BMW gives us the super-elegant 8 Series Gran Coupe, installs the astonishing 4.4-litre biturbo V8 engine from M Division into it and then spoils the whole confection somewhat by making one key aspect of the car borderline unbearable on road surfaces that are the norm right across Ireland. Read on to find out why we can't love the M8 Gran Coupe.
In the Metal:
What we essentially have here is a BMW M5 Competition in a fancier frock. And, we don't mind telling you, what a frock it is. Frankly, it's somewhat refreshing in the current age to be writing a BMW review and not have to be moaning on about overly-elaborate detailing or thunderously obnoxious kidney grilles, but maybe we're praising the M8 Competition Gran Coupe too much as a result. After all, it's not a traditionally pretty car; rather, it's an imposing, grandiose beast, one stretched 200mm in the wheelbase when compared to an 8 Series Coupe and given a set of extra doors at the back. It still has big kidney grilles, the trademark of all BMWs under the auspices of the company's Dutch director of design, Adrian van Hooydonk, but its stretched proportions make such features work. It is a fantastic-looking car on the outside and, in our opinion, easily BMW's best product for aesthetic delight right now.
Inside, it's sumptuously appointed in certain places, like an 8 Series Gran Coupe, and then festooned with sporty paraphernalia in others, like a BMW M8. This makes it an unusual conflation of luxury sedan and high-performance coupe, albeit this doesn't lead to an interior ambience that is in any way unpleasant. There are a few gripes, such as the steering wheel being slightly too big in both circumference and in terms of the padding of the rim, the instrument cluster displaying that slightly confusing array of angular graphics that BMW has persisted with for a few years now and rear-seat space is reasonably generous for legroom if not that brilliant for headroom, but overall this cabin is a fine place to be.
There's so much to enjoy here that it pains us to give the M8 Competition Gran Coupe such a middling mark for this section, but our reasons will become clear shortly. First up, though, the drivetrain is a stonking thing. This 625hp, 750Nm, 4.4-litre twin-turbocharged unit never fails to delight no matter what BMW it is installed in. The linearity of its power delivery has to be experienced to be believed, because you'd never credit it for being turbocharged, so smooth and rich and fulsome is the way the M8 Gran Coupe piles on pace. Allied to a terrific eight-speed M Steptronic automatic and given the rear-biased tractive benefits of M xDrive, the M8 Gran Coupe is exactly as ferociously quick as you'd imagine of a 2,032kg car that can post a blistering 3.2-second 0-100km/h time.
It's also phenomenally refined for both noise suppression and the velvet-like feel of its mechanical propulsion bits, so that you never hear any obtrusive wind noise nor tyre chatter, and nor does the car transmit much of drivetrain vibrations into the passenger compartment; this counts whether you're idling along on the low-rev torque or pinging the tacho right round the dial to the redline. And then there's the grip and handling. For the former, there's masses of the stuff - heaven protect those who manage to get the M8 Gran Coupe into difficulties on the road, because you'd surely need to be going at ludicrous speeds to make the four big, fat tyres relinquish their grip on the asphalt. We couldn't find the adhesion limits of the car during our test and we were also decently impressed with the level stance of the BMW's shell during high-velocity cornering, as well as the bite and progression of its brakes and the accuracy and weighting of its steering. The M8 doesn't succumb to the awfully heavy steering set-up in Sport+ mode that can afflict lesser, non-M BMWs with a sporting bent, although we still prefer the lighter, more natural setting of Comfort for the Gran Coupe's steering.
But that mention of 'Comfort' brings us to our problem with the M8 Gran Coupe. As in, there is no 'Comfort' to be found here. Lordy, the BMW rides poorly, and really poorly at that. There are three settings of damping, but even in the one mistitled 'Comfort', the car can't summon up much dignity or grace over road surfaces that are anything less than pristine. It's fidgety and hard-edged around town, noisy and sometimes objectionable over larger compressions taken at speed and only really becomes bearable on super-well-maintained sections of motorway or dual carriageway. In short, for a two-tonne limo with adjustable damping, the brittle Comfort mode makes a mockery of the point of having variable shock absorbers fitted in the first place. The M8 Competition's ride is just too focused and too intense all of the time, and if you step it up into Sport or Sport+, the abrupt nature of the vertical movements of the body simply becomes unpleasant.
The issue with this is that a two-tonne, four-door limo cannot ever be the most involving nor agile of sports cars. It's too vast and too weighty for that, and the two-door M8 Coupe has already shown that the BMW does not have the dynamic acuity to go toe-to-toe with something like the Porsche 911. So we were kind of hoping for the M8 Gran Coupe to be something like the M760Li, all powerhouse engine and supple chassis. It is certainly the former of these; but, regrettably, it's not the latter. Oh, and while we're grousing, for all its monumental power and performance, the M 4.4-litre V8 doesn't sound all that. In fact, the M850i has the better soundtrack of the pair of them. Which leads us onto a final thought for the Verdict section...
What you get for your Money:
On the face of it, the M8 Competition Gran Coupe looks great value, as it's arguably the best-looking of the three M8s available and it's definitely the most practical, yet it's also the cheapest, or should we say 'least expensive' - as it undercuts an M8 Competition Coupe by €4,240 and an M8 Competition Convertible by a significant €15,255. But allow us to further put the M8 Gran Coupe's whopping €201,235 basic list into better context: that's getting on for double what an 840i Gran Coupe (from €105,305) would cost; there's still a very lengthy options list, so while it has a useful level of standard kit as properly befits a flagship, there's every chance the price tag could swell to €230,000 and more with some indiscriminate box-ticking by customers come ordering time; and, finally and perhaps most pertinently, the M8 Competition Gran Coupe is a colossal €34,080 more expensive than a BMW M5 Competition, which is ostensibly the same car, only with better headroom, more boot space and a comfier ride.
This was a car we were very much looking forward to trying, but in the end the BMW M8 Competition Gran Coupe was something of a disappointment. There's no doubt it has a sensational drivetrain and sublime looks, but the ride comfort is, plain and simple, not good enough for a rapid four-door of this class; it seems to have fallen into the same trap afflicting other BMW M Competition vehicles, such as the X5 M and its gritty comportment. If you love the idea of a really fast, really sumptuous 8 Series Gran Coupe, all is not lost, of course, as you can simply specify the M850i model instead for the cost of a mere 95hp. But surely, the full M ought to be the superior car to the M Performance derivative lower down the hierarchy? That's not the case with the BMW M8 Gran Coupe and we find that a shame.