For those who are familiar with its wares, M Division needs no introduction. But indulge us. We think of M Division as a kind of elite boxing gym. It’s where BMW’s normally polite and otherwise well-mannered vehicles go to get ripped, shredded, and toned. It’s where champions are born, imbued with competition pedigree that goes back nearly 50 years. M Division produces world-class fighters in every class, every weight category. From the flyweight M2 to the welterweight M3 sedan to this, the brand-new heavyweight contender, flagship of the range, decades in the making — the M8. Welcome to the main event.
It feels too easy for the M8 Competition Coupe as it thunders down the main straight at Portimão, a racetrack near the southern tip of Portugal. The big coupe has a limitless reserve of power. The baritone warble of the V8 motor becomes a major-key roar. Its eight cylinders, fed by a pair of turbochargers, really hit their stride when the car has some room to run. Throttle flat to the floor, from around 2,500 rpm to redline, the bombastic motor makes this thing fly. That’s 617 horsepower at work. Where even the fastest of electric cars begin to feel like they’re running out of steam, at speeds above 150 km/h, the M8 keeps charging ahead — 180, 220, 240 — the numbers on the digital readout ticking up too fast to read. There’s no time to glance down at them anyway, not when you’re going this fast.
The brakes get the car slowed down easily, but you do feel there’s a lot of weight at play now, a lot of momentum. With any angle in the steering, you can feel a slight side-to-side movement at the rear axle, just enough to remind you you’re playing with fire here.
Aiming toward the double-apex first corner at triple-digit speeds, the car never feels out of control. The heavily reinforced chassis, M-specific suspension, and (frankly brilliant) electronic aids keep things in check. The all-wheel drive prefers to send power to the rear tires; working in concert with an active rear differential (for the mechanically minded, it’s an electronically controlled multi-plate clutch unit), these systems let the car adopt an aggressive attitude through the corner. With a light touch on the throttle, the car will carry a whiff of oversteer through the entire high-speed bend.
Stepping out of the M8 back in the pit lane, it takes a while for the adrenaline to wear off.
Of course, the M8 Competition Coupe — with its 4.4-litre twin-turbo and 553 lb-ft of torque — is just one member of a range of new heavyweights from M Division. The engineers in Germany have gone to work on the entire 8 Series range. The two-door models are available in both coupe and convertible forms, in Competition and non-Competition spec. (The latter does just fine with “only” 600 horsepower.)
The four-door 8 Series Gran Coupe spent some time in M’s training gym as well. The M850i (pictured here) is fast, practical, and imposing. Seen in person, it’s lower and much longer than you imagine. The rear seats are suitable for adults, and the limo-like rear doors make ingress and egress comfortable. The view out for passengers is good too, thanks to a panoramic glass roof. The four-door M850i has all-wheel drive, of course, and — despite being the entry point into the 8 Series M models — it too has a twin-turbo V8. Its 523 horsepower is still very much overkill.
Finally, if you’d prefer the M8 Competition’s prodigious power and performance with the Gran Coupe’s four-door practicality, well, M Division will do that too. The recently announced M8 Gran Coupe combines the best of both worlds. Riding on a beautiful set of 20-inch lightweight alloy rims, it is the most deeply desirable M car in recent memory.
M Division wasn’t always like this. When the outfit was founded in 1972, its mission was simply to bring BMW glory and success at the highest levels of international motorsport.
“A company is like a human being,” said Robert A. Lutz in 1972, when he was the member of BMW’s board of management in charge of sales. “As long as it goes in for sports, it is fit, well- trained, full of enthusiasm and performance.”
Since then, the motorsport division has brought home trophies from every major race in the world and grown to produce an enormous variety of world-beating performance cars for the road. There’s one for every occasion. Cars like the M3 and M5 sedans are benchmarks by which all rivals are judged. Others, like the X5 M and X6 M SUVs, which would have been considered heresy 20 years ago, are now fan favourites. But there’s never been an M8 — or M850 or M8 Gran Coupe — until now.
Actually, that’s not quite true. Not many people know that M Division flirted with making an M8 in the early 1990s. Only one prototype was ever made. Painted blood red and powered by a naturally aspirated V12 topped with a carbon-fibre intake plenum, it was ultimately deemed a step too far. Too fast, too big, too much. It never saw the light of day. All we can say is that we’re very happy M Division didn’t shy away this time. The M8 is the new heavyweight champ.