2020 BMW M8 First Drive: A Very Great 8
The new badass of its class.
FARO, Portugal—We're on our way to Portugal's Autódromo Internacional do Algarve circuit in BMW's new 2020 BMW M8 Competition convertible, where we're slated to get a couple of hot laps in its M8 Competition coupe sibling. But the weather is threatening to ruin the day's festivities.
Before the sky rains on our parade, we decide to get a sense for what 617 horsepower and 553 lb-ft of torque feels like in the tuned-up version of BMW's M8 droptop. We hit the on ramp for the M22 highway out of Faro, the right foot goes to the floor, the turbo-boosted 4.4-liter V-8 roars, and we go very fast. Like "3.0 seconds to 60 mph" fast.
There are quicker coupe/convertible supersports cars on the market, but not many. Certainly not the Audi R8 or Mercedes-AMG GT R. Both have less power, are a couple of ticks slower, and cost several grand more to start. (The one anomaly here is the new mid-engine C8 Corvette, which is every bit as quick with less power and costs far, far less. We digress.) The M8 is the new badass of its class from a stoplight-drag standpoint.
But the BMW M8 Competition isn't a car so honed toward ultimate performance that's going to shake you down over rough pavement when you're hustling. In fact, with every configurable setting dialed back to Comfort (including a new M braking system that can be set to provide either electrically controlled Comfort or Sport feedback), the M8 is, well, comfortable. Not to the point of being soft, mushy, or wallowy—after all, this is a car that can be spec'd with "Competition" in its name. That said, you could tour all over Portugal sans top and have a grand old time.
We're not in the mood to get comfy though, especially when we're limited to just 40 or so miles behind the wheel. As we make our way to Algarve, we zoom out iDrive 7's navigation map on the 10.25-inch screen in the center stack and gaze upon a rapidly approaching stretch of squiggly Portuguese asphalt. Almost time for some real evaluation.
Before we get there though, there's a break in the weather, so we decide to lower the soft top of the 2020 M8 Competition Convertible. As you'd expect, operating the roof is a quiet affair that takes about 14 seconds or so to complete and can be accomplished at speeds up to 31 mph. A standard, removable wind deflector spans the width of the back seats, which is pretty much all that area is good for (well, that and luggage), unless you have friends or family listed at less than five feet tall or so. When the top's up, we found wind and other cabin noise to be more than acceptable for a convertible of its pedigree and price point.
As we head into the countryside, the traffic is sparse and the pokey automobiles we do encounter are easily dispatched with a tug to the left of the M8's thick, leather-clad steering wheel and a drop of its turbocharged V-8 hammer, only slowing down when we roll up on hardscrabble Portuguese villages with narrow streets and copious roundabouts. By now we've been toying with the vehicle settings of the M8 Competition, a smorgasbord of configurability that allows you to mix and match to your liking. Like the new M5 sedan, the M8 has red M1 and M2 buttons on the steering wheel you can program. Also as is the case with the M5, the M xDrive system, working in concert with the Active M Differential, can be toggled to 4WD, 4WD Sport, or 2WD, a graduated setup that loosens the nannies at each step and moves ever more bias to the rear wheels, all the way to full, 100 percent rear-drive in 2WD mode.
At this point, you may be starting to get the impression that the M8 is simply a reskinned M5 with two doors, but don't get it twisted: This is a car with its own distinct sporting character. The M8 also comes with a couple of new to BMW M features, most notably Setup and M Mode buttons. Setup gets you right into the vehicle-settings configurator, while pressing M Mode allows you to cycle through Road, Sport, and Track—the latter exclusive to the BMW M Competition models—that disables various vehicle functions as you dial up the aggressiveness. All of these settings and menus and buttons are a lot to take in, but it's about giving drivers more control, more electronic gizmos to play with, and, as the Germans like to say, more dynamism.
We don't have time to dig into the menus too much, so we punch Sport mode and get after it as the road narrows, twisting and turning our way along picturesque mountain back roads. With the brakes (the optional carbon-ceramic setup features six-piston, 15.7-inch units at the front and single-caliper units at the rear with 15.0-inch discs) set in Sport, they feel a bit touchy at first, but when you get the modulation down, they are potent. Rolling into a tight left hander, BMW's M Steptronic eight-speed automatic transmission holds the gear and as we straighten the wheel and floor it, the M8's eight-cylinder fires, everything kicks down hard and fast, and—bam!—we're blasting up to the next bend.
This car chews up and spits out one curve after another, corners hard with little to no body roll, brakes and accelerates with ferocity. Though it's smaller and rolls on a shorter wheelbase than the M6, which it's nominally replacing, the M8 still feels big at times, especially on the route's narrow canyon roads. But it never comes off as hulking or lumbering, and as we roll up to Algarve, we're primed and ready to get it on at the track.
It's been raining off and on during the day, and when we arrive at the circuit, it isn't exactly dry. Thankfully, that's not stopping us from getting our laps in. Before we do, we get a chance to look at a car up on a hoist, where we get some added details from BMW engineers about the Competition models. In addition to the extra power, Track mode, and the like, they also get a front camber change from 1 to 1.3 degrees, 50 percent stiffer engine mounts, additional front underbody bracing, and steel mounts for the rear suspension knuckles to add stiffness.
The cars prepped for the track are 2020 M8 Competition coupes, which boast a carbon-fiber roof instead of the convertible's fabric top. Carbon is all over the Competition models, including a Gurney-style rear spoiler, as are blacked out trim pieces and exhaust tips and special, black 20-inch wheels wrapped in 275/35 front and 285/35 rear performance rubber. We love the look of the 8 Series, our 2019 Design of the Year, and the M8 takes that base and makes it meaner—especially so with the Competition models.
In the cabin you'll find M touches; carbon-fiber accents; stitched-up, two-tone Merino leather; and a stylish new shifter knob. There's also a configurable 12.3-inch digital instrument panel and BMW's multifunction color head-up display as standard on the M8 Competition. As mentioned, there isn't much passenger space in the back seat, but the cockpit itself is plenty roomy and functional. It's all as you'd expect for cars that start around $148,000 in Competition coupe trim. (A base M8 coupe is roughly $135,000 out of the gate.)
Given the dicey weather and track conditions, the BMW team decides it's probably not a great idea to allow us to use Track mode, so we're set to do two laps with restrained settings and 4WD mode, programmed into the M1 button, and two with more aggressive settings and 4WD Sport, programmed for M2, along with an initial scouting lap and cool down lap. Algarve is a long (2.9 miles) and challenging track, with significant elevation changes, multiple tight and sweeping turns (15 in all), and a high-speed front stretch. The 4WD laps kept everything handily in check as we chased down the pro driver pacing us.
Validating our experience up in the mountain passes, the M8 Competition corners flat and true, accelerates with abandon, and when we jump on the brakes heading into turn 1, they haul down the car's 4,295 pounds with progressive authority. The laps in 4WD Sport were far looser, including breaking loose the back end when we accelerated too quickly through one of Algarve's long sweeping right handers, but we easily got things back in line. We also gave the paddles a go during that go-round, and though we didn't find them game-changing in operation, they were more than capable of snapping off quick up and downshifts.
Thankfully the weather held out for us to get quality seat time in the 2020 BMW M8 Competition coupe and convertible, the only bummer being we didn't get nearly enough miles and laps. But it was enough to get a taste for BMW's halo model, and like Portugal's famous Port wine, it was sweet.
|2019 BMW M8 Competition Specifications|
|ENGINE||4.4L turbocharged DOHC 32-valve V-8; 617 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 553 lb-ft @ 1,800-5,860 rpm|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 2+2-passenger, front-engine AWD coupe or convertible|
|EPA MILEAGE||15/21 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||191.2 x 74.9 x 53.0 in|
|WEIGHT||4,295/4,560 lb (coupe/convertible)|
|0-60 MPH:||3.0/3.1 sec (coupe/convertible)|
|TOP SPEED:||155 mph (189 w/ perf package)|