It’d be massively disingenuous to dub the BMW M8 an ‘M5 coupe’. Take a look under the skin, and you’ll find a litany of differences. It’s stiffer, 6mm lower, has a wider rear track, a shorter wheelbase and additional stiffening measures. It has a lower centre of gravity than an M5 and more aggressive camber angles. All stuff you’d want.
It may be pitched as M’s first luxury car, but don’t go thinking it’s a softie. It’s clear BMW has sought to give the M8 an edge over its super-saloon sibling, while also pinching all the best bits. Namely, a 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 engine that’s good for 592bhp, and a trick all-wheel drive system which has a switchable rear-wheel drive mode. Goody.
0-62mph occurs in just 3.2 seconds, which as we’ve discussed before, is really flipping fast. Oddly, it doesn’t feel as scarily fast as you’d expect given the supercar-like stats, but perhaps that’s down to the fairly linear power delivery. It’s also worth pointing out the M8 is reliant on launch control to hit 62mph in that oh-so brief period, using a system which - from our brief experience - wasn’t up for repeated use. Try and do two launches on the bounce, and you may find the launch sequence doesn’t trigger the second time around.
In any case, the M8 is more than fast enough. An occasional glance down at the speedo after a mere tickle of the throttle is all the proof you’ll need. It’s a flexible engine too - silly speeds can be served up in seconds at anything above 2000rpm.
As with the M5, though, it’s not the best-sounding V8. It has a cross-plane crankshaft, which usually results in rumbly loveliness, but instead, the M8 sounds more like a racey but less aurally pleasing flat-plane. You can blame the cross-pipe in the exhaust system - which evens out the exhaust pulses - for that.
It’s awkward that the cheaper M850i sings a more pleasant tune, but when the twisty stuff arrives in front of you, there’s no contest. The M8 turns in sharply, digs in its heels, and refuses to lose traction.
The steering is quick and predictable, and although it is a touch too heavy in its Sport mode, it isn’t excessively so as in some quicker BMWs we’ve seen of late.
The pro drivers at the M8 launch in Portugal insisted that combining the four-wheel drive mode with the partially-off ESP mode is the quickest way to get around a track, but is it the most fun way to experience the M8? No - you need to be switching to 4WD Sport, which chucks more power to the back wheels and changes the M8 from a fairly neutral car to one with a very obvious rear-bias.
The next step is 2WD mode, although it’s only accessible by turning everything to very off. It’s only for people feeling particularly brave with their £123,435 M car, then, but it will step out in a progressive and surprisingly manageable way when you get greedy with the throttle. And yes, burnouts can be done with shocking ease.
That’s all lovely, but the driving mode stuff does go too far. There are so many permutations - literally hundreds of them - that even after spending a whole day with an M8, I still wasn’t satisfied I’d found the ideal set of modes. And I’m sorry, but the switchable brake modes seem like a solution to a problem that never existed. I actually preferred it in the softer ‘Comfort’ mode rather than ‘Sport’, as the later mode was easier to modulate and less grabby.
There are three modes for the gearbox, meanwhile, but none of them stopped me from pining after a dual-clutch gearbox. The eight-speed torque converter auto is effective enough, but it leaves you wanting for both more obedience when it comes to manual downshifts and more aggression on the upshifts.
My biggest reservation about the M8? The M5. The former simply doesn’t have quite have the same impact the latter did when it was launched a couple of years ago. Perhaps it’s because the M8’s bro packed all that ability in a saloon body, and being a coupe, expectations for the newer M Division machine are higher. It is sharper than the M5, helped by all the changes noted earlier, but there isn’t a gulf between these two - the gap’s perilously thin. Since the M8 costs an extra £33,000, that’s a problem.
The weight doesn’t help - the M8 tips the scales at around two tonnes, and whether it’s taken to the track or a wiggly bit of road, you’ll feel each and every one of its kilos.
Then we have to work out who the M8 is for. I don’t think it quite works as a GT - the suspension, while softer than I thought it’d be, does still give a brittle ride over some surfaces. And in any case, if that’s what you’d want, there’s the still bonkers fast M850i to consider. Or perhaps you’d opt for a Mercedes-AMG S63 coupe, which is silly fast and great to drive while being much better at the whole wafty luxury thing. It’s no supercar, and it’s not a sports car either.
If this makes it sound as though the M8 is rubbish, that’s not my intention. First off, it looks fantastic - I’d go so far as saying it’s the most attractive thing BMW makes right now. It’s exciting and it’s monstrously fast both in a straight line and around corners. But it’s also an M car, and that means it should go above and beyond, which it doesn’t - not quite. In 20 years, I just can’t see us including the M8 in a list of M Division’s greatest hits.