PORTIMÃO, Portugal – Back in the late ‘90s, towards the end of the E31 8 Series’ production, BMW put together a concept car that intended to compete against the likes of Ferrari 550 Maranello. Badged as the M8, this V12-powered GT sported a bored-out 5,5-litre V12 pushing 410 kW to the rear with a six-speed manual gearbox. Sadly, only three of these prototypes were made before the project was shelved. BMW believed there was no market for a high-performance GT due to the ongoing economic recession.
Fast-forward 20 years and BMW’s dreams have eventually come to life with the new G15 BMW M8. Much like the initial concept, this is a hardcore grand tourer with enough space for four people. It eschews the naturally aspirated engine, manual gearbox and rear-wheel-drive system but that’s okay because it has the brand’s S63 twin-turbocharged 4,4-litre V8 pushing 460 kW and 750 N.m to all four with BMW’s xDrive system. The numbers are nothing short of intimidating: 0-100 km/h in a claimed 3,2 seconds and it’ll sprint to 200 km/h in another 7,4 seconds until it reaches its limited top speed of 305 km/h (in the case of the M Driver’s Package). These figures are even more impressive when you consider the car’s claimed mass of 1 960 kg.
Based on the CLAR platform, it’s worth noting similarities to its four-door sibling, the BMW M5. That’s not to say this is merely a two-door version. The BMW M engineers have ensured that from behind the wheel, there are distinctive characteristics that separate this from the M5. This chassis benefits from refinements such as stiffer engine mountings, increased camber on the front axle, bespoke suspension tuning and stronger bracing elements. Ultimately, the M8 is a more rigid and intense sportscar.
The technical and sweeping corners of the Algarve International Circuit were the ideal proving ground for the lateral capabilities of this nearly two-tonne GT. My initial excitement was interrupted by the V8’s suffocated engine note. It’s distinctively quiet but not without reason as the WLTP particulate filter snuffs out any chance of pops or bangs. Once this car reaches South Africa, this won’t be the case as the filter is not a requirement here.
This fleeting moment was quickly replaced by adrenaline as the Teutonic coupé glided through the first pair of right-hand corners. At the correct angle, the M8 can tackle these at full throttle thanks to the innate xDrive system. Swiftly reducing speed for the third sharp right-hander was no issue thanks to the M compound brakes. You can feel a touch of instability under hard braking after a long straight but that is to be expected from such a hefty vehicle. You have to place your faith in the M8’s dynamic stability control and active suspension if you want to experience just how fast it can corner. Once you do, you’ll be impressed by how easy it is to drive fast. In our second leg of track time, our instructors told us to turn off the traction and stability control so we could fully experience the unfiltered rear-biased all-wheel-drive system.
This leaves no room for error as the only true fail-safes you have are the supporting traction of the front wheels and the active M differential. Surprisingly, the M8 isn’t untameable in this setting. It’s definitely not afraid to show its tail-happy persona but committing to the throttle will see it correct itself in time. High-speed cornering is a distinctive struggle and it’s a challenge to maintain stability. The trick here is to gauge the perfect throttle and steering input. It’s not easy as these are electrically assisted; it lacks that mechanical feel despite a pleasant weight to the controls.
It’s a real pleasure to see BMW has fulfilled a dream from 20 years ago. The advancement of technology and shift in the global market has given the M8 a new life and with good cause. It is an absolute blast to drive and a testament to what BMW M stands for. Will true M fans be willing to fork out over R3 million, though, as this is a significant premium over the BMW M5 Competition?