The Portimao race circuit in Portugal is a thrilling track. It undulates like a rollercoaster and features a couple of blind corners designed with the sole intent of repositioning internal organs. BMW chose the famed 4.9 kilometre circuit to allow the international press explore the limits of its new M8 Competition in relative safety.
The M8 Competition coupe is BMW’s fastest ever series production car. Under the bonnet is BMW’s most powerful production engine yet; a twin turbo 4.4 litre, petrol powered V8 developing 625hp and 750nm of torque. The sprint from 0-100km/h takes an eye watering 3.2 seconds, proving there is still life left in petrol powered engines. This quite hefty amount of horsepower is delivered to the wheels via an 8-speed M Steptronic auto gearbox and very clever M xDrive set up. M xDrive allows the engine power the rear wheels only or a combination of all wheels depending on the level of traction and grip available. The M8 can even be set up to drift, and yes of course I did. Peak torque kicks in at 5,800rpm while peak power is at 6,000rpm.
The M8 chassis has many similarities to the awesome BMW M5 but sits 10mm lower to the ground with a lower centre of gravity. The M8’s race pedigree is further refined with stiffer engine mounting bushings and a new triangular plate on the underbody that adds stiffness. M compound brakes are standard with massive 395mm brake discs with six piston callipers up front. M carbon ceramic brakes with 400mm discs up front are optional and a must if you intend to do any track days. There is a new integrated braking system that saves 2kgs and the coupe M8 gets a CFRP carbon fibre roof that also reduces weight. Like the M5 there are two M buttons. Both steering wheel mounted red buttons can be programmed to the driver’s taste. Various things can be adjusted and set like engine power, gear change ferocity, traction control, suspension and steering weight. I set M1 to deliver an engine setting of sport plus, VDC to sport, steering to comfort, brakes to sport, gearbox to D3 (automatic with quick shifts) DSC to MDM and M xDrive to 4WD sport. This setting allowed me explore the car’s performance potential with a reasonable amount of assistance running in the background.
I set M2 to a more hardcore driving set up with the VDC set to sport plus, the gearbox to manual S3 (quick manual paddle shifts), DSC switched off and M xDrive set to 4WD – the fastest setting. Contrary to what you might think this 4WD setting sends most of the power to the rear wheels and actually delivers enormous levels of grip. I thought I’d miss having all traction control aids as a safety net but it works so well mechanically you don’t miss them at all. After a sighting lap chasing pace car driven by a pro racing driver who weighed as much as my left leg, we wound up the speed. The torque is immense and while the world has lost interest in fast accelerating engines due to rapid accelerating EVs like any Tesla in ludicrous mode – not only can the M8 hold its own in a straight sprint but it wipes the floor with them when cornering. The M8 did a good job of repositioning my spleen at times, it really is that quick yet incredibly comfortable at the same time. All the time my backside could feel exactly what was happening in terms of grip levels and tyre performance. The smallest amounts of rubber residue or marbles on the track were highly noticeable. The M8 delivered thrills and drifted on demand at speeds that seemed outrageous for a mere mortal driver. Corner hard and you can feel the loaded rear tyre work its guts out to lay down the power. I can’t say the steering offered much feel or feedback of how the front tyres were doing except under braking, but generally the car went where I pointed it and overall its chassis felt incredible stiff and tight.
After the track we took a convertible M8 Competition (€147,090) out on the road route. Roof down and active exhaust flaps open (there is a button to open the flaps if your not in M1 or 2 mode) you can enjoy being as antisocial as you want. Tunnels, narrow streets in fact anywhere the soundtrack the M8 makes when you blip the power is glorious. The car is incredibly nimble and light despite its fully formed shape. Manual gear shifting is the order of the day on hilly routes as otherwise you are squirting on the power and then having to scrub it off quickly with the brakes. Like all high performance cars you must practice restraint and if you leave M buttons alone and turn off the active flap exhaust it is possible to simply cruise along. There is no practical reason to buy an M8 convertible when an 840 will do the job perfectly well and for a lot less. The hard top is ‘yer only man’.