I don’t like roller coasters for the simple fact that I don’t like not being in control. The thought of strapping myself in for a high-speed ride where I'm not the driver just makes me cringe. You’d think that maybe I just don’t like speed, but you’d be wrong. As a kid, I raced go-karts, shifter karts, and eventually some bigger and faster stuff—a passion I inherited from my father, who did endurance sports car racing. I don’t shy away from speed, but I do know when to say enough is enough. Cue the 2020 BMW M8 Competition Convertible.
In this day and age, cars are more powerful than they’ve ever been in history, and that power is more attainable than ever too. Yes, you’d have to part with $180,000 to bring this particular 617-horsepower Bimmer home, but you could also walk into a Dodge dealership and walk out with a 797-horsepower Challenger Redeye for under $80,000, or a nearly 500-hp version for even less.
What am I trying to say? There's an abundance of horsepower—cheap horsepower—but does having more of it make a car more enjoyable? Not necessarily. But I did find out one thing the M8 Convertible is really great at.
The 2020 BMW M8 Competition Convertible, By the Numbers
- Base Price (As Tested): $155,500 ($180,000)
- Powertrain: 4.4-liter twin-turbocharged V8 engine | eight-speed automatic transmission | all-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 617 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm
- Torque: 553 pound-feet @ 1,800 rpm
- EPA Fuel Economy: 15 mpg city | 21 highway | 17 combined
- Seating Capacity: Four
- Cargo Space: 12.4 cubic feet
- The Promise: A high-tech, ultra-fast grand tourer.
- The Delivery: A high-tech, ultra-fast grand tourer.
First off, a little background on the BMW M8 Competition Convertible. It's the roofless variant of the M8, which is also offered in Coupe (two doors) and Gran Coupe (four doors). In Competition trim, it gets a 17-horsepower bump from the regular M8's 600, along with specific software and hardware originally developed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship racing units, which won the Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2019 and 2020.
These Competition-only enhancements include a tune to reach peak torque sooner in the powerband, more rigid engine mounts and two twin 100 mm exhaust tips for a purer V8 sound. Also included is an M Sound Control button, which essentially keeps you from pissing off your neighbors when you start the car. I haven't driven the regular M8, so I can't tell you how much of an impact these enhancements make, but I can tell you that paying an extra $13,000 for 17 horsepower isn't what I'd call a great financial decision. But then again, this car costs more than my house, so what do I know?
The test vehicle BMW kindly dropped off at my house with a full tank of gas arrived in a stunning Brands Hatch Gray Metallic with a black soft convertible top. It's not often that I praise a paint job, but BMW really hit it out of the park with this one. The hue had some real depth to it, and when nice and clean, I could get lost in the sea of multi-color sparkles popping within the concrete gray. Nothing like the awful matte (and hard to clean) finish that I recently experienced in a Mercedes-AMG GT.
Wrapped in racy red leather with black and carbon fiber accents, the cabin was exactly how I imagined Sir Richard Branson's spaceship will look like one day. Despite being bombarded with 60+ buttons throughout, however, it doesn't look or feel too busy. It feels like every button, lever, and clickwheel has its own little home and dedicated role, and that someone took a lot of time to make sure button positioning made sense.
Back to my earlier point about horsepower. Thanks to those crazy Dodges, 617 horsepower from a twin-turbocharged V8 surely doesn't sound like that much power nowadays. But it's how a car applies that power to the ground that really matters. And let me tell you, this thing magically glues itself to the ground and rockets you forward as if physics didn't apply to a 4,560-pound luxury car. If someone at BMW told me that the M8 Competition had 950 horsepower I would actually believe them because this thing is that
Diving into the option-rich iDrive system lets you configure all of the car's systems and behaviors, and I mean all of them. Do you want to change the way the car brakes? You can do that. Do you want to switch from AWD to RWD? You can do that. Do you want to change your passenger's AC fan speed and temperature completely separate from yours? Yes, just tap away. Do you want to know, for some odd reason, what your tire temperature is? Yes—because you absolutely have to know your tire temps before driving to Starbucks.
Each of the configurable drivetrain settings, engine, transmission, chassis, steering, brake, and DSC (dynamic stability control) had about four settings each ranging from mild to wild. Regardless of what I chose, sadly, the car was always too damn fast. Too much power, too soon, and simply too excessive for the street.
Tuning the engine down to Comfort made things slightly less jumpy and softening the suspension absorbed some of the blow, but hold the throttle for a split second longer than you need (or mean to), and you'll find yourself doing triple digits while your rib cage is being violently shoved into the seat. If you really wind things out to the 7,000 RPM redline, you'll be doing over 100 mph before needing to shift into third. If you dare shift into third, you'll feel like an earthquake is thrusting the car forward without showing any signs of running out of steam.
The M8's savage speed is further complicated by the fact that the tech-rich M8 Competition relies on the aforementioned settings, which you must input before each drive. Yes, you can customize some things with the Individual function, but not everything. Failing to tweak everything yourself will result in a different driving experience nearly every time you get behind the wheel. In my experience, the car never really behaved the same each time I drove it, meaning that I never really felt at ease with it.
The grunt of the acceleration always came at a different time, the brakes clamped down differently each time. The transmission, albeit lightning-fast for not being a dual-clutch unit, was never quite predictable. It's as if the Terminator was a car. Sometimes it was in to please, but other times it just wanted to manhandle me and laugh in my face.
Of course, there were a couple of moments when I truly enjoyed the car, though it wasn't exactly the kind of romantic affair that I'd expect from a nearly $200,000 luxury convertible. One of those times was late at night when the weather was perfect for a topless drive. The car felt just right gliding through the night (probably using 10 percent of its capacity) with BMW's Laserlight headlights blasting straight-up daylight on the dark road. Despite its panache and eye-watering price tag, this BMW doesn't really garnish much attention from passersby, so one doesn't have to worry about people staring or snapping photos, say, like in an NSX.
The other moment I most enjoyed with the M8 Competition was when it wasn't moving at all. Upon realizing we had a convertible car in for testing, my young daughter had the genius idea of taking it to the drive-in movie theater with the assumption that it'd be cool to retract the roof to watch the big screen. Turns out she was right.
Our six-figure BMW convertible turned out to be the best spot in the house that night, providing us with a seriously-upscale experience not even found in today's high-end theaters (which we can't even visit because of COVID-19). The fantastic Bower & Wilkins Diamond Surround sound system (a $3,400 option) brought The Secret Life of Pets to our ears with crystal-clear definition, while the interior mood lighting, which can be configured to about a dozen different colors, lit up the cabin with a soft glow just like in a proper movie theater.
Once the temperature dropped a bit, I turned on the seat heaters and activated the "neck warmer," which is a small vent that blows warm air on the back of your neck. Oh, and I can't forget my wife's favorite: heated armrests.
So there, while comfortably reclined and enjoying the amazing tech and luxury features the M8 Comp had to offer, it dawned on me: this car doesn't need 617 horsepower to be a good car. It just needs enough to move, but not rocket you into space.
Luckily, BMW sells such a car, the 840i xDrive, which churns 335 horsepower from its 3.0-liter twin-turbo inline-six. Should you want more oomph, the M850i xDrive can do zero to 60 in just 3.8 seconds thanks to the same V8 found in the M8, though detuned to "only" 523 horsepower.
If you live in Germany and have access to the Autobahn (and also money), the 2020 BMW M8 Competition Convertible is the perfect car. If you don't, then I suggest you pick up another one of the 8 Series variants and make your driving experience a lot more enjoyable and your lease payment a heck of a lot smaller.
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