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I thought the BMW M8 was subtler than that.

That’s because this isn’t the M8. It’s a stock BMW 8 Series that’s been breathed on – rather heavily – by AC Schnitzer. It’s a name you’ve doubtless seen online several times, alongside modified BMWs with dizzying power figures and occasionally bewildering decal packs.

Just another tuner?

Nope. Rather than being an outlier that BMW shrugs off like the embarrassing cousin at a wedding, AC Schnitzer is an Aachen-based company boasting proper affiliation with the Bavarian mothership. It doesn’t sell cars outright, but you can spec your base car up in the BMW dealership before taking your order form across to the Schnitzer desk to add the extra bits you want, all with a decent warranty attached to them.

Do so with the new Eight and you might end up with a car that looks like this ACS8. The car tested here is based upon the BMW M850i, what with its twin-turbo petrol V8, but you can stick power upgrades and styling flourishes on an 840d if you really want.

So what are the changes?

This ACS8 boasts a whole suite of them. The highlights are a power upgrade, from 530bhp to an M8-baiting 620bhp (£8,029), a quad-piped sports exhaust (£3,123) and some delicately styled 20in forged alloys (£7,726).

You’ll have noticed quite a lot of carbon, too, and you’ll be spending as much as three grand apiece on the spoiler, side skirts, diffuser and dive planes. Then there’s a relatively cheap suspension tune (£692) that drops the car around 20mm without buggering the ride up.

All told, around £32,000 has been added via this particular ACS8, which would lift a £98k M850i right into M8 territory. But as with most tuners, this is basically a showpiece of all the individual bits you can clump together like a carbon-flavoured pick’n’mix; Schnitzer very much likes tailoring its car to whatever the buyer needs, and some people stick a simple suspension upgrade on their M Division car (500 of them in the UK alone last year), frequently to soften it off.

Really?

Yup. Tuning isn’t all about gauchely styled cars that scuff their belly over every speed bump and set off your neighbour’s alarm each time you press the starter button. And so it proves here. It’d be easy to see carbon flicks here and huge tailpipes there and conclude it’s going to be a rip-snorting monster, but what transpires is a car that remains a soft (ish) GT, just with some extra assertion.

The M850i comes as standard with four-wheel drive and all-wheel steering, and thus throwing another 90bhp into the mix isn’t a huge drama. It’s absorbed easily. Even if you’ve ratcheted up through BMW’s increasingly complex menu of drive modes and loosened the electronic shackles, it’s a car that takes whatever violence you throw into your throttle input and turns it into fuss-free acceleration. With a vast 620lb ft of torque to consider (up from 553lb ft) that’s quite a feat, and you’ll only get a hint of squirm from the rear axle if you’re really boisterous.

It’s absurdly agile for its size – and 2.3-ton weight – thanks to that rear steering, a magic potion that seems to be shortcutting the laws of physics for most makers of fast SUVs and saloons these days. The ACS8 always feels wide on a twisting back road, but it never really feels its length.

Is it quick?

Flipping heck, yes. On the autobahn, power is ample, and 140mph feels as smooth and easy-going as 40mph does in those poor cars that make do with less than 600bhp. It’s obscenely simple to witness some quite large numbers on the digital speedo (whose design is unchanged, and therefore still too fussy).

Pull off derestricted motorway and onto really quite restricted country roads, then, and you’ll potentially spend as much time on the brakes as the throttle, panickily scrubbing off speed you’d barely realised you’d added in the first place. As a preview of how licence-troubling the 625bhp M8 Competition is going to be, it’s a good ‘un.

And the noise?

Much like the styling, it’s noticeably amped up over standard without going overboard. There are childish pops and bangs if you’ve selected Sport and found yourself trailing the throttle under bridges or through tunnels, but keep things classy – something this car really does encourage – and you get plenty of V8 rumble when you want it, but surprising serenity when you don’t.

Any bits you’re not so sure of?

AC Schnitzer has extended the length of the gearshift paddles – a welcome move – but the replacements don’t click with any more tactility than BMW’s disappointing standard items, nor does their look match the rest of the cabin. The F1-inspired additional brake light embedded in the diffuser might also dazzle those behind and is probably a bit shouty for us, at least.

The verdict?

It’s an interesting makeover. The 8 Series as a whole hasn’t really bewitched us yet, feeling torn between the world of soft GTs and firm sports cars without feeling at home in either camp. Cranking up its speed and visual aggression at least pulls it away from its position of limbo a little, even if its comfy core has remained largely intact. AC Schnitzer hasn’t transformed the M850i, but it’s given it more vim.

What’ll interest us even more is when the company gets its hands on the M8; Schnitzer already offers the M5 with up to 720bhp and a Nürburgring lap time nine seconds quicker than BMW’s own saloon, and you can expect the same upgrades to end up on the M-badged 8 Series when it lands later in the year. Best prepare ourselves now.

Images: Steve Hall

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