Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 15 October 2019

BMW's new M8 Competition Coupe: is it a winning combination?

We head to Portugal to test the brand’s new M8 Competition Coupe, which is going head to head with Audi and Mercedes in the ‘mine is faster than yours’ race

While electrification and carbon dioxide emission reduction seem to be the primary auto buzzwords these days, there is simultaneously a mega-horsepower battle raging between the high-performance sub-brands of the premium German carmakers. Audi’s RS, BMW’s M GmbH and Mercedes-Benz’s AMG have a penchant for one-upping one another and with their latest and greatest twin-turbo V8 offerings, they’re boosting horsepower tallies while trimming away tenths of seconds from 0-100 kilometres per hour acceleration times. (As for carbon emissions, let’s just say Greta Thunberg wouldn’t be a fan …)

BMW’s M division has struck the latest blow in the “mine is faster than yours” game as it’s just unleashed the brand-new M8 Competition, billed as the most potent and rapid two-door to wear the blue and white roundel on its nose and rump. The low-slung 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 thumps out a towering 625 horsepower and 750Nm, spearing the svelte coupe from 0-100kph in 3.2 seconds. What’s more, the acceleration doesn’t abate until you hit a scary 305kph.

On-paper stats are all well and good, but it’s real-world wow factor that’s more important, and key elements of this are the sensations you feel through the seat of the pants and fingertips when you’re giving the car the beans on a winding road or racetrack. It’s the latter that was our playground for testing the M8 Competition Coupe, as we were at the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve – nestled in the southern Portuguese municipality of Portimao – doing some fast laps in pursuit of BMW’s factory-backed race driver, Bruno Spengler, who set the pace in an identical car.

Glaring menacingly at me from the pit lane was the hunkered-down M8 I’d be pedalling, resplendent in its striking matte-finish “Frozen Marina Bay Blue” paintwork. Although derived from the recently launched 8 Series Coupe, the M8 has been given a thorough working over by the M Division engineers and the intention has been to dial everything up to yield the ultimate version of the donor car.

During its development phase, M8 prototypes were caned by BMW’s engineers and test drivers at racetracks around the world, including the perilous Nurburgring Nordschleife, which is the benchmark venue where sportscar/supercar purveyors clock fast lap times and subsequently trumpet them to the world as part of their marketing spiel. Anything under eight minutes around the Nordschleife is quick, while seven-minute laps are the preserve of only the most extreme hypercars. BMW isn’t going public with a lap time for the M8 Competition, but project manager Axel Schramm confided to me that the car could go below seven minutes and 30 seconds. To put that in perspective, it’s on par with a current Porsche 911 Carrera GTS, which is certainly no slouch. Even so, Schramm says few prospective M8 owners would ever be likely to take their car to the track.

Plenty of M Division engineering has gone into the M8 Competition to make it this rapid and, apart from the uprated twin-turbo V8, its bag of tricks includes active engine mounts that provide a more rigid connection with the vehicle structure, contributing to more precise turn-in and sharper overall dynamics. There’s also a rigid shear panel and steel X-brace underneath that further stiffen the car, while beefed-up cooling and oil systems ensure the M8 can take a sustained pounding on the track without collapsing in a steaming heap.

The svelte coupe goes from 0-100kmph in a scant 3.2 seconds BMW. Courtesy BMW
The svelte coupe goes from 0-100kmph in a scant 3.2 seconds BMW. Courtesy BMW

Effectively deploying 750Nm of twisting force to the tarmac is taken care of by a clever M xDrive all-wheel-drive system that almost magically apportions torque to the wheels that have the most purchase. This enables superfast exits even from second or third-gear corners where you would otherwise have to be gentle on the throttle to avoid unsettling the car. All of this became evident in real time as we set out behind Spengler. Immediately obvious was that the twin-turbo V8 has vast reserves of grunt, spearing you towards the horizon like a gigantic elastic band every time you stab the throttle. It might lack the baritone bark of an AMG V8, but it’s a mighty engine all the same.

The eight-speed auto it’s hooked up to is also a fast and responsive ally. In fact, when an auto can be this good, one doesn’t bemoan the lack of a dual-clutch sequential gearbox. The computer-controlled wizardry of that rear-biased M xDrive all-wheel-drive system is also a marvel, so much so that you can completely deactivate the stability control system, even around the gnarly Portimao circuit, which throws an assortment of elevation changes, blind crests and challenging corners at you.

Ultimately, the M8’s strengths shone through with maximum intensity. The marvellous elasticity of that V8 engine, along with the agility and suppleness of the chassis, make for an enjoyable blast through the Algarve countryside.

While the M8 can circulate at a decidedly brisk pace, there’s no getting away from the fact it weighs just under two tonnes with a driver on board. From behind the wheel, you can sense there’s an abundance of computer-controlled finessing that’s enabling the car to stay so composed. It may not be a driving purist’s delight, but it’s impressive nonetheless.

Ultimately, the M8’s strengths shone through with maximum intensity. The marvellous elasticity of that V8 engine, along with the agility and suppleness of the chassis, make for an enjoyable blast through the Algarve countryside. Even with the top down, there isn’t an excessive amount of buffeting in the cabin, so you can still converse with your passenger without having to shout.After the on-track thrash, it was time to set out on a slightly less frenetic road loop in the M8 Competition Convertible, which substitutes the “double-bubble” carbon-fibre roof of the coupe with a multilayer soft-top that can be raised or lowered in under 15 seconds – even on the move. As with its hardtop sibling, it’s a genuine four-seater.

So, is the M8 Competition one of the world’s best sportscars? Not quite. But it’s right at the sharp end if we’re talking ultra-rapid grand tourers. BMW’s performance flagship might not be a Porsche 911/Audi R8 basher, but it’s a very worthy adversary to the Mercedes S63 AMG Coupe/Cabriolet and Aston Martin DB11. It’s fast and capable, but the sublime styling alone may prompt many would-be buyers to sign on the dotted line.

Updated: October 10, 2019 03:46 PM

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