Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: August 4, 2020
Six hundred horsepower. Twenty years ago, if you walked into a dealership and wanted 600 stock horses, your only choice would have been a McLaren F1, as not even the famed Lamborghini Diablo SV or Ferrari F40 could claim that figure. Six hundred was perceived as an unattainable ceiling, and was considered such an absurdly high output that once engineers were finally able to achieve that mark, they had a difficult time designing tires and a chassis that could keep up. They were never cheap either, far from the reach of an average middle-class enthusiast. Nowadays, you have hypercars producing twice the horsepower and costing twice as much, but don’t let that fool you. High-octane performance has never been more accessible.
That brings us to the BMW M8 Competition Cabriolet. For just $173,500 (a large sum of money still, but far cheaper than the exotics it competes with), you can have all of it. 617 horses to be more specific, enough torque to warrant a Geiger counter, and the ability to out-accelerate a McLaren 570S and Ferrari 488 GTB from 0-100 km/h. You can thank all-wheel drive for that. If that’s not a supercar slayer in an eyeball-gouging suit of Signal Green, I don’t know what is. Unholy speed just comes so easy these days, especially with all four wheels able to claw into the ground for maximum traction at launch. Furthermore, it has got a quick shifting 8-speed automatic transmission that is able to handle all that power without shattering into a million pieces, and this M8 doesn’t even have a proper roof for heaven’s sake. It is a roofless rocket for all intents and purposes, and we simply adore it.
For those not up to speed, the M8 is BMW’s current halo sports car, the most powerful, most high-tech, and quickest vehicle to sport the blue roundel badge. It replaced the outgoing 6 Series, and brings the 8 Series moniker back from the ashes. This is the first-ever M8 to reach production, but there was actually a prototype E31 M8 that was developed to be BMW’s flagship back in the early 1990s. It had a F1-derived 6.1-litre, 24-valve V12 engine producing close to 600 horsepower, but never made it into production due to economic reasons. Shame.
But floor the gas pedal in the new M8 Competition and you have instant access to power that never existed back then. The 4.4-litre V8 (codenamed S63) officially puts out 617 hp and 553 lb-ft, and the Cabriolet runs a 0-100 km/h time of 3.3 seconds, one-tenths slower than the Coupe, but we all know that’s bollocks. BMW consistently underestimates their outputs, and we have reports of M8 Competition Coupe owners clocking just below the three second mark on a stock vehicle. Judging from our experience with the M8’s violent launches, we believe it. And the 8-speed automatic transmission streamlines the shifts so smoothly that the feeling of speed is exaggerated even more as it races towards the 7,200 rpm redline. It’s a welcome match to the boost-chugging V8, picking gears assertively while executing shifts in a polished and gentle manner that you won’t find in a dual-clutch.
If you go into this review thinking that the M8 is just a supersized M4, you will be sorely disappointed. Its mojo is different, catered towards long-distance sport cruising rather than track domination. The BMW M8 is a grand tourer first and foremost, there’s no denying that. No matter how much BMW markets it as a sports car, it will never outdance a Porsche 911 on a backroad, or carve canyon roads better than a Mercedes-AMG GT R, but it will sure as hell try, and it comes damn close. The Competition model helps with achieving that, costing an extra $9,500 but loading up the M8 with 17 more horsepower, a broader maximum torque band, stiffer engine mounts, firmer suspension settings, re-tuned steering for quicker lateral responses, increased front negative camber, rear toe-link ball-joints instead of rubber bushings, an M Sport exhaust, and a unique Track Mode that is designed for track use only and turns off all the driver assist systems, radio, and screen displays.
The M8 carries quite a burden with a lot of weight to manage, especially in convertible guise which weighs 120 kg more than the Coupe. It’s never agile - it’s too big for that - but it’s never ungainly, unapproachable, or unmanageable either. Thanks to an army of tech like an electrically-controlled limited slip differential that pushes power to the outside wheel when accelerating of a corner, an adaptive suspension, and variable ratio steering, the M8 shoots you from zero to hero in milliseconds, letting you make the most of the power without worrying about what comes after. Full-on acceleration is never frightening and the grip is always there, giving you an overwhelming sense of confidence when a nearby challenger approaches.
The M8 is sure-footed, grounded, and never seems to lift a foot off the road. It’s not easy to break traction, even in MDM mode - think of it like a halfway point between full and zero stability control intervention. It finds grip anywhere and everywhere, and you have meaty rear tires and a clever rear-biased all-wheel drive system to thank for that. Even with the convertible’s slight loss in structural rigidity, body motions are fluid and there’s hardly any noticeable chassis flex. And even with its long masculine dimensions, the M8 remains an easy and friendly car to drive, but the electrically boosted brakes, with two adjustable settings for strength and pedal feedback, can get a bit twitchy on the last 10% of the pedal, stopping and lurching you forward if you’re not feathering it to a halt.
The adaptive suspension is tuned to handle pockmarked roads better than sausage curbs. It’s noticeably stiffer than the M850i but not nearly as rough as we expected in Competition trim, and no less composed on the road. Even without an air suspension, there’s almost a 7 Series vibe in the way it hovers around town, and would be our choice of chariot over the Porsche 911 or AMG GT R if a lengthy road trip was on the menu.
In fact, you never really feel the M8’s enormous footprint until you begin to explore its grip limits, brake hard, or ask the steering to defy physics. There isn’t a major disconnect between body and chassis, but the numb and overly-weighted steering doesn’t help the cause. There’s a synthetic vagueness to its rotation and feels somewhat artificial, especially if you’re coming from a 911 or an Alfa Romeo Giulia. Moving up to Sport Plus steering only ramps up the rotational effort required, and doesn’t actually relay more feedback to your fingertips through its thick-rimmed steering wheel. Disconnecting the front axle for RWD mode does free up the front wheels from its steering, accelerating, and braking duties for a more naturally weighted and less artificial experience, but it comes at a cost of disconnecting every driver nanny, stability control included. So you better know what you’re doing lest you end up on Instagram with #supercarfails next to your name.
The M8 harbours a deep-timbred, tightly strung V8 soundtrack. There’s a richness to its notes, though there are just as many obnoxious pops and bangs on overrun as other BMW examples, if you’re into that kind of thing. Luckily, that’s only when Sport Plus mode is engaged. Efficient and Sport modes carry a more reserved and mature sounding note, and while not as wild or as aggressive as the AMG GT R, it’s a V8 anthem that we can listen to all day long. Of note, the M8 Competition doesn’t sound very different from the regular-spec M8, idling and roaring with the same indistinguishable wardrum beat.
Signal Green wouldn’t be our first choice - not all of us prefer Hulk’s natural shade of green - but you have to give it to BMW for offering such a vast palette of unique paint colours with its BMW Individual Manufaktur package ($14,500) that includes shades like Nardo Grey, British Racing Green, and Laguna Seca Blue. There are a wide number of frozen matte paints to choose from as well, though they do require more care and upkeep, or at least a protective film. We would probably opt for a more subtle shade of Donington Grey or Dravit Grey instead.
But what we can’t deny with Signal Green is that it makes the M8’s body lines pop with flair. The current 8 Series lineup is one of the best looking BMWs in existence. It may not go down in the history books with the E31 850CSi, which has long been considered the most beautiful coupe wearing the blue roundel badge, but it’s close. Boasting a long hood, classic GT proportions, chiseled shoulders, and a tucked-in derriere, from a beauty contest, the 8 Series has no peer, even in soft-top cabriolet guise, which can retract in 15 seconds and at up to 50 km/h so you can stow on the go.
Two-door coupes are hardly ever practical, nevermind a 2+2 convertible that relegates much of the available trunk space to roof stowage. That turns the two available rear seats, as cramped as they are, into storage space for small bags and groceries. The M5 and M8 Gran Coupe will forever be more attractive to those focused on practicality, but those looking to be kissed by the sun will not find fault with the Cabriolet. It’s as easy to live with as a docile, non-attention seeking cat. Just feed water, or in this case, fuel. Ingress and egress won’t be an issue for geriatrics, the driving position is excellent and the range of steering column movement allows taller drivers to sit further back and recline more. The seats are like living room sofas, beautifully quilted and stitched, heated, ventilated, and heavily bolstered with soft padding throughout. That said, the ones in the M5 are better, with their dual backrest panels that allow for more adjustability. Still, there’s enough tech and connectivity gizmos in the M8 to keep technophiles occupied, and cabin insulation is better than most soft-top convertibles, though louder than the Gran Coupe we tested a few weeks back with its double-paned windows and heavier roof insulation.
We have become so accustomed to the rampant proliferation of digital real estate - just look at our smartphones these days which consist of a screen and zero actual buttons - but BMW has flipped this trend and kept with an interior layout that focuses on dedicated hard buttons and dials. Yes, the 10.25-inch center screen can be utilized with touch input but there’s a rotary dial next to the gear shifter to control it as well, which happens to be our preferred method. There’s a dedicated button for everything, including all the HVAC features, and even eight shortcut buttons that can be programmed for anything including your favourite radio station, sport mode display, or certain navigation destinations. The M8 also comes with a unique, though somewhat diminutive, gear shifter that isn’t found in other BMWs, M5 included. It’s leather-wrapped, has a Park button, and follows the same L-shaped gate, though.
There’s a lot to like with BMW’s flagship convertible. It may not be the sharpest knife in the toolshed but it’s no less quick, no less engaging, and delivers just as much sensory excitement as a rivaling 992 or GT R. You could think of it as a German muscle car with grand touring intentions. The M8 also breaks the boundaries of what we thought possible decades ago. With accessible levels of horsepower, a sleek silhouette, and a not-that-astronomical price tag in the grand scheme of supercars, the M8 remains one of our most recommended grand tourers of 2020. It’s a boulevard cruiser by day, speed demon by night.
If practicality remains a top priority, why not the M5 or the M8 Gran Coupe instead? Many have also wondered if the M8 Competition is overkill, when an M850i provides arguably 7/10ths of the performance but with a softer suspension and a more lax and focused attitude on leisure cruising. I would tend to agree. The M850i is all you need, looks just as sporty as the M8, is far more sensible and mature sounding, and harbours the same basic V8 with over 500 horsepower and warp-speed acceleration. The M8 fulfills its range-topping duties rather well but we would be taking the M850i instead, saving the forty grand, and setting it aside for a rainy day. 600 horsepower and speeding tickets tend to go hand in hand, something we know absolutely nothing about.
Model: 2020 BMW M8 Competition Cabriolet
Paint Type: Signal Green
Base Price: $173,500
Price as Tested: $188,000
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,871 / 1,907 / 1,353
Curb weight (kg): 2,068
Engine: 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8
Horsepower: 617 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 553 lb-ft @ 1,800 - 5,860 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 14.9
Tires: Michelin Pilot Sport 4S; 285/35ZR20