From £120,7157

It’s BMW’s fastest ever road car, it’s BMW’s most expensive model and in case you’re wondering, it’s a bit more than a BMW M5 with two fewer doors and prettier bodywork.

Nevertheless, plenty of M8 building blocks are shared with the M5, starting with a platform shared across the 5, 7 and 8 Series. The M8’s engine and gearbox are the same as the M5’s, mighty 616bhp power output included, and so is most of the suspension hardware. There’s dynamic advantage in the M8’s 201mm shorter wheelbase, but there are also a series of modifications, detailed in the tech box, aimed at sharpening its agility.

Other weapons in the M8 armoury, all of them designed to contain, control and capitalise on the pace-raising potential of 616bhp when applied to a hefty 1885kg, include four wheel drive, an electronically governed mechanical limited slip differential, traction control, ESP and a quartet of 20in Michelins, the rears fractionally plumper than the fronts. That’s because larger slugs of torque can be directed rearwards depending on driving mode, the ultimate of these, rather thrillingly, turning the M8 into a pure rear-wheel drive machine, as with the M5.

Find an Autocar car review

Explore the BMW range

Driven this week

The Competition version – the only M8 variant the UK will get – also benefits from stiffened engine mountings that improve turn in, the mass of the powertrain forced to turn more immediately in concert with the body. This alteration also heightens the clarity of the V8’s soundtrack.

Board this car for the first time, however, and you might find yourself suddenly lacking a clarity of purpose when you survey a near-baffling choice of drive modes having taken up (very comfortable) station.

Hovering above a pair of steering wheel spokes densely populated with buttons is a pair of red anodised levers cryptically marked “M1” and “M2” that certainly appear to offer temptation, while amongst the occupants of a busy centre console lies a trio of buttons marked “M Mode” and “Set Up”, the third bearing a twin exhaust symbol. The role of the last of these is at least more obvious, but the others are far from explicit. 

Beside these is a gearlever that indulges the industry’s recent practice of pointlessly rearranging its functions for confusion, this glass-capped knob sometimes motoring its way to neutral unaided. Familiarity, however, defuses any initial discontent with these reinventings, as does the promise-laden, contained roar of the M8’s fat-piped exhausts. Not to mention a resoundingly emphatic departure from rest should you give its alloy throttle pedal a decent prod. 

Does the M8 handle like a true M car on a circuit?

If your first experience of this car involves piloting it around a track, as ours did, you are going to be deeply impressed, never mind the challenges of marshalling 616bhp, 553lb ft of torque and the kinetic effects of 1885kg catapulting into a corners. The M8 is straight-line quick of course, but more memorable, and highly entertaining, is its ability to keep on being quick wherever the track snakes, particularly if the snaking involves long, fast sweepers. The BMW gushes through bends like these with imperious poise and Araldite grip to leave you thinking, every time, that you could have gone quicker.

Tighter turns, which test the mettle of both brakes and tyres, it navigates with tidy certainty, if not the light-footed athleticism of something smaller and usefully lighter. As with many of BMW’s more recent king-size M cars, the M8 puts on a remarkable display of mass and momentum management, understeer surfacing only when you’re being over-ambitious. That’s with four-wheel drive engaged. 

The M-Dynamic label sounds too understated for the rear-drive, dynamic-safety-setting-off mode that instantly turns this rather large German coupe into a 21st century American muscle car. Tyre-squeal, tyre-smoke, tyre-annihilation – they’re all yours if you’d mad enough, although the M8 is vastly more controllable than any muscle car from the ‘60s. There’s scope to get yourself into serious trouble with so much power pummelling through a mere pair of contact patches, but you’re saved, to some extent at least, by the BMW’s poise and low-roll predictability, as well as reassuringly precise steering. You don’t feel much of the grinding, vibrating force of an adhesion breach, but you’ll likely be going hard enough that these tactile niceties are secondary. And very much so, one suspects, on a wet track. A good thing, then, that the by-wire brakes summon very determined slowing, although they tell you less in the moments before lock-up than the best of the conventional variety. Carbon-ceramic discs, incidentally, are an option.

So, chassis chief Sven Esch’s promised linearity of response is there, this car surprisingly easy to handle in spite of its tremendous pace and not insubstantial mass. When its electronic aids are disengaged and the limit is reached the M8’s tail swings with quite some grace, making it that bit easier to catch. If you’re using four-wheel drive – that’s probably wise – you’ll feel the front wheels pulling you out of your drift, whether accidental or indulged. In fact, the M8’s acceleration isn’t quite as savage as its 3.2 sec 0-62mph time implies, its vaulting capacity usually enhanced by the traction of all-wheel drive, but few will quibble and fewer still at its ability to carry speed through corners. 

How does the M8 handle normal roads?

Its performance in the real world of roads rather than racetracks, or smooth racetracks, is a little less polished. The Portimao circuit is largely untroubled by bumps whose intrusion, it emerges, can sometimes prove rather sudden. Small crests, lane-wide heaves in the Tarmac, ridges… all can provoke abrupt, vertical movements that the suspension can’t adequately absorb, its subsequent, slightly underdamped post-bump flop a little less than poised. Britain’s often torn, frequently undulating roads may prove something of a meal for the M8’s suspension, regardless of your chosen damping mode.  

Which is a pity, not only for obvious comfort reasons, but also because it narrows the behavioural range of an otherwise fascinatingly multi-layered car. Own one and you can take your time working through the smorgasbord of settings, enjoying some of what you have paid for. Eventually you’ll confect a preferred duo of your own that can rapidly be deployed via those red M1 and M2 buttons, making this M car a less complicated beast than it first appears.

Calmer motoring moments will also allow you to enjoy a pretty sumptuously furnished cabin that can be upholstered in a rich array of semi-quilted leathers, the stylish dashboard presenting plenty of 21srt century digital support. Which includes an excellent head-up display, a widescreen navigation screen, a live personal assistant and the scope, of course, to programme settings not only for chassis, engine and transmission but also brake feel. This car feels very complete and expensive too, if not quite as lavish as six digit price might imply. And despite its size, those in the rear will find themselves decidedly confined.

Given that this car is effectively close to being a two-seater, it’s worth considering that for almost the same price one could have a McLaren 540C, besides its more obvious Audi and Mercedes rivals. Or of course, a four-door BMW M5 Competition for decisively less.

The M5 is ultimately a less precise and controlled weapon than the M8, but unless you plan plenty of track work, that difference will rarely surface. 

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - BMW M8

BMW M8 Competition Coupé

Save money on your car insurance

Compare quotesCompare insurance quotes

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Explore the BMW range

Driven this week