The BMW 8 Series offers performance to match its looks
What is it?
Say the words ‘BMW 8 Series’ to any car enthusiast and you’ll probably get wet shoes as they melt into a puddle, babbling about V12 engines and pop-up headlights. Now, the contemporary 8 Series isn’t quite as instantly iconic or quirky as the original, but it’s an important step for BMW – a car that can challenge ultra-luxury offerings such as the Mercedes S-Class Coupe, but in true BMW fashion – by placing driving dynamics and passenger enjoyment rather than comfort at the top of the list of priorities.
The 8 Series is an all-new car, so while it shares plenty with other BMW models, under the skin the overall package is like nothing else in the range. Initially, it’s exclusively available as a two-door coupe, but BMW will also introduce convertible and four-door ‘Gran Coupe’ variants to the line-up. All will share the same trio of engines, too. It also occupies a new market sector for BMW, sitting between truly focused sports cars such as the Porsche 911 and genuine luxury models such as the S-Class Coupe. Forthcoming four-door models will also rival the Porsche Panamera.
What’s under the bonnet?
Although there will be a 40d diesel model available, we drove the M850i – a step down from a full-fat M car but still packing a 4.4-litre V8 with 523bhp. It’s paired with an eight-speed torque converter automatic gearbox, and the combination is simply brilliant.
Power – as you’d expect from such hefty numbers – is ample, and the 8 Series always feels like it has more to give. The gearbox is silky smooth when you’re just ambling around at low speeds, but put your foot down (and whack it into ‘Sport’ mode) and changes are ferociously quick. That’s backed up by the figures – 0-60mph arrives in 3.5 seconds and top speed is limited to 155mph.
Despite being turbocharged, the V8 gives plenty of punch right through the rev range, and in the upper echelons it roars like a tiger – though how much of this is artificially generated, we’re not sure. Regardless, it’s an impressive powertrain and one we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend, despite the obvious cost and economy penalties over the diesel.
What’s it like to drive?
BMW’s sporting heritage is clear to note as soon as you begin to press on. The 8 Series isn’t a darty, quick sports car like a Porsche 911, but the fluidity of its handling, the ease with which it grips in fast corners and the way it simply gobbles up a twisting road means it’s incredibly satisfying to drive.
Two aspects of the 8 Series help it in the corners – four-wheel drive and four-wheel steering. The former is BMW’s well-known xDrive system, which in the 8 Series is rear-biased for greater poise but can push all the power to the front wheels if necessary.
The latter works as most systems do, turning the rear wheels in the opposite direction for faster and tighter cornering at slow speeds, or in the same direction for greater motorway stability. It really works, too – this feels like a far smaller car than its 4.85-metre length would suggest, although the sensation of the rear shifting by itself does take some getting used to.
Meanwhile, ride comfort is a good middle ground between the pillowy softness of an S-Class and the hardened sports suspension of a Porsche 911.
How does it look?
The 8 Series has seriously elegant proportions – a long bonnet and rear deck, flowing lines and a compact passenger cabin. A few styling details don’t sit too happily on this frame, though – the traditional ‘kidney’ grilles look a little too stylised and don’t play totally naturally with the super-slim LED headlights, while the rear’s complex interplay of surfacing, shutlines and aerodynamic controls is a little messy from some angles. Yet the overall shape and a few features such as the double-bubble roof are just wonderful.
It’s worth mentioning the car is extremely spec-dependent, too. The vehicles we drove were all covered in black detailing on the window line and front grille as well as having black alloys. Models that feature chrome detailing look totally different – less sporting and a little classier.
What’s it like inside?
Inside, it’s classic BMW – which is a good and a bad thing. The driver-focused cabin is simplicity itself to use – all the controls are well situated and the iDrive infotainment system is one of the best in the business. There are some intricate touches just for the 8 Series as well, such as a cut-glass gear knob and infotainment selector. The driving position is also perfect, and infinitely adjustable.
If we’re being critical, though, there’s little of the ‘wow’ factor that you get with some rivals. This cabin would be equally at home in a 5 or even 3 Series, and we’d quite like a little more than just a shiny gear selector to mark it out as the brand’s flagship.
In practicality terms, a big coupe has never been the most spacious of things – but we’d have liked a little more legroom in the rear of the 8 Series. Thankfully, the forthcoming Gran Coupe should solve that and bring an extra pair of doors into the equation, too.
What’s the spec like?
As expected for a car costing well over £70,000 (almost £100,000 in 850i form) there’s a good level of spec on offer. Clearly, climate control, cruise control, electric seats, adaptive LED headlights, a whole suite of safety aids and a wireless charging pad all come as standard, but the options list has a few things to offer. We’re big fans of the M-striped seatbelts, front seat ventilation and soft-close doors, and it’s also possible to option an exterior carbon-fibre package for an even racier look.
The 8 Series is a seriously impressive coupe and one that shows BMW’s ability to blend the luxurious with the sporting is still alive and well. It doesn’t feel quite as special as some rivals, however – a Porsche 911 is still far better to drive, while a Mercedes S-Class Coupe trumps it on luxury. So the appeal of the 8 Series will depend on whether you see it as the best of both worlds or an uncomfortable middle ground. We’re leaning towards the former.