BMW M8 Competition Coupe (2019) International Launch Review

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The eagerly-awaited BMW M8 Competition Coupe will arrive in South Africa shortly, locked and loaded with M’s full arsenal of horsepower and tech… Our correspondent Shane O' Donoghue tested it on road and track in Portugal.

About this time last year, we came back from Portugal and our first drive in the then-new BMW M850i xDrive and, if memory serves, we were left gobsmacked by its abilities and performance... We wondered how in the world BMW would be able to improve on that car by enough of a margin to justify the bestowment of full-on M-car status on the car that would succeed it. Well, now we’re back from Portugal, again and we've spent a few days driving the 2020 BMW M8 Competition. Without wishing to spoil the surprise, we think you’ll find this write-up makes for interesting reading. 


Evil-looking kidney grille up front gives the M8 a sinister face.

Let’s start with the exterior. In isolation, you’d possibly wonder is there much difference between the M Sport versions of the 8 Series and the M8 Competition, especially as buyers of the former can specify a carbon exterior pack. Nonetheless, the M8 Competition gets a carbon roof as standard, along with special wheels, a unique and evil-looking take on the BMW kidney grille, more aggressive styling for the bumpers, a rear spoiler and, of course, quad exhaust outlets. What you might not spot at first glance is the wider wings, which add serious muscularity to the M8 M8 Competition's road presence. The Competition version we tested gets lots of black detailing, too, which extends to the badging.

Inside, the M makeover is predictable but still welcome. Two-tone leather and Alcantara sports seats feature illuminated M8 logos up front, while the (still ornamental) rear seats mimic their style. The steering wheel looks modest as it does without the marketing-lead disease of a flat bottom, but it feels good in the hand and the metallic gearchange paddles behind are a tactile delight (if a little small). You’ll spot the bright red M1/M2 buttons on the wheel, too. That colour is repeated on the engine-start button, which gets copious amounts of lacquered carbon fibre in the Competition version. And, if you shield your eyes from the glare of that adornment you may spot a few new driving mode buttons that aren’t in the regular 8 Series. More on that in a moment. Meanwhile, the transmission lever is a new design, with built-in illumination and a toggle switch to alter the Drivelogic settings.


New gear lever design and red engine start button match the M1 and M2 buttons on the steering wheel.

The rest of the dashboard is the same as that in the 8 Series, more or less, with its two large screens and BMW’s latest iDrive system replete with voice, touch and gesture control functions, along with the perfectly good old-fashioned rotary controller. Spend time with the M8 Competition and you’ll discover it has its own instrumentation design layout and head-up display, along with M-specific menu and readout options for the central touchscreen. In fact, there’s a new M Mode button that allows the driver to switch from the default Road setting to Sport and then Track, with various levels of comfort and assistance sub-systems disabled accordingly. In track mode, the central display and audio are switched off to minimise distraction as well. That’s a promising feature, as it suggests that BMW M’s people expect M8 drivers to well, you know, drive. Really drive.

What’s it like to drive?


The M8 Competition uses the same engine as the M5 Competition - 466 kW and 750 Nm from the 4.4-litre twin-turbo.

While there’s nothing massively new in the powertrain of the M8 Competition that we’ve not already experienced in the BMW M5 Competition, it’s still worth poring over its technical specification, as it’s rather special. The twin-turbo 4.4-litre V8 produces peak outputs of 466 kW and 750 Nm of torque, via an M-developed version of the company’s usual 8-speed automatic transmission. As ever, you can use that as a fully automatic transmission or almost fully manual (i.e. it will never change up a gear for you, but will change down eventually if you slow without shifting down), while the Drivelogic system has 3 levels of gearshift speed, ranging from soft and smooth to downright violent. That feeling is enhanced by the extra stiff engine mountings exclusively fitted to the Competition version of the M8, making it all feel very urgent indeed.

Drive then goes to the M xDrive system with a fully variable central differential, an open front axle diff and the electronically controlled Active M differential on the rear to control side-to-side split of the torque. But no matter how you drive this car, it never feels anything other than rear-biased. The default mode is simply 4WD, but 4WD Sport is much more fun, sending more power, more of the time, to the rear axle, and allowing more slip in the progress. Even in the mid-setting of the traction control, it’s possible to get a satisfying drift going for a moment on the exit of a tight corner (on track only, obviously). If vaporising rear tyre-tread is how you get your kicks, then you’ll appreciate the inclusion of a 2WD mode, a fully rear-wheel-drive setup without any electronic traction safety net. Enthusiasts will love that! Insurance underwriters? Less so.


Even in 4WD Sport mode, the M8 Competition feels rear-biased.

As fun as the M8 Competition can be to drive in the right conditions, the newcomer is at its best when you’re playing with the grip levels rather than gratuitously overstepping the limits. For such a heavy car, it’s remarkably agile and ever-obedient to driver inputs. And it does without the rear-wheel-steering of its xDrive-equipped 8 Series brethren. Nonetheless, its variable-ratio steering works in conjunction with the increased front camber and solid ball joints (in place of rubber mounts in the toe links) to give M8 Competition's whole front end a more precise and communicative feel than any other 8 Series. The level of feedback coming through to your hands on the steering wheel is commendable. 

The best thing is that BMW's M Division has managed to combine this engagement and communication with raw cornering speed thanks to the wide track and overall stiffness. It moves all apiece in the tight corners and body control is superb. Naturally, all that is with the various sub-systems turned up to their sportiest. As is BMW M’s way, the M8 Competition’s driving manners can be tweaked by its driver to suit their mood or the road conditions. Press the Setup button on the centre console and a simple menu pops up on the touchscreen, which shows the current settings and allows the driver to make changes. Engine response and damping have 3 levels, while the steering has 2. As does the braking system...


You can now set up different levels of brake feel in the M8 Competition.

That’s a first from BMW – offering 2 distinct levels of brake pedal feel thanks to the creation of a new integrated braking system that also saves weight, reduces drag on the engine and works quicker with driver assistance functions. Unnervingly, this system purports to offer consistent brake pedal feel, regardless of brake temperature and other factors, but we’re not sure we like the sound of that. There is a discernible difference between the Comfort and Sport modes for the brakes, but we’re doubtful that it’ll be something owners alter all that often. Our test cars used the mighty (and optional) carbon-ceramic brakes, so we had no issues with stopping power no matter how hard we tried.

Back on the road, the M8 Competition proves to be tidy and fast; it covers ground with indecent pace when the road opens up. And yet, it never feels teeth-jarringly firm, either, so it plays the grand tourer (GT) role seemingly as well as its lesser sibling. 

Verdict


The M8 Competition has found another level of performance and magic, making it a proper M Car with distinctive attitude.

We thought the M850i played the role of sports car and GT to good effect, but the new BMW M8 manages to put even that in the shade with its breadth of ability. Sure, it’s still a big, heavy coupe, but M has worked its usual magic to give the M8 Competition personality galore to go along with its dramatic performance. If you love driving, then it’s not difficult to recommend that you pay the premium over the M850i – this is a proper M car.

BMW M8 Price in South Africa

BMW M8 Competition Coupe       R2 958 053

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