The most powerful M-Car ever offered by BMW has arrived in South Africa. Let's get to know the eye-wateringly expensive BMW M8 Competition Convertible
As I cruised into Cape Town to find a place to view the first F1 race of the year, I still had some doubts about the BMW M8 Competition Convertible's ability to justify its R3.5m+ price tag. But then something happened, which has never happened to me before... While manoeuvring into the main parking lot I spotted a manager from the establishment I intended to visit leaping from across the road, before gesturing me into a spot right in front of his cafe, which was obviously reserved for VIPs. "You can't park this car over there," he said. "Nobody will see it. People must see it!"
Right, I guess that answers that question... The M8 Competition Convertible will get you noticed, and when you spend this amount of money on a new luxury drop-top, in a particularly eye-catching colour, I guess that's a must.
Where does the BMW M8 Competition Convertible fit in?
Priced at just above R3.6m (before options), the M8 is now arguably BMW's flagship product. After all, "8" is as high as BMW's model type ranking system goes at the moment. South Africa is only getting the hardcore "Competition" models (also available in Coupe and Gran Coupe), and this means that whichever M8 you buy, you'll get a 460kW/750Nm beast of a machine.
The twin-turbo 4.4L engine is mated with an 8-speed M Steptronic automatic transmission, with power going to all four wheels via BMW's M xDrive all-wheel drive system. XDrive is, however, rear biased in the M8, and becomes even more so when 4WD Sport is selected. And if you're really brave, you can select DSC off, which turns it into a rear-wheel drive tyre-shredder.
BMW claims a 0-100kph time of 3.3 seconds for this convertible model, but even more impressive is the fact that you'll get to 200kph in 11.3. Top speed is limited to 250kph, but if you opt for the optional M Driver's package, that is raised to 305kph. So, make no mistake, the M8 Competition Convertible can comfortably run with the exotics it is priced against. In fact, in a race, it may make them look silly.
This car's party trick does, however, appear to be its ability to rocket off the line, squishing its occupants back into those plush seats. Just a pity it doesn't sound a bit more menacing (even with the exhaust button activated).
The M8 Competition Convertible turns heads, that is sure. Personally I'm not sure yet whether this is because it looks genuinely desirable, or because it is simply flashy. I tend to think the latter... By most measures this is a fairly derivative BMW design - even the grille is traditional, if stretched wide. You could say it looks like a bigger Z4, or a more muscular version of the new 4 Series Convertible. Don't get me wrong, those are not unattractive cars. It's just that when I spend R3.6m on a new car, I'd like that car to have either some unique character, or sensational beauty. In my view the M8 Competition Convertible has neither. But that might just be me...
The same goes for the cabin. Yes, it's superbly made, loaded with tech and, indeed, boasts some lovely details, but its dashboard, for example, looks merely like an upmarket version of the one you'll also find in the 2 Series, the 3 Series, the 7 Series etc. This may not be much of an issue if you're already a BMW fanatic, but if not, and if you've got this much money to spend, you may be tempted by the greater drama of a Bentley cabin, or even some offerings from Mercedes-AMG.
That said, there are things that I really like. It's got a very useful neck-level heating system (similar to what Mercedes-Benz has been offering for years), lovely leather detailing on the doors, and the ambient lighting does dramatically add some wow factor at night.
What's the BMW M8 Competition Convertible like to drive?
As you can image having read the power output and performance figures, this is a seriously fast car. However, a relaxed first drive may create the impression that it's more a fast GT than a sportscar. In a way this remains true, because even when you've dialed everything to "Sport" and heightened its responsiveness, it never quite shrinks around you like the best sportscars do. You always remain aware of its weight and size. The M8 Competition Convertible weighs around 2 tonnes, something you're always aware of when throwing it around some corners, even if grip is stupendous.
But... on the right road (preferably smooth, because the suspension doesn't like imperfections), and with the throttle responsiveness, transmission and suspension all on "maximum attack" mode, the M8 Competition Convertible is a sizzling steer that will leave its driver breathless with joy, fear and admiration. There's considerable depth to its abilities, and so you will need time to a) set it up to suit your style and b) safely test the limits. This machine has so much grip that you'll be doing very silly speeds indeed when the moment comes and it lets go.
Should you buy a BMW M8 Competition Convertible?
I'm left somewhat perplexed about the purpose of this car. It's not the sharp, tactile, characterful machine that we expect all M-Cars to be. And while I understand BMW may want to stretch its presence into the lucrative super-luxury segment, I'm not convinced the M8 Competition Convertible has the super-GT aspect down, either.
So much of a vehicle's chance of success in this super-luxury segment is dependent on aspects that are hard to quantify - emotional design, aural character, tradition etc. My sense is that there's a little too much science in the M8 Competition Convertible, and not quite enough soul.