Almost 50 years ago, BMW’s M division was founded to support the group’s racing programs. Over the years, it has been responsible for producing iconic high-performance road cars including the M535i, the M635Csi, the V12 M850CSI, and of course the illustrious M3. The latest M car is the formidable M8 Competition Gran Coupe, which is BMW’s take on the Grand Tourer and the most powerful and capable M car yet.

As I set off on a trip up to Napa Valley from San Francisco, the M8 Competition Gran Coupe makes for an incredibly comfortable and docile daily driver that gives little indication of the power and beguiling capabilities of the car. The sleek design of the M8 belies its size; with a low-profile and muscular demeanor, it feels understated, particularly in the sleek Almandine Metallic color. My car featured the optional M-Carbon exterior package, which in addition to the standard carbon-fiber roof, includes carbon-fiber mirror caps, spoilers, and diffusers to further enhance its sporting pedigree and look.

Interior Features

In the Comfort settings, the ride is smooth, while the interior is beautifully appointed with full merino leather, alcantara color matching headliner, and 16-way seats. Additionally, the aforementioned carbon-fiber trim, illuminated M8 badges in the seats, and red-and-blue interior M stitching are all subtle performance hints. On the highway, the M8 was effortlessly smooth. The head-up display is clear, with pertinent information negating the need to reference the instruments. Equipped with the optional Driving Assistance Professional Package, it provides active cruise-control features, literally stops and starts the car, corrects the steering to stay in lanes, and features steering assistance for partially automated driving. What’s more? The Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround system was a $3,400 option equipped to our car and offered outstanding fidelity, acoustic range, and performance.

Engine and Drivetrain

After an afternoon at The Donum Estate, an incredible property in Carneros where art is juxtaposed with vineyards, olive trees, and lavender fields, I discovered some desolate Sonoma backroads to drive the BMW as the Engineers at the M Division had intended. The twin-turbocharged, 4.4-liter V8 puts out 617 horsepower and 553 pound-feet of torque, with power going to all four wheels. The superb, eight-speed ZF automatic transition is coupled with a rear-biased, electronically controlled, limited-slip differential that applies power as needed. The result is phenomenal grip. The M8 is blisteringly quick, reaching 60 mph in under three seconds. For a car of almost 4,500 pounds, it’s also incredibly precise and agile, particularly in the sport and sport-plus modes.

Modes and Settings

Today, most cars have preset sports modes, but the M8 features its unique sports mode across a multitude of different dimensions and can be tailored to individual driving style, purpose, and conditions. Expect two beautifully designed, aluminum-red buttons marked M1 and M2 on the steering wheel (at 9 and 3 o’clock) that can be preset and allow precisely tailored modes and settings. This is welcome, because the multitude of settings are great fun but can also be incredibly overwhelming. You have the option to individually select Comfort, Sport, or Sport Plus modes, which span engine responsiveness, steering, throttle, suspension stiffness, and brakes. You can also shift between automatic and manual, with three different shift-speed settings, two different exhaust notes, and different power distribution choices between 4WD and 2WD. All of this is controlled through the IDrive system with a small rocker switch on the gear shift.

I found myself defaulting most often to the set up with the engine and throttle in Sport mode, the automatic transmission at level 2, and the remainder of the car in Comfort mode—more than adequate for a non-track environment. The car reverts back to ‘M0’ when you restart, defaulting to the Comfort or Efficient modes. This is perfect for daily commutes, yet it’s intriguing to know it can literally be transformed into a rocket at the slightest flick of a thumb –those bright red machined aluminum buttons are mighty alluring.

Performance

Like all of the M series, the M8 steering is sharp, with rapid responses making the car extremely nimble (and it can be adjusted to feel more weighted in Sport mode). The torque starts to really come in at around 1800 rpm, and the M8 just keeps pulling and pulling until you lose your nerve. The M8 is ferociously quick. My car was fitted with upgraded M Carbon Ceramic Brakes. Intended to withstand track abuse and reduce weight, they perform amazingly well and the stopping performance of the M8 is exceptional. They also look quite the part, with the gold calipers, much as you would expect from an $8,100 option!

The xDrive system on the M8 is extremely sophisticated, too. It already has a rear bias, making the car feel like a rear-wheel drive. This is further accentuated when switching to 4WD Sport, which induces the feel of more oversteer with the security of full traction across all four corners. For the more intrepid, there is also the 2WD option that makes the car fully rear-wheel drive, though it really requires a track environment, or at least a much braver man than I, to fully unleash 617of horsepower to the rear wheels, irrespective of the carbon ceramic brakes.

As I climbed the windy road above Sonoma to Exclusive Resorts’ Norrbom Estate, the M8 was also surprisingly quiet, smooth, and extremely well engineered. Just as you would expect from BMW, the compliant ride completely disguises its track capabilities, and the M8 Gran Coupe is absolutely effortless to drive.

As the pinnacle of the BMWs M series line, the M8 blends the elegance and sophistication of a large luxury sedan with extreme performance befitting of the M heritage. It is the perfect high-performance Grand Tourer.

Price and Specifications:

The base price of the BMW M8 Grand Coupe Competition is $143,000. Our car came with optional equipment that included Carbon Ceramic Brakes, Bowers & Wilkins Diamond surround system, M Carbon Exterior Package and M Drivers Package and the Almandin Brown Metallic paint, with a price an overall price including options of $170,330.

Read more about James' road trip through Napa and Sonoma here.