Above the busily buttoned steering wheel spokes is a pair of red anodised levers cryptically marked “M1” and “M2”, while a crowded centre console presents buttons marked “M Mode” and “Set Up”, the third bearing a twin exhaust symbol. The role of the last of these is more obvious, but the others are less explicit. And the glass-capped gearlever knob’s pattern will require thought if you’re unfamiliar, too.
Prodding the starter soon reminds you of the M8’s core promise however, its quartet of exhausts issuing a low, blaring roar highly suggestive of power. A long, empty road and a deep-sunk throttle will immediately and emphatically confirm this car’s massive pace, committed braking the effectiveness of a by-wire system that has plenty to do with no less than 2010kg to slow.
Despite such heft this open top M8 can dart about with grippy aplomb, although you’re unlikely to forget that you’re riding aboard a big car unless you’re indulging the wide surfaces of a track.
As a track drive in the slightly lighter, more rigid M8 Competition Coupe reveals, a smooth-surfaced track is where this king-size M-car excels. Especially if the bends are long, fast sweepers, which it surges through with thrilling authority and huge speed. It can handle tighter turns with more deftness than its mass might suggest, especially if you marshall its fat 553lb ft of torque with respect for your rubber.
Once the moment of maximum direction-changing has passed, this convertible will depart a bend like you’re escaping a fire, the extra pulling power of its front wheels speeding your arrival at the next turn. Wondering what this big V8 might be like if it were rear-wheel drive?
Then select the innocuously labeled M-Dynamic mode, and all torque to the front wheels will be staunched in favour of rear tyres that will also turn freed of any electronic controls.
The result is an extra-exciting track drive that will certainly test your car-handling skills given the resulting excess of power over grip, although the BMW will slide its rear end with reassuringly predictable grace. Poise, measured roll and precise steering all make this car easier to tame than its vital statistics might. In time, you’ll find your favourite settings for all its sub-systems, these rapidly accessed via those “M1” and “M2” toggles.
The poise you enjoy on the track is less easy to experience on the road. This ferociously fast car needs to be travelling at often inadvisable speeds for its capabilities to be uncovered, and it is not a small vehicle either. More than that, lumps, bumps, crests and heaves it sometimes attacks rather abruptly, and occasionally with a slightly under-damped post-intrusion flop.
This, and the fact that this is a convertible, tends to encourage a more relaxed approach to your journeying, which at least provides a moment to savour the exhaust’s roar and rumble. You’ll also realise that the M8’s elegant fabric top, which needs 15seconds to render itself invisible, caps a body remarkably free of flexing shudders.