Look back through BMW’s history of big sporting coupés and the V12-powered 850 CSI E31 remains a high-point. It put the German marque into the realms of Bentley, Porsche and even Ferrari, yet it sits in the shadow of celebrated M Sport cars of the same era.
We never got an ultimate M8 E31 version in the 1990s – although a prototype M8 E31 was built. Now BMW is putting that right with its latest flagship, the M8 Coupé and Convertible. Taking the twin-turbo V8 and four-wheel drive system from the current M5, M Sport has developed what it calls its first luxury high-performance coupé. BMW insists that luxury is key to the M8, so it isn’t focused only on performance but also comfort and refinement.
Power has been increased to 616bhp, with torque peaking at 553lb ft. That makes it the most powerful production car BMW has ever sold. It’s also the fastest, with the coupé hitting 0-62mph in 3.2 seconds and a top speed of 189mph, if you’ve got the optional M Driver’s Package. The M8 starts at $123,435, which puts it in the mix with serious cars from Porsche, Mercedes-Benz and Aston Martin. That package adds $20,000…
We’re just outside Malaga for an early-morning departure into the hills. I’m not one for playing with drive settings, especially when I’m getting to know a car, but there are two pre-set M driving modes that are easily accessible via steering wheel buttons. The first firms up the suspension, adds weight to the steering, and sharpens the throttle and gearbox maps. The second, track-only mode ramps up stiffness and aggression fully – and switches to rear-wheel drive only.
The more you work the M5’s slightly anodyne-sounding engine, the better it gets. Traffic is a little busier than I was expecting, but that 616bhp makes overtaking on these glorious Spanish roads effortless. I can’t fault the surprising compliance of the ride either. Given the standard 20-inch wheels, it does a good job of cosseting its occupants in its comfort mode. The M8 is fast without being too unruly.
It feels big, even on these wide roads, but it does a very impressive job of disguising its significant 1885kg weight. Grip and traction are unrelenting so you’ll never get near its limits on the road. Selecting M Dynamic Mode sends up to 70% of torque to the rear, without disengaging DSC, giving you a noticeable shift in attitude. It’s fun, but somehow throwing the M8 around feels slightly inappropriate.
It demands a more grown-up attitude, which is something those more aggressive driving modes contradict. Just because you can, doesn’t always mean you should. Like almost every other manufacturer, BMW is putting huge resources and time into developing its electrified models for the future. There will undoubtedly be more powerful M cars in years to come, but it’s unlikely that any of them will be purely petrol-powered. I find the idea of a 616bhp luxury super-coupé refreshingly traditional – and this might be the last one BMW builds.
Above and below Top of the 8-series range, this is BMW’s most powerful car, and it features uprated M5 engine and drivetrain. The emphasis is on luxury as well as a sporting drive.