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.