2023 BMW M8 Competition Gran Coupe Review: Alters Your Brain Chemistry

Even though it’s heavy, complicated, and expensive, the BMW M8 Competition Gran Coupe made me desire everything I didn’t want.

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2023 BMW M8 Competition Gran Coupe Review: Alters Your Brain Chemistry © 2023 BMW M8 Competition Gran Coupe Review: Alters Your Brain Chemistry

The first thing I did with the long, low Brooklyn Gray Metallic 2023 BMW M8 Competition Gran Coupe in my driveway was dutifully map the all-wheel-drive system into its optional, all assists off rear-wheel-drive mode. Before I thought about anything, I needed to know. Is this an M car? Is it the real deal?  

With the opening riffs of Blur’s Song 2 in my brain, I may as well have had Madonna in the backseat, like in that legendary commercial with the E39 M5. There it was. An open road, a slight right-hander onto a trafficless slice of desert two-lane blacktop. I cracked the throttle and got my answer. A rolling burnout turned into countersteer, smoke pluming from the rear fenders. Then the hulking BMW caught traction and propelled itself into the horizon. 

You bet your ass this is an M car. It’s one of the most real M cars I’ve ever driven.

<em>Chris Rosales</em>
Chris Rosales

2023 BMW M8 Competition Gran Coupe Specs

    The Basics

    Of course, none of this is new or unexpected. Since its 2019 debut, the M8 has remained largely unchanged and heavily mirrors the more practical and conventionally shaped M5. It has that car’s all-aluminum dual wishbone front suspension and five-link rear suspension, complete with all of the tricks from the M5 Competition. The bushings are mostly made of a specific kind of non-rubber elastomer for more stiffness. This means more directness and more harshness.

    Chris Rosales

    Since 2022, it has only been available in the more hardcore Competition trim, which means 10% stiffer springs that include a progressive spring rate for extra stiffness under heavy load. It’s a quarter of an inch lower, too. Along with nerdtastic revisions like slightly stiffer engine mounts, spherical rear toe links, a bit more front negative camber, and extensive chassis bracing, the M8 Competition has suspension covered. 

    And that bomb of a 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 engine is retained. The S63 powering the M8 is overflowing with cutting-edge technology. Instead of conventional throttle bodies, the engine feeds air using variable valve lift. Think of it as individual throttle bodies, but it's the actual valves instead. Water-to-air intercoolers feed chilled air to the engine from two twin-scroll turbochargers mounted within the center of the V, shortening intercooler piping significantly and making the turbos more eager to spin up. 

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    All of it is bolted to an aluminum subframe with stiffer Competition-spec engine mounts, while an impeccably tuned ZF eight-speed gearbox and electronic clutch-type rear differential send power to all four wheels. The AWD system is heavily rear-biased, with initial torque delivery sent to the rear, then sent forwards by a clutch-actuated transfer case instead of a center differential. The torque split is full variable between 40% front and 60% rear, to 100% rear. 

    Then there’s the 8 Series Gran Coupe body fastened to its capable bones. Yes, it is the sedan version 8 Series, which is the coupe version 5 Series, which means this whole nonsense sandwich started as a sedan and ended with a sedan. But I’m less inclined to care because the M8 Gran Coupe is one of the last gorgeous BMWs. It’s a big fuck you of a car, with four more inches of overall length, two inches less height, and 1.8 inches more wheelbase than the M5. It’s proportionally long and low, taking up visual and physical space with pride. It presents a more striking shape than the M5, by a lot. Especially with the spoiler that cambers upward aggressively, making the profile of the car utterly knee-wobbling. 

    Chris Rosales

    The interior is unique to the 8 Series, mostly in the small details like the air vents, door handles and Bentley-like ambient lighting. It’s all incredibly high quality with fit-and-finish right on par with its six-figure price. My tester had the optional Sakhir Orange interior with the standard M seats, which featured a nice quilted pattern. It’s an incredibly well-judged space, with a driving position sunk sports-car low and a thick steering wheel that met my hands level with my chest.

    Chris Rosales

    There are physical buttons for most major functions. And though a lot of the performance options are buried in menus, there are two red paddles marked M1 and M2 on the steering wheel that can be programmed for quick access to individualized driving modes, hugely simplifying the process. Finally, the latest version of iDrive and BMW’s advanced driver’s assistance suite is available, with a hands-off mode that works in stop-and-go traffic. 

    Driving the BMW M8 Competition Gran Coupe

    Physics is hard at work against the M8 Gran Coupe. It weighs nearly 4,500 pounds, around 200 pounds more than your average M5 Competition. It is excessive in all directions; too big, too heavy, too powerful, with heavy, potentially dynamics-dulling AWD. It’s a far cry from the simpler, more conventional M cars of old. But there is something here that is deeply special. It’s a car that connected with me at any speed.

    Chris Rosales

    The first point of contact was the engine, something I didn’t expect. My past experiences with this 4.4-liter V8 have been of respect but not admiration. It was once an engine that was effectively powerful but soulless. But BMW turned the theater up significantly for the M8 Competition. 

    The exhaust bellows under load and crackles on shifts, with borderline antisocial burbles on deceleration. I could even hear the high-frequency whistle of the turbochargers spooling through the piping of the exhaust. There was very little true induction sound coming from the front, though BMW actually nailed the synthesized engine noise for this car. It was so subtle that most wouldn’t perceive it, and it only adds what the M8 lacks in its turbocharging. It was a wonderful low-frequency, low-rpm bassy trill that mimicked the intake sound of a naturally aspirated V8. There were still frequencies pumped in at high rpm that sounded a bit more synthesized, but the real exhaust did most of the acoustic work.

    Chris Rosales

    Dear lord, did this car haul unbelievable ass. It’s rated at 617 horsepower and 552 lb-ft of torque, but either my keenly tuned butt dyno is out of whack or this car makes substantially more hp than advertised. [Ed. note: It’s the latter. -CT] With AWD on, it deployed thrust in the freakish manner only known to McLarens. On normal roads, zero to 60 mph was completed in just over three seconds, repeatedly. Factor in the 4,500-pound curb weight, and I’m almost sure the car was making north of 700 hp while the ZF eight-speed grasped gears with the ferocity of a dual-clutch.

    Inputs were well tuned. Steering was lacking road information but was precise and built up weight in a linear way with a nice glut of weight on center, though it’s still not the steering some BMW enthusiasts (like me) remember. My tester had the optional $8,500 carbon ceramic brakes that never broke a sweat, even with repeated heavy stops, though the brake pedal took getting used to. Initial bite from the brakes was aggressive, but the brake-by-wire system exclusive to the M8 had feel issues, with a looseness at the top of the pedal that made it hard to apply the brakes smoothly. Getting more decelerative force from the brakes would also take more pedal pressure than I’d like. They got the job done, but pedal feel needed work. 

    But the most stunning, utterly gobsmacking part of driving the car was the way it manipulated physics using a combination of electronics, suspension, and AWD. The M8 is not a graceful dance partner. It is a brute-force solution to the problem of handling. Using a nearly square BMW-spec Pirelli P Zero tire setup with a 275-mm wide front tire and a 285-mm rear tire, it somehow gripped ferociously but had a soft, approachable limit. And it was happiest when set to its most aggressive M Dynamic Mode with all systems set to Sport Plus. 

    Chris Rosales

    The M8 Competition has a magic trick: its AWD. Turn-in wasn’t exactly crisp, but the entire exercise of cornering mostly involved finding the earliest possible place to apply any amount of throttle. Off-throttle, it can feel slightly vague, but it comes alive with power. Suddenly, it was taut and rotating towards corner exit, subtle pitching and rolling motions giving the car a natural feel and me a great sense of where its weight was. Leaning on the AWD made the car, nay me, invincible. It was a cheat code. And its clever torque vectoring was the unlock sequence.

    But turning that AWD off and setting the car to rear-drive-only revealed an entirely different beast. In RWD mode, there were no stability assists, which honestly made it feel downright dangerous for anyone who doesn’t have a decent understanding of car control. But it was outrageously fun, with wheelspin guaranteed in practically any gear up to fourth. It was a hooligan—that one friend that you probably shouldn’t hang out with but do anyways. It was an incessant whisper in my ear: You know you wanna slide that on-ramp a little. Just give in.

    <em>Chris Rosales</em>
    Chris Rosales

    On paper, I should’ve hated driving the M8. I love a simple, connected experience. But this reached into corners of my brain that I thought went away with the development of my prefrontal cortex. Who cares that it’s too heavy, too complicated, and still fundamentally more disconnected than it should be? It is fun above all else, and the brute force performance it had did not correlate with physics as I understood it.

    The Highs and Lows

    The highs are genuinely soaring. It's ludicrously powerful, handles extremely well, has a nice interior space that feels commensurate with the $150,845 as-tested price, and is fairly quiet and comfortable for everyday use. It is for the person who wants something that looks, feels, and sounds more special than an M5, while also still wanting that car’s practicality and technology. But if there must be caveats, I can name a couple.

    Chris Rosales

    That amazing handling comes at a comfort cost. Even in its softest mode, the M8 Competition can be a little harsh for the uninitiated. Sport sedan buyers will completely understand it and enjoy the information, but the car does transmit road imperfections like cracks and bridge joints directly into the cabin with jarring fidelity. The damping in comfort mode is supple, on the slightly firm side but still excellent at managing challenging surfaces. It’s a little confused: it rides well over most things until it gets to a hard edge, most likely due to suspension bushing stiffness.

    Also, the seats are rather firm. It works for my young bones, but I can see the lack of cushion not working for some folks. Keep in mind, these weren’t even the optional carbon bucket seats, just the normal M seats. 

    BMW M8 Competition Gran Coupe Features, Options, and Competition

    There isn’t a lot in the $150,000 low-roof super sedan category up against the M8 Gran Coupe. Its only competitors are the Porsche Panamera GTS, Audi RS7, and Mercedes-AMG GT 63 four-door coupe, with the M8 being slightly more expensive than the first two. You can option the Panamera GTS far beyond the price of the M8, while the Audi RS7 is nearly the same price with comparable options. Mercedes is just now bringing back the GT 63 with a V8 after a forced hiatus due to production shortages, and pricing should be similar to the M8 Competition. The Mercedes can go much higher, like the Panamera.

    Chris Rosales

    Folks who are looking to buy an M8 Gran Coupe also have a nice array of extras to opt for. My tester had the optional, $8,500 carbon ceramic brakes, $3,500 Sakhir Orange over black leather interior, $5,400 worth of exterior carbon fiber, the practically free $100 Driving Assistance Package that includes blind spot monitoring, surround parking cameras, and adaptive cruise, as well as the $1,700 supplemental Driving Assistance Pro package that adds the hands-free adaptive cruise control in traffic.

    It comes with a lot of good standard gear, like the admirably good Harmon Kardon stereo, the huge and configurable head-up display, heated front seats (heated rear seats are a $350 option), four-zone climate control, wireless charging, a 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen, 12.3-inch gauge cluster, and well-integrated wireless Apple CarPlay. 

    Sustainability

    BMW makes no claims about the sustainability of the M8 Competition Gran Coupe. Nor should it, really. It’s a wasteful exercise in physical space and fuel economy. With 17 mpg combined, the M8 isn’t efficient. And with the way it goads you into acceleration, my observed fuel economy over a few hundred miles was closer to 15 mpg. 

    <em>EPA</em>
    EPA
    <em>Chris Rosales</em>
    Chris Rosales

    It does use carbon fiber in its body construction, but BMW doesn’t make any claims beyond its standard corporate initiatives about the usage of sustainable materials.

    Value and Verdict

    Cars like the M8 Competition Gran Coupe are not long for our world. Not even for philosophical or emissions reasons. The truth is that these kinds of cars don’t sell all too well. Folks would rather buy an X6 M or the much cheaper M5 Competition. But I posit that the M8 Gran Coupe will be remembered. Not five years from now, probably not even ten years. But it will be remembered.

    It’s almost certainly going to be one of the last gorgeous, internal-combustion-powered BMWs. Its engine is a special experience. It has an X-factor—it’s cool and unique and made me feel a certain way; an unplaceable warmth and admiration while driving it. I’ve met a lot of my BMW M heroes, but somehow this one is right up there with my favorites. 

    Yes, it’s almost everything that is wrong with the modern sport sedan. It is galactically heavy, spaceship complicated, and expensive at $150,845. But somehow, the M8 captured my heart, altered my brain chemistry, and made me desire everything I thought I didn’t want. It is genuinely brilliant. And most importantly, it is a red-blooded M car.

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