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The 2020 BMW M8 Is a 600 HP Rear-Wheel Drive Flagship 30 Years in the Making

Photos: BMW
Photos: BMW

Back in the early 1990s, BMW was playing with the idea of a 550 horsepower version of its classic 8 Series sports car, infamously developing a prototype that never made it to production, and was only discussed in detail years after its development. Fast forward 30 years, and the 2020 BMW M8 is here for real, and it’s a 600 hp flagship capable of putting all that power down on just its rear wheels.

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I only emphasize the rear-wheel drive capability of this new M8 because most modern performance cars, many BMWs included, rely on trick all-wheel drive systems to make sure the high-powered vehicles actually translate all those horses into rapid movement. BMW does this a lot, particularly with its sporty crossover behemoths.

But where BMW stands out among the high-powered Mercedes-Benz and Audi models of the world is it has an option on its trick all-wheel drive system that allows all of the power to head straight to the rear-wheels, like on the new M5.

Illustration for article titled The 2020 BMW M8 Is a 600 HP Rear-Wheel Drive Flagship 30 Years in the Making

That M xDrive system is now on the new 2020 BMW M8, with rear-biased all-wheel drive as standard, the option for an all-wheel drive Sport setting, and if you deactivate Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) completely, you get pure rear-wheel drive.

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On the standard 2020 M8, a twin-turbo 4.4-liter V8 engine makes 600 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque, while the M8 Competition V8 cranks out a little more at a 625 HP, though there’s no separate torque figure listed on BMW’s website.

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All versions of the M8—the standard coupe, standard convertible, and Competition versions of both—all get an 8-speed automatic transmission with steering-mounted gear-shift paddles. The cars also come with M Adaptive suspension and a configurable brake pedal setup with two different modes—one for comfort and one for ultimate bite—which just sounds primed for confusion.

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All cars come with a heads-up display standard and M Mode buttons on the steering wheel that navigate through the driver assistance settings and drive modes, with custom interiors for each model. The Competition cars come with a special “Track” drive mode selection.

I saw the new M8 in a secret room a few months back parked next to the existing prototype of the original 8 Series M model, and while the new car will never hold a candle to the prototype’s full carbon door panels, fiberglass window treatment, and a V12 that shares a lot of its parts with the McLaren F1 engine that BMW designed a couple of years later, it’s still undeniably BMW’s flagship car, even if it looks a little too downplayed for a 600-plus horsepower rear-wheel drive M car.

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Illustration for article titled The 2020 BMW M8 Is a 600 HP Rear-Wheel Drive Flagship 30 Years in the Making
Illustration for article titled The 2020 BMW M8 Is a 600 HP Rear-Wheel Drive Flagship 30 Years in the Making
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Illustration for article titled The 2020 BMW M8 Is a 600 HP Rear-Wheel Drive Flagship 30 Years in the Making
Illustration for article titled The 2020 BMW M8 Is a 600 HP Rear-Wheel Drive Flagship 30 Years in the Making
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Illustration for article titled The 2020 BMW M8 Is a 600 HP Rear-Wheel Drive Flagship 30 Years in the Making
Illustration for article titled The 2020 BMW M8 Is a 600 HP Rear-Wheel Drive Flagship 30 Years in the Making
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Illustration for article titled The 2020 BMW M8 Is a 600 HP Rear-Wheel Drive Flagship 30 Years in the Making
Illustration for article titled The 2020 BMW M8 Is a 600 HP Rear-Wheel Drive Flagship 30 Years in the Making
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Illustration for article titled The 2020 BMW M8 Is a 600 HP Rear-Wheel Drive Flagship 30 Years in the Making

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DISCUSSION

bradleyland
Brad Landers

BMW is running their M Town Tour right now, so if you’re a plebe, and you can manage to look/sound respectable for 30 minutes, you can drive an M-car of your choice at a local dealer. I drove an M2 Comp and an M5 Comp, while my wife drove an X3 M40i.

The M5 Competition has the same 617 HP S63B44T4 engine as the M8, and the same trick AWD system. Acceleration feels like a gentle (but very strong) hand extends down from heaven and sweeps you along. Even when you absolutely hammer the throttle, it all seems very, well, tame. It’s remarkable how well the car puts down 600+ HP. That new AWD system is remarkable.

What really surprised me though was how differently I felt about it having recently driven a Tesla recently. The acceleration felt similar to the Model 3 Performance I drove. The Model 3 Performance is capable of a 3.2 second 0-60 sprint, while the M5 Competition does the same in 3.0 flat. At the quarter mile, 11.8 seconds have elapsed for the Model 3, and only 11 flat for the M5 Competition. The M5 Competition is objectively quicker.

Hand on a Bible, I would swear the Model 3 Competition is quicker though. In a vacuum, I’d rate the responsiveness of BMW’s turbocharged engines as,Pretty, pretty, pretty good. After having driven the Tesla, I’d rate them, “Oh throttle, where art thou.” The electric driveline in the Teslas punches harder than the razor sharp S65 in my old E92 M3. The Teslas will startle you with their throttle response.

I love the sound of a roaring V8. That was probably the best part about driving the M5; hearing that sound again. But I really wonder how long combustion drivetrains will hold off the mind-bending immediacy of an EV driveline tuned for performance. For road use (i.e., not on a race track), the EV has some serious advantages.