Can the latest 625hp BMW M8 Competition topple the mighty Porsche Turbo S?
By John Howell / Saturday, 5 November 2022 / Loading comments
History tells us many things, and in the world of motoring one of those things is how rarely the Porsche 911 Turbo S gets beaten. At least not on a technical level. Cars like the Audi R8 have, in some moments, taken the spoils on an emotive level, but when it comes to accelerating, braking and hard cornering – the quantifiable stuff – it’s very often the case that the Turbo S is king. So what odds do you think the BMW M8 Competition would get from the bookies? Hmm, I’m not a betting man, but even I can see they’d be longer than a bungee rope – one with an elephant on the end when you make the technical comparisons.
The Turbo S is shorter, narrower and lower, which inevitably means it’s lighter: by a sizeable 260kg. At 650hp it’s also 25hp more powerful than the M8. And gruntier, with another 37lb ft, meaning a 590lb ft peak. Obviously, it’s faster, then. How much faster? 0-62mph in 2.7 seconds as opposed to 3.2 for the M8. And 205mph instead of 190mph (and that’s with the M Driver’s pack fitted, which removes the M8’s limiter). How’s that for comprehensive drubbing? Indeed, the only figure the M8 Comp wins on is price. At £133,000, it leaves you £35,000 compensation for its on-paper crushing.
The reality is, however, that the M8 Competition is still a beast of a thing. As always, statistics are fine if you want to prove a point, but the truth resides in the details. And the truth is that the M8 is absolutely worth thinking about if you’re buying a high-powered, high-performance coupe. Not least because it has something that the Turbo S doesn’t, and which fits the bill perfectly for continent crushing: a gusty 4.4-litre twin-turbocharged V8. There was a time that you could take your pick of V12 rivals for the Turbo S, but those have mostly fallen by the wayside. V8s are becoming an ever-dwindling resource, too, which makes this car worth appreciating.
And if your vision of continent-crushing pace involves a V8, the M8 is already looking like a winner. Especially as few people have ever said that the Turbo S’s 3.7-litre twin-charged flat-six is massively characterful. The M8 also provides under-bonnet envy as well. It’s a periphery point, and the view of its S63 V8 might be restricted by plastic covers, but it’s a much more tantalising vision of old-school combustion than the two fans and strip of black plastic you see when you pop the Turbo’s ‘engine’ cover. Talk about clinical.
The clinical nature of the Turbo S continues inside, too. The M8’s interior borders on chintzy but it feels plusher. Little details do it, like speaker covers finished in brushed aluminium rather than perforated plastic. That’s what you get in the Turbo S. Still, the 911 doesn’t feel cheap. Huge amounts of leather covering most of its surfaces and some lovely Alcantara for the headlining see to that; personally – as someone not given to gaucheness – I have to say I enjoyed sitting in the Turbo S more. It’s very much an event, despite being ‘just’ another 911. Even more so since the 992 arrived, which has a hint of classic car about it. Call me a cheap date but it’s easy-on-the-eye retro style, conveyed by that air-cooled-mimicking dash and simple analogue rev counter are just lovely. The M8 is completely contemporary by comparison. That’s not a bad thing; it’s just not my thing.
Which has the best driving position? Well, the M8’s seats are wider, so if you’re, let’s say, bigger boned, you’ll feel like you’re sitting in, rather than on them, as you do with the Turbo S’s seats. Both hold you firmly, though, and can be electrically adjusted in enough ways to almost guarantee a fine level of comfort. You can see the all-digital instruments more easily in the M8, too, and it has a large head-up display to make sure you miss nothing. The Turbo S doesn’t have that option, and the steering wheel cuts off a lot of what you can see in the outer, digital reaches of its binnacle. All the basic info you need is viewable, though, from the rev counter and digital speedo and the TFT screens closest to it. It also gets the basics right in terms of pedal positioning. Brake and accelerator are located perfectly, which is all the better for left-foot braking, whereas the M8’s are too offset to the right to make that a given. Its typical BMW fat-rimmed steering wheel isn’t as lovely to hold as the thinner, less spongy Turbo S’s equivalent, either.
You’ll have heard many times now that the 911 has grown so much it’s almost obese. Well, it’s bigger than ever, that’s true, but it’s all relative. In this company, it feels compact. Its narrower cabin is far more sports-car like, yet simultaneously it’s more open and airier. The M8 hems you in with its high-walled dashboard and doors, and thicker pillars front and rear. The 911, by contrast, is a rare thing: a modern car you can see out of easily in every direction.
So, despite the 992’s reputation for being a colossus, it doesn’t feel that way here. That’s not all down to its dimensions and excellent visibility, though. It’s also the ease with which you can command it. It’s hard to imagine how the steering could be improved upon, actually. It’s quick without feeling capricious and never aloof. You just feel the weight build beautifully with every extra degree, and the result is a car that corners habitually with a simple sweep of the wheel. It’s a joy to control. It proves absolutely that no car needs the multiple steering settings that are demanded by marketing departments to help sell cars to the ill-informed.
And right on cue, the M8 confirms this point. Its lighter Comfort setting might be innocuous around town but makes the M8 borderline undriveable on challenging roads. You just lose where you are with the steering for the crucial first few degrees, which zaps confidence and makes placing this relatively bulky car a visual, not visceral, exercise. Thankfully, plucking the Sport setting out of the comprehensive M Sport menu solves much of that. At the flick of an icon comes the connection with the front end you’ll have been expecting. It’s still not quite on the Turbo S’s level but it’s good. There’s also a bit more surface sensation coming through, too.
Then there’s the M8’s body control. At first, it felt fine: like a big M4. And bearing in mind the M4’s body movements are sublime, that got me quite excited. The M8 has a similarly wonderful suppleness over ripples in the road – almost akin to feeling the car hovering an inch above the surface instead of being tied to it by gravity. Then you hit something bigger and the M4 comparison disappears in an unnerving instant. Where its little brother rules over the road with iron-first body control, the M8’s fist turns to a limp handshake.
Suddenly the rear is leaping off a crest or the front is finding the bump stops in a compression. So it’s back to the M menus for another setting change. Sport solves some of the control issues without completely ruining the ride, but to be completely sure of what’s underneath you on an arduous back road you have to go full Sport Plus and take some pain. I mean ‘pain’ figuratively. It’s not bone-crushing, but the ride in the M8’s most extreme mode will definitely be too firm for some. Still, it does produce the goods. Now you can hurtle through corners at enormous speeds and the mighty M8 just settles and sticks. In that respect it’s impressive.
Yet so is the Turbo S, and without requiring you to search for a suspension configuration that works. Just like the steering, Porsche’s engineers did all the setup work for you, so you just get in and drive the thing as hard as you like. True, there are two settings for the suspension, but the softer setting’s bandwidth is so enormous that 90 per cent of crests, compressions and mid-corner bumps – the sort that feel like landmines – are brushed aside dispassionately. The Turbo S rarely feels taxed or taxing to drive. On the few occasions it is – because the road is like a quarry – pressing the simple damper button on the centre switch panel clamps it down even tighter. The problem is the ride becomes a whisker from GT3 firm, which, for something designed to blast across country rather than around a track, can feel unnecessary. Still, it’s useful to have the choice.
The Turbo S’s ride in the softer mode is still on the firm side, producing a bit of niggle on uneven motorways, but few who will appreciate its cornering dynamics will take issue with that. But there’s no question this area is where the M8 shines. With very few serious deflections to challenge it, it offers superior levels of cushioning, and if that’s your priority it’s the car for you. Especially because it’s also quieter at speed. As always with 911s, the Turbo S’s cruising credentials are cursed when a patch of rough Tarmac causes drone – enough that you have to ask the person on the other end of the telephone to speak up. Meanwhile, the M8 stays serene.
There’s one department where the M8 makes more noise, though, or at least a better noise: the engine department. It feels like BMW is finally understanding that it doesn’t need to synthesize the hell out of its motors; when you have a V8 up front, it does enough, naturally. It sounds good with the sports exhaust turned off. With today’s emissions and noise restrictions, it doesn’t burble like V8s once would, but it’s clearly still a V8. In fact, the motor sounds more highly tuned than a muscle car: you can hear the internals reciprocating and spinning up front with a pleasingly hard-edge mechanical thrash when you rev it out.
BMW couldn’t help themselves, though. Switch on the sports exhaust and there’s a great deal of aural idiocy; the boom between full-bore gearshifts one of the most ridiculous noises in motoring. Honestly, it’s like a distant bomb going off, with enough subwoofer-generated bass that you feel it as well as hear it. The Turbo S doesn’t do anything silly like that. The odd ‘putt-putt’ on a downshift when it’s really hot, perhaps, but that’s it. The flip side is it never sounds quite as rich as the V8 when you gun it. There are hints of flat-six emanating from the back end, but under the cloak of heavily forced induction.
There’s no doubting the force of that induction, though. My God, the Turbo S is fast. Now, I realise that’s as newsworthy as dog bites man, but think about it this way: if you’d just been bitten by a dog, especially a bloody powerful one, you’d still want to tell the tale, wouldn’t you? And I have to tell you that the experience of the Turbo S winding up and shooting you down the road like a catapulted pinball is never less than noteworthy. There’s no instant electrical torque here, of course; you sit, waiting for onslaught. Stage one of that comes at around 3,000rpm. Wham! Your senses are overwhelmed by the ferociousness of it, and unlike a top-flight electric car, it doesn’t start tailing off as the speed rises. Oh no.
The only let-up is when it slams the uninitiated mercilessly into the limiter in the low gears, but other than that the thrust remains relentless until you have to back out of it because of a corner. Or the law. On the exit of corners, it generates unbelievable traction, but the force it supplies is so great that occasionally the front axle struggles to contain it if you’re too brutal with the throttle. The rear digs in and pushes the front wide and, if you back off to counter that, it rotates with the pendulous effect of the weight hung out the rear. You can, of course, get the rear to move under power, too, but the Turbo S always feels more about managing the torque and trying to be neat and efficient.
You don’t have to worry about hitting the limiter if you leave the eight-speed PDK gearbox in auto, of course. Then it provides a seemingly endless rate of thrust and near-seamless shifts. Maybe you could say there’s some slight laziness to the downshifts in the standard setting, but Sport or above sorts that out and, in manual mode, it’s on the button with every flick of the paddle. The M8’s ZF auto actually does a good job, too, if you’re in auto mode. Not quite as reactive or smooth, but you’d only notice that in a back-to-back test like this. You don’t need the barometer of a Turbo S to work out that the gearbox is deficient in manual mode, though. The number of times I pull for a downshift in the M8 and it doesn’t happen is many and frustrating. By contrast, the downshifts always come when you want in the Porsche.
The M8’s performance isn’t frustrating, though. Despite being slower than the Turbo S it’s still stupefying in a straight line. If you find it underwhelming then the problem, I have to say, is yours, not the car’s. It actually generates more low-down shove than the Turbo S, so it feels more responsive, and even next to the mighty Turbo S it’s anything but lacklustre when it’s on song. Indeed, the V8 is so torquey that the M8 romps off like a shire horse on hot coals, and with the accompanying soundtrack it feels a bit more characterful.
The M8 never tests its front axle in the same way under power; it’s the rear axle that bears the brunt of its twist. And of course, the M8 has a trick up its sleeve that adds to that: you can convert it to rear-wheel drive. The only way to do that with the Turbo S would be to chop it in for a Sport Classic (good luck making that happen), and while most people probably never will run the M8 with its front axle disconnected, it’s satisfying to know you can.
Is it as technically good as the Turbo S, then? No, it isn’t. As always, buy a Turbo S and you get something that just works brilliantly out the box. Sure, there’s the ability to fine-tune aspects of it, but it’s always a mega machine even if you don’t. The problem is, you only ever feel like you’re scratching the surface of its abilities – using 20 per cent of it at most. It’s just too mega, if that’s actually a thing. But all I can say is that when I drive the Turbo S on the road, it feels like a waste: like throwing a rocket-propelled grenade.
The M8 isn’t mega out of the box. You need to learn which modes suit which scenarios the best. Always that’s the steering in Sport, because otherwise it’s rubbish, and toggling between softening the ride on motorways and switching it up again on B roads. In some ways, that’s a pain – but you could argue it makes the M8 interesting. Something to learn and interact with. And once you’ve learned its nuances, there’s a damn fine car in there. Not a mega one, because it isn’t quite so well polished, yet one that’s arguably more engaging. It’s easily the finest 8 Series you can buy, of that I have no doubt – whereas, despite its undeniable brilliance, I’d still recommend you buy the 911 GTS over the Turbo S. Which I think makes the M8 Competition, by a counting system that rivals QI’s for esotericism, the winner of this test.
Specification | 2022 BMW M8 Competition
Engine: 4,395cc, V8, twin-turbo
Transmission: 8-speed auto, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 625 @ 6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 553 @ 1,800-5,860rpm
0-62mph: 3.2 seconds
Top speed: 190mph (with M Driver’s Pack)
Weight: 1,900kg (DIN)
MPG: 25.0 (WLTP)
CO2: 259g/km (WLTP)
Price: £133,020 (£ 150,050 as tested)
Specification | 2022 Porsche 911 Turbo S (992)
Engine: 3,745cc, flat-six, twin-turbo
Transmission: 8-speed PDK auto, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 650 @ 6,750rpm
Torque (lb ft): 590 @ 2,500-4,000rpm
0-62mph: 2.7 seconds
Top speed: 205mph
Weight: 1,640kg (DIN)
MPG: 23.5 (WLTP)
CO2: 271g/km (WLTP)
Price: £168,900 (£***** as tested)
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