Car Reviews

2020 BMW M8 Competition review

IN A NUTSHELL: The fastest M car yet feels every bit as impressive as it should. It’s not the Porsche 911 Turbo killer BMW first said it would be, though it comes close and excels for luxury and comfort.

What is it?

BMW’s original 1990 8 Series coupe was the first road car to mate a six-speed manual to a V12 engine. This new M8 isn’t so wild, but it’s bent-eight engine and lightning-quick eight-speed auto is no less a true German bahnstormer.

As the flagship offering in the Bavarian car maker’s M Division stable, it comes at no surprise that it’s the most expensive, but there’s still some sticker shock when you see it.

How much does it cost and what do you get?

Pricing is $352,900 before on-road costs. That’s Porsche 911 money, which is exactly the rival BMW has in its crosshairs.

What you get, however, is a well-equipped luxury sports coupe with a thundering V8 turbo engine tuned by BMW’s M Division. The performance arm also tunes the bespoke dampers, suspension, and brakes, and adds M-specific features such as the Merino leather-bound sports seats with M seatbelts, M steering wheels, gearshifter and plaques in the cabin.

This is also the Competition spec – the only specification in Australia for M8 – which means it has things like a beefier exhaust, stronger engine mounts, and revision to suspension geometry.

Other features include a carbon-fibre roof, 20-inch alloys, gloss-black grille and trim elements, 16-speaker Bowers & Wilkins surround-sound system, 10.25-inch infotainment with Apple CarPlay, keyless entry and start, electric-adjustable front seats with heating and cooling, dual-zone climate control, 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster and a head up display. There’s also a full safety suite of driver assistant aids, automatic highbeam lights, rain-sensing wipers, soft close doors and a hands-free electric opening boot lid.

What’s the interior like?

It’s a very nice cabin inside, clad with quality leather, soft Alcantara and solid metal trims. It looks sporty, unpretentious, yet luxurious. The seating position is spot on upfront, with plenty of adjustment in the front pew for the driver to sit low, and with nice height and reach on the steering wheel movement. The problem will be for those in the rear who won’t enjoy the short headspace and compromise legroom. It’s not much of a grand tourer for four.

But upfront the nice touches keep on appearing. The switches feel solid and are styled nicely, metal elements blend with carbon fibre trims, the dash faces the driver but is easily operable by the passenger, and the infotainment inputs for voice and via rotary dial work quickly and easily. We’re yet to be sold on gesture control, which leaves you waving your hand up and down at the screen waiting for a response. Perhaps that’s just an Us problem.

The infotainment is nice to use though, measuring a wide 10.25 inches which is plenty of real estate for displaying dual-panel information, such as sitting sat nav next to music so you can see both at the same time. Apple CarPlay is standard equipment, and there’s sat nav with live traffic and DAB radio. The driver’s instrument cluster is also digital, customisable in layout and information that it displays. And the colour head up display on the windscreen is bright and easy to read, providing information such as live sat nav directions, the speed limit, and the vehicle’s speed.

There’s some good storage inside with a big centre console bin, and incorporated technology like a wireless phone charging pad and USB A and C ports. In the back is a 420L boot, which can extend into the cabin via 50:50 split-fold rear seats to slide long items in, like skis. After all, this is all-wheel drive.

What’s the engine like?

Based on the N63 V8 engine first introduced in 2008 with the X6, this special M Division version based on the same block is specially designated S63. Each cylinder has a swept capacity of 549cc for a total claimed capacity of 4.4-litres rounded, blown by two twin-scroll turbochargers with a pulse tuned, cross-engine exhaust manifold. That last bit keeps the turbines on boost every 180-degree rotation, unlike in regular N63 engines. It makes it more responsive to throttle input.

Producing 460kW at 6000rpm and 750Nm at 1800 to 5600rpm the M8 feels absolutely weaponised in a straight line, blowing away any BMW production road car before and hitting 100km/h from a standstill in 3.2 seconds. It’s a feat that amazes and will make any car enthusiasts smile. For reference, the same-engined BMW X5/6 M we tested completed the sprint in 3.8 seconds, so the 1885kg M8’s weight-saving – despite being relatively heavy still – does wonders, along with its xDrive all-wheel drive.

The eight-speed torque-converter automatic is also a lighting gear changer, swapping cogs with a surge of pace when firing up a gear. It’s utterly smoking when you’re right on the throttle pedal and makes a mongrel of a sound through the M Sport exhaust system.

Fuel consumption is claimed at 10.4L/100km on 98RON, the only choice from the bowser. But give it a bit of stick and the consumption will be up over 15L/100km in no time.

What’s it like to drive?

Riding on BMW’s latest CLAR platform architecture the M8 uses a double-wishbone McPherson strut front end with multi-link rear and adaptive dampers all around.

Ride quality in comfort mode is plush considering the 20-inch wheels and tyre noise well dampened from the cabin, so it’s a comfortable cruiser. It will waft a little in comfort mode though so it’s not great for a stable footing when driving quickly, but it’s the right choice for most driving conditions when you want comfortable ride quality. You don’t get a brittle transmission from sharp edges, and corrugations are ironed out pretty smoothly.

On the commute or highway cruising, the BMW safety equipment is always helpful; adaptive radar cruise, lane-keeping assist with servo-assist steering, blind-spot monitoring, and AEB for emergencies.

Turning through to normal and sport modes, the dampers firm and the weight transfer is better controlled when cornering with pace. The xDrive AWD does a tight job in helping grip the front while controlling the rear torque bias, though on the slippery, snowy conditions we drove in it’s was hard not to feel the rear slide around when pushing the throttle down out of corners. Luckily, the rear-drive bias was kept at bay, as it can decouple the front axle so that it is purely rear-wheel driven in Sport+ configurations. It also has an electric rear diff which helps grip. 

The M8’s steering is progressively tight though not chattery and overly communicative, firming up in Sport mode and more natural in Comfort. Turn-in is very responsive and not surprising given the Competition spec brings -1.8 negative camber over the normal M8 available overseas. And the brakes are impressive, massive 395mm front and 280mm rear disc brakes quickly bringing the car to a halt.

While BMW says on record that it was gunning for the Porsche 911, that’s a target too far to the side of what the M8 delivers. This is a luxurious belter that can blow away just about anything on the road, the 911 Turbo S not one of them. But that itself is a scalpel-sharp sports car less endowed with luxurious flourishes and feeling the M8 delivers, along with a great V8 noise track.

Editor's Rating

How do we rate the interior and practicality?
How do we rate the value?
How do we rate the controls and infotainment?
How do we rate the performance?
How do we rate the ride and handling?
How do we rate the safety?

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Alex Rae

Alex Rae