Chris Atkinson takes the flagship BMW M8 Competition coupe around Queensland Raceway to see what it’s made of.
Overall Track Performance
The M8 Competition was definitely a challenge on the track! There are some great parts to this car, and you can see a lot of thought and really clever engineering has gone into it.
The challenge is translating that into track performance when there are a few clear obstacles. This car is a beast, in both good and bad ways, and I had my hands full trying to tame it.
Overall Road Performance
On the road the M8 Competition sounds fantastic, and the torque and power just drags you forward so easily. It’s a big vehicle more suited to high-speed flowing roads rather than quick changes of direction.
Sitting in the car you feel really connected and part of the vehicle. The M8 Competition is at home as a grand touring machine.
The engine is really solid, as we experienced in the M550i xDrive. This version takes power up a notch to 460kW, but keeps the torque the same at 750Nm. It does everything really well: it’s smooth, drivable, and responsive.
The sound is really epic as well, no complaints there. I do feel BMW could have upped the torque, though. I wonder what’s holding it back in this regard, as I’m sure this engine is capable of more.
The straight-line difference between the M8 and the M550i wasn’t huge, but this was also in part due to the much warmer day on which we tested. That will have had some effect on the engine performance, too.
Overall it’s really hard to fault this engine and it’s easy to see why BMW has used it across such a wide range of vehicles. It sounds great, performs well, and is user friendly.
The brakes are excellent and really consistent, which is exactly what you want on the track. I really liked the thought being put in with the ability to have a firmer pedal feel when you are in Sport mode.
To be honest, the difference isn’t massive and probably doesn’t have much of an impact on performance. It would be hard to take the brake pedal feel all the way to the level of a race car, but it shows BMW really is thinking of all the details in the M8 Competition.
I have to say it was very difficult for this car on the track. I can see why BMW did certain things, but in a way the M8 isn’t really a complete package, and everything wasn’t working in harmony.
There are a few things here that start to overlap and rather than complimenting each other, they actually fight each other.
The chassis is very pointy, the car really reacts to steering inputs – which is great. This is due to the geometry, alignment, suspension, and also the firmness of the racing-specification rose joints. So it ticked that box.
But I felt like the only way the rear would stay in line was with the help of stability control. I found the system way too conservative for how I wanted to drive, but in a way it had to be. Otherwise, you could quite easily watch the rear of the car pass you by when you arrive at the middle of the corner.
The problems get bigger, because the reactive front end wasn’t balanced with a progressive rear. Instead, it was unbalanced by a very nervous and firm rear, which couldn’t control the mass once it was moving.
In one way I complement BMW for taking this approach. Dialling cars towards understeer has long been a habit of manufacturers, to stop people entering the trees backwards when it goes wrong. But in my experience… I prefer going backwards into the trees.
Back to the issue at hand. This setup gives the car a very nice and precise front end, which is great on the road and up to 80 per cent, but it made the safety systems intervene the minute I started to push the limits.
After taking a few deep breaths and turning all systems off, I hit the track again. Straight away I had my fair share of moments, and I’m very glad I’ve been a rally driver for the past 20 years. With the M550i xDrive I was actually able to deal with these slides and get a great time out of the car. With the M8 it was harder put it together.
It’s almost like a qualifying setup in a race car, and everything needs to be right to do the best lap time.
This setup can be inconsistent and hard on the tyres, causing the tyre pressures to rise quickly, which is something we noticed with this car.
Overall it’s not a bad chassis, and certain things make sense. If you’re smooth and controlled into the corner it’s stable, but it’s a fine line and the M8 Competition wasn’t in its element on our test track.
Transmission and Differentials
The gear shifts are really nice and sharp, but also very smooth, which is important for acceleration. I liked how, when I accidentally double clicked the gear lever, it only did shifted once and didn’t affect the lap time.
The gear ratios worked well and there was no issue. I didn’t feel like I was ever in the wrong gear, and always had plenty of power and torque at my disposal.
I felt like the xDrive all-wheel drive system was really good from mid-corner to the exit. By that I mean the traction was really good but it also had enough freedom to adjust the line and really place the car where I wanted. It felt a bit biased to rear-wheel drive out of the corners, which was nice and enabled me to get a great exit onto the straights.
Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, there was a tendency for the car to lose rear grip very easily on corner entry.
With the traction and stability control on I couldn’t carry any entry speed, because it would immediately start controlling the car and stop it rotating. But with those systems switched off, it became a bit of a handful.
I felt like one solution would be a stronger differential on braking, which would control the wheel and stabilise the car more on corner entry without having to rely on the safety systems to do this.
Actual damper support was really nice and, as with the M550i, absorption of kerbs without unsettling the car was excellent.
It’s really nice when the unloaded inside wheel can be used on the kerbs, and you’ll quite often see this as the difference between different cars in a race category, from V8 supercars to Formula 1.
Usually the best cars have the least impact from the curbs. Both BMWs have done this really well and I have no complaints. For me just a little bit more forgiveness with slightly more chassis movement would have helped me attack the corner entry, and also would have aided traction.
The steering felt a little light and missing some of the detail and feedback I would have liked, but it was nice and precise. Overall? No major issue.
Wheels and Tyres
The Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres are good, but there is a lot of energy being transferred through them and it really was noticeable on a hot day. It’s a big car with huge amounts of power and torque, and as a result the tyres didn’t feel connected to the track, which then compounds into even greater pressure rise.
I think you would be amazed how much faster this car would be on a more race-oriented tyre.
Driver Aids (Electronics)
As I’ve already discussed, with the car in Track mode but and the stability control still on it was really taking over what I was doing, for both corner exit and entry.
The control is excellent if staying safe is the plan, but if outright performance is the goal it doesn’t really enhance the outcome. With the settings switched off I was able to achieve a much quicker time, but it was a challenge and not without risk.
Seating position was really nice and low, I could get the seat angled back and in a really good position. There was also a lot of support and the seats would suit a wide range of people. It does this without sacrificing comfort, which is great.
I thought the steering wheel was a bit too thick and didn’t give me the feeling I was looking for on a track.
Although it’s really comfortable for a long trip, I prefer something slightly thinner so I have more control over it. I did like the nice touch of the different texture on the back of the gearshift paddles, this makes it a little bit easier to sense them and stops your fingers from slipping.
Visibility was good on the track, but on the road the a-pillars were a bit intrusive and blocked some of my vision through the corners.
I really liked the M1 and M2 buttons on the steering wheel, which you could pre-program and use to easily select the mode that you want on the track. A simple way to transition into hot laps and back again.
I think it will come as a shock to you that the M8 was a bit off the pace of what we expected. 57.36 seconds is a bit of an underachievement for a car of this calibre, and it was hard work to even get that time.
This car definitely was designed as a grand tourer. Even though the track and ambient temperatures were a bit against it, the M8 Competition just misses the mark on the track.
- Really take care on corner entry, time just disappears when you over commit
- Use the RWD balance from the xDrive along with that great engine to focus on the corner exit
- Be careful when switching off stability control, you need to be sharp