Across the pond in Germany, the BMW (BMWYY) group on Wednesday reported a nice profit in Q1, although the automaker warned it would take a deep coronavirus hit, forecasting a full-year automotive EBIT margin of only 0% to 3% versus the 2% to 4% it had estimated prior to the pandemic.
However, BMW did start up its engine manufacturing factory just last week, as the automaker hopes the German government’s early lockdown and ability to extensively test workers will get things going again.
For BMW, this can’t come soon enough. It needs a robust, smooth functioning global economy to sell enough of its high-end sports and luxury automobiles.
Which brings us to arguably a car that 99.9% of us would say is the most discretionary of purchases — yet is also the purpose, or raison d’etre, of why BMW exists. And that is the BMW M8.
The 8-series is the automaker’s range-topper. The model that distills everything that BMW holds dear — performance, power, design — you name it. Now add the ‘M’ badge - a sign that shows BMW’s engineers have thrown all their engineering might into making this car even more capable - and the M8 becomes BMW’s halo car.
But for some buyers, that’s simply not enough, so BMW turns it up to ‘11’ with the M8 Competition, a trim that includes features like better wheels, the M Competition Package, M Sport exhaust system, special seat belts, and a ‘track’ mode.
And that’s the car we’re testing.
A quick note before we get started. While the coronavirus pandemic has basically ripped apart most people’s day-to-day lives, one area that it hasn’t, at least for me, is car testing. It’s basically a solo endeavor — you hop in the car, drive it around, and take some notes. The hard part is pondering a bit more, wasting some time ‘composing,’ then finally getting on with putting thoughts to paper (any writers out there know my pain).
But back to the driving part. BMW dropped off the M8 Competition at a local garage via touchless delivery for my weekend test. It would just be me, the car, and some curvy roads in the outskirts of the greater New York City area.
Under the hood
The M8 Competition coupe features a 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8 that delivers 617 hp (17 more than the regular M8), and 553 lb-ft of torque. BMW says it is the most powerful M-badged car the company has ever produced, and it will send you from 0-60 mph in a lightning quick 3-seconds flat. Pretty awesome when you consider the car weighs a little over two tons.
The Competition package also improves the torque band for that V8, adds more rigid engine mounts, and also includes BMW’s M Sport exhaust, to let the engine breathe better (and louder).
Helping get that power to the wheels is BMW’s 8-speed M Steptronic transmission with Drivelogic programming. You can keep this transmission in auto mode, or put it in manual and shift on your own with the paddles. In the car’s more sportier modes (I’ll get to that later), the transmission will hold gears basically to the engine’s red line.
Also included is Adaptive M Suspension (for adjusting the dampers) and BMW’s M Sport Differential which helps put all that power to the wheels.
But that’s not all. The M8 is all-wheel drive, just like it’s 4-door brethren, the M5. And just like the M5, the M8’s “M xDrive” all-wheel-drive system even allows you a full on rear-wheel-drive mode. Impressive stuff for those who like to see that rear end break away during spirited cornering.
The M8 looks aggressive and purposeful, but I wouldn’t call it “brutal,” like a Nissan GT-R for example. No, the M8 has some beauty to it, and I believe BMW’s designers went in that direction over pure aero performance for a reason (more on that later).
It didn’t hurt that the car came in an eye-popping “Java Green Metallic,” as BMW calls it. At first it struck me as a collab between BMW and Hot Wheels, but it grew on me pretty quickly. And everywhere I drove gawkers abounded and mouthed as I sped by, “What is that thing?”
Yes - if you’re going to get a high-end sports car, you might as well get it loud. This car in this color says one thing: I know how to have fun! I’m not some boring dentist in a 3-Series; this is a glowing green M8 Competition for chrissakes.
Let’s also not forget the M8 Competition comes with a contrasting black carbon fiber roof as well, that improves rigidity and weight.
Stepping inside the cabin, I was in for a surprise — a good one. This wasn’t the interior of a regular M-car or even a stripped down M3 CS with bare carbon door cards, for example. No, the M8 Competition’s interior is all about luxury - seriously.
From the two-tone leather seats with diamond stitching, to the leather clad dash and Alcantara headliner, to the beautiful carbon fiber trim and the booming Bowers & Wilkins sound system, you would not be mistaken if you thought you entered a super-high-end grand tourer. Was this really an M8 Competition — or a Mercedes S 63 coupe?
Behind the wheel
Now slipping into the driver’s seat and firing up the car, the sport exhaust, even in its most docile setting, tells everyone within earshot that there’s a special car waking up.
Fine, that shouldn’t be a surprise. What did surprise me is the sheer number of driver settings and modes, including all the things you can actually adjust. It’s not just comfort, sport, and sport plus here.
At its core, BMW has set up the M8 so that it’s engine, all-wheel-drive system, and suspension all have three settings for you to choose from. These settings can be controlled via the center touchscreen, and the transmission can be adjusted by using a button on the shift lever. The “M1” and “M2” red trigger buttons on each side of the steering wheel can summon your preferred settings, so once you have those set up, you’re good to go.
If you’re the type that doesn’t want to get all fiddly with the settings, BMW adds an ‘M-mode’ button by the shifter that includes preprogrammed Road, Sport, and Track setups that you can engage on the fly. Note the “Track” setting is an M8 Competition exclusive.
And for something I've never seen before in a road car — the M8 has adjustable brakes. Yes, you can adjust brake feel on the fly with the M8, in something BMW calls an "integrated braking system." It gives you two settings, Comfort and Sport, with each setting determining how much pressure you need to put on the pedal to stop the car. I found “comfort” to be totally fine for all driving conditions outside of a track.
Once you get going there’s no denying this big car can move, fast. And it sounds great doing it. I found steering input to be more than adequate for a car of this size, but from a handling perspective in aggressive cornering you could feel its weight. The power delivery was immense and could be summoned at just a tap of the accelerator, not surprising here given the car’s sheer firepower.
But what i discovered from my weekend with the car was is that it isn’t meant to be a track weapon, as you might expect from an M-badged car. This car is meant for long drives and eating miles, and some sweeping curves on the back roads if you can find them. This car — with leather everywhere, cool LED lighting scheme (including lights in the speakers, of all places), and plush ride in comfort — is about luxury and exclusivity.
You see the M8 isn’t about peak performance, it’s about peak motoring in general. This is BMW’s halo car, yes, but it’s not focused just for the track. It’s for the road — and discerning clientele who don’t want to strap into a race car every time they have to pick up the dry cleaning, or go to their local bistro for a quick meal.
With a starting price of $146,000, this car is in the same competitive landscape as the aforementioned Mercedes S-class coupe, Porsche 911, even the Aston Martin Vantage, and within striking distance of the Bentley Continental GT. But like I’ve been hinting at, sports cars like the Porsche 911 and even Audi R8 aren’t the M8’s true competitors.
The M8 Competition is striking that balance between luxury and sport that Mercedes and Bentley occupy. Whether buyers are willing to cross shop at this level is something BMW will soon find out, but one thing is a given: BMW is betting the M8 Competition will be the aspirational model its passionate fans will be pining for, even if luxury takes precedence over performance.