Replacing a landmark

The pioneering i8 will fall for the new M8, but at what cost?

BMW M8 driving

The M8 is pitched in Continental and Carrera S territory

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Imagine a car manufacturer making a traditional fast coupé: big V8 up-front, huge power and vast weight. And then it announces it’s going to be discontinued, replaced by a similarly priced mid-engined car with a carbon-fibre tub, an engine one-third the size and with fewer than half the cylinders. It has less power, despite its plug-in hybrid electric drive, and then this loss would be made up, at least in part, by lowered weight. You may or may not be excited by the prospect, but it would be a sign of the times.

But what if a car manufacturer did the reverse and canned the light, technologically advanced, downsized hybrid-powered car and instead announced a huge and heavy V8 monster? That’s precisely what BMW has done: the ultra-advanced i8 is being axed, and the traditional M8 is being released.

I understand the decision because the i8 has not sold as well as hoped, but I lament it. The i8 is one of my favourite cars. Recent reacquaintance reminded me it’s clever and beautifully engineered. No, it’s not got vast power or limitless grip, but I care more about how poised and accurate it seems, how faithfully it steers, and the feedback received through that carbon tub. I love that it’ll do local journeys in silence, and even if you spend a week driving it rapidly, it won’t do less than 40mpg.

BMW i8 driving side

i8’s low sales means it will be consigned to the history books

By contrast, I spent all my time in the M8 wondering why I wouldn’t save myself fifty grand by buying a delivery-miles M5 with the same ‘Competition’ engine specification and with four doors and some space in the back?

It’s not that the M8 is a bad car, but unless you’re seduced by the looks (plenty of passers-by were in my time with the car) it’s very hard to see why you’d spend that money when a cheaper Porsche 911 Carrera S is an infinitely superior machine. If you want the whole two-tonne V8 GT thing, a Bentley Continental GT is on another level in terms of ride comfort, interior ambience, engine character and perceived construction quality.

The M8 is immensely fast – but no faster than the M5. While the i8 feels genuinely special, whether you’re on a twisting B-road or a motorway, the M8 is caught between. It wants to be a proper sports car but no car of this mass has convinced in that role, not even the Bugatti Veyron. As a long-distance tourer, the M8 is let down by its uneven ride quality and unremarkable interior.

For BMW, the salient point is that the M8 is a mere derivative of the extant 8-series, so you imagine its marginal additional cost is little compared to developing the i8 from scratch. But 10 years from now, the M8 will be a footnote in BMW history and the i8 a landmark, one it sadly – if understandably  – decided to halt.

BMW M8 Competition Coupe
Price £123,435 Engine 4.4 litres, 8 cylinders, twin turbo
Power 625bhp at 6000rpm
Weight 1960kg Power to weight 314bhp per tonne Transmission eight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
0-60mph 3.2sec
Top speed 155mph (limited)
Economy 26.9mpg
CO₂ 238g/km Verdict Looks great, but at 911 money?

BMW i8
Price £115,105 Engine 1.5 litres, 3 cylinders, turbocharged
Power 369bhp at 6000rpm
Weight 1535kg Power to weight 240bhp per tonne Transmission six-speed double clutch, four-wheel drive
0-60mph 4.4sec
Top speed 155mph (limited)
Economy 156mpg
CO₂ 42g/km Verdict Misunderstood in its own time