. The back seats only offer 29.5 inches of legroom, so good luck fitting back there behind a tall driver. You won't find any more room in the Coupe but if you do want a more practical M8, you should opt for the four-door Gran Coupe.
Not only is the M8 Gran Coupe the cheapest of the three body styles at $130,000 (or $143,000 for the Competition), but it is also the most practical. The back seat of the M8 Gran Coupe is large enough for adults and you get more trunk space as well. The Gran Coupe is the best value of the three.