BMW M8 2020 competition

2020 BMW M8 review

Australian first drive

Rating: 7.9
$321,160 $381,920 Dealer
  • Fuel Economy
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The 'fastest BMW ever' lands on local soil. Bold car, bold claim - but is it all it needs to be? James meets the BMW M8.
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You may have read the social media marketing line, proclaiming the 2020 BMW M8 Competition as simply ‘the fastest ever BMW M car in series production’. I say ‘simply’ as it a rather specific claim, but impressive nonetheless.

Bringing it up almost nonchalantly over video conference chats makes great banter, "fastest ever, you say"... but it doesn’t accurately portray the brutality involved in shifting 1885kg of M all the way through the alphabet in a smidge over three seconds – 3.2 to be exact, and rumour has it the car will run even faster.

In reality, the M8 Comp should really come with one of those warnings that guards against people with weak hearts on amusement rides, for when you stomp vigorously on the throttle, such is the rate of change of velocity that it sucks the air from the cabin, leaving you in a shocked and breathless vacuum, strapped to a $400,000 cruise missile.

The most superlative M indeed, and if that’s what you’re after then question answered, close the case, pack up and go home. The M8 Competition is staggeringly fast, no doubt – but at this level of the game, you would probably want a little more than that.

Priced from a weighty $352,900 before options and on-road costs, the M8 is a full-house equipment fest that leaves little from its showroom portfolio.

Soft-close doors, 16-speaker Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Sound System, heated and ventilated seats, night vision camera and even the nifty BMW Display Key are all part of the range-topping package.

In fact, in a rare position for any BMW, you get more in than is left out, with only the special paints, $16,500 Carbon-Ceramic brakes and a $10,300 carbon-fibre styling package left to tick.

Case in point, our Brands Hatch Grey test car has the grand total of zero options on it. Bargain!

Being a GT, the High Street appeal is important, and while the M8 looks suitably tough and aggressive, it doesn’t seem to hard-park with the likes of Aston and Bentley.

Brutal rather than elegant. Savage more than beautiful. Other Grand Tourers may trade more on their badge flex than the Bimmer, but at $400-gorillas on the road, the best of Britain are very much in the same company.

It is ‘hippier’ than a regular 8, but you’d be hard-pressed to see where. Stick black kidneys and a boot spoiler on a de-badged 840i and I wonder who could actually tell where the $150k difference lies? Would it be helped by making the carbon pack standard? I think so, although slapping the same key you get with an X5 down on the table next to any winged brand is never going to truly impress.

Happily too, the wide kidney grille is back, making this one of the more attractive modern Bimmers. The vanes are noticeably wide-set, allowing as much air into the gaping maw as aerodynamically possible, which it seems the car needs, but more on that later.

Inside, there is leather everywhere, Merino and Alcantara on the quilted seats and ‘Walknappa’ on the dash. It’s low and inviting, and naturally includes useless rear seats, just like a GT should. The two-tone seats of our car are bold and impressive on the first impression, but the rest of the switchgear is lifted from pretty much everything else in the BMW stable.

Where are the ceramic knob surrounds of the F13 M6? The crystalline shifter you find in the ‘lesser’ 850i is now a nice, but regular M-stitch leather item. Sure there’s lovely carbon on the console, but everything else looks to be a mix of X1-7.

Even the twin 10.25-inch LCD displays are the same as in a 1-Series. Great to know if you’ve just spent $65k on an M135i, but not so awesome some $300,000 further down the hole.

But any GT is a two-sided coin. Where it may be missing some bespoke opulence up top, the M8 is pure powerhouse underneath.

The aforementioned ‘fastest ever’ claim comes courtesy of a 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 with a whopping 460kW and 750Nm on tap. It’s the same engine, the BMW S63, as in the M5 Competition, and features hot-vee turbo placement between the two cylinder banks.

Lack of response is but a memory, with the full torque band available between 1800 and 5600rpm, and you enjoy it all the way to the peak power zenith of 6000rpm.

It feels faster than the M5, despite the saloon tipping the scales 10kg lighter. BMW says the new rigid engine mounts and cross-bank exhaust manifolds all contribute to the M8’s ultimate speed efficiency, but in real terms it's more a matter of delivery.

Like the M5, there’s a variable torque-split AWD system that prioritises power to the rear wheels and uses the fronts to maintain speed and composure under ‘extreme’ movement. Accelerating in a straight line is pretty extreme in this thing, and it simply launches forward without a hint of spin, daring you to keep your foot planted as it devours the road ahead.

I noted before how it feels as though the air is sucked away from you in the cabin, leaving the window down a crack only amplifies this, as the car seems to slip into its own sonic cone of pressurised air. The Right Stuff indeed.

Into a winding section, still at pace and under power, the M8 grips with incredible strength. It’s a big car, but those wide (275mm front, 285mm rear) Michelin Pilot Sport 4’s hold on through a tight uphill bend, like a much more nimble machine – the now snarling exhaust note pushing you to squeeze harder on the throttle, with no indication at all that the car is even aware of its limit.

Off the throttle and there’s a muted ‘whump’ from the quad pipes out back. Like a B1 Bomber carpeting ordinance, there is a distance between you and the noise.

On the gas again and if this thing had wings it would sweep them back and go supersonic.

The on-road driving modes all maintain the security of AWD, the sport setting even allowing the rear of the car to step out momentarily on slick sections, perhaps just to remind you that it’s got everything under control. You wouldn't know it though, there's no push at slow speeds or perceptible change of driveline engagement. Say what you will, BMW can still engineer with the best of them.

That said, it’s all well and good to squeeeeze the big guy when at a bit of an angle in the dry, but beware of what your foot can do on cold tyres or wet roads. No amount of driveline magic can stop physics. Slight shifts and twitches over white lines and small puddles let you know how big this car can be, and how much you want to keep it going the direction you intend.

Feeling brave? You can opt for a track mode which turns off all the assists and distractions, including the iDrive screen, and lets you punt over 600hp through the rear wheels – but that would take a level of heroism and reckless abandon I’ve never met.

The 8-speed M-Steptronic transmission is a set-and-forget item, especially when left in automatic (naturally in the most aggressive setting). The car shifts smoothly and effortlessly at any pace. Pop into manual, and tap up on the paddle, the car responds quickly. Head the other way though, and it’s as though you are down-shifting a three-speed auto. There’s no sharpness, no urgency, no theatre.

It's a very noticeable dichotomy; defined shifts accelerating, dulled shifts decelerating. It’s almost as if the car doesn’t want you to slow down.

Speaking of which, when you want to stop, the big brakes do their job brilliantly. The pedal feel adapts to your drive mode, meaning that in Comfort setting a slightly more energetic tap of the anchors won't send your lunch back up for seconds, but a considered press in Sport will crush your organs into pulp.

We clear traffic, the road opens up, and the M8 Competition is again unleashed. Wind and road noise climbs, the digits on the head-up speedometer jump by two then four, unable to keep up with the immense forward thrust, the car running through the ratios as you build an almost limitless pace.

I say limitless, but as you know there is a limit, a pretty conservative one, and well, that’s where we run into some issues.

I can see how commuting from Dresden to Frankfurt at somewhere over 250km/h makes sense in a car like this. I can even see you making an argument for a quick run between LA and San-Fran in your $150k M8. As without the limits, of speed or cost respectively, the M8 gets to enjoy not being perfect.

Deploy it into a slow-speed, high tax environment, and the 'Maaaate' feels a little bit out of its depth. At 100km/h, the twin-turbo V8 is surprisingly economical (we saw around 9L/100km), but the adaptive dampers don’t offer the plush ride you need. Sure you can adjust the lumbar and bolsters, but a GT needs to do ‘off’ as well as it does ‘on’, and this one missed the memo.

Slow to 80, and that gearbox that sent you so swiftly into orbit, doesn’t downshift with any fluidity or emotion. Even in a manual mode, the car won’t let you change down for those pointless traffic-light throttle blips that we all so enjoy.

In the internationally recognised reference tome, The Spotter’s Compendium of Rules for Grand-Tourers, it is widely known that a GT needs to be impressively fast and capable of running long distances in plush comfort. Running a luxurious highway monster like the M8 Comp between Sydney and Canberra could potentially be a 70-minute drive, your senses pricked, the car working with you to operate as a low-flying Learjet. Instead, it’s a three-hour slog over every expansion joint and surface change the Commonwealth can muster.

This is a European car, a Middle Eastern car, a North American car. A car for places it can enjoy and be enjoyed in return. In Australia, we’re just dealing with a caged tiger in a depressing, old-world zoo. The $100,000 jump from an M5 – or better yet $150,000 jump from an X5M or X6M – just seems too much. Same engine, same buttons, similar experience, where’s the reward for making an all-in play?

Sure the M8 can chew the miles as well as most, but it should see you arrive feeling refreshed and looking fabulous. Instead you get an endlessly-running thermo-fan cooling the big donk, and a minor stiffness between your L3 and 4, both sustaining long after you’ve arrived.

A sports tourer that sports and tours, but isn’t quite sure how much of one or the other it is. Sporty with a slow gearbox, or toury with firm suspension? Compromises you don’t want at this point in the market, all while failing to excite your heart as an all-round engaging performer.

And let’s face it, if you’re going for driver engagement, there are better BMWs lower down, and if making a statement is your thing, you have a lot of choices at this level.

I’m sure, as we noted at the international launch, that the M8 is superb on a racetrack. It may even be life-changingly perfect on a long stretch of unlimited tarmac like the Nurburgring, but in our real world, this doesn’t matter. If it can’t do slow, it doesn’t matter how well it can do fast.

The 2020 BMW M8 Competition is a brilliant by-the-numbers super coupe, and I’m sure its key data points would have made an impressive Powerpoint presentation by the engineering team in Munich. But, while it does what it says on the very expensive box, it does it without you.

It is a Terminator. Unyielding and uncompromising in its purpose but without the softening and emotion to make it human. Just like Sam Worthington.

Fastest BMW ever, maybe. The best? Not this time.

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