BMW’s 8-Series is more of a grand tourer than an out-and-out sports car
Their marketing people got it into their heads a long time ago that sporty sells, so almost everything made of metal and fitted with four wheels can have the label.
Sports utility vehicles are a perfect example: there’s not a great deal of sportiness about a boxy Chelsea tractor but it’s still called an SUV.
Coupés can genuinely be described as sporty – although that doesn’t always necessarily make them sports cars.
Take this new BMW 8-Series.
The German firm describes it as the latest in its “long and illustrious history of making iconic and sensational sports cars” but the 8 is no 507, M1 or Z8.
In fact, it’s a lot closer to what one company executive described as “a gentleman’s tourer” than an out-and-out sports car.
The 8-Series is very much a tourer, with a design that reflects the feeling this isn’t a hardcore machine but something built for taking on longer trips that involve as much motorway driving as they do twistier B roads.
The not-inconsiderable size and coupé silhouette are sophisticated and imposing but the swoop of the roof slightly jars the eyeline, as it seems as if it can’t wait to start its descent to the rear. BMW will launch four-door and convertible versions of the 8-Series in 2019 and we suspect that the styling might be better resolved with those.
Initially, there are just two engine variants with this coupé, a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel and a 4.4-litre petrol unit.
The diesel is the 840d which uses a six-cylinder, twin-turbo powerplant, generates 316bhp and enables a 0-to 60mph sprint in just 4.8 seconds. Average fuel economy is 46.3mpg and emissions 160g/km.
This engine is already fitted in the likes of the X5 and 7-Series, where it pulls strongly and has a refined character.
The petrol 850i though is a new V8 petrol engine. It produces a potent 522bhp to thrust the car to 60mph from a standing start in just 3.6 seconds. It certainly feels powerful, with lots of shove on tap when prompted by the throttle pedal.
Indeed, it will be more than enough for most owners and only a cross-continental run – the kind of trip this car is built for – including stretches of autobahn will see it reach anything like its potential.
However, in this mode you’re unlikely to see anything like the official 28.8mpg average fuel economy (emissions are 224g/km).
BOTH engines come mated to an eight-speed Steptronic automatic gearbox that makes changes smoothly and quickly, while there are also gearchange paddles behind the steering wheel to allow drivers to make their own decisions on when to swap cogs up or down.
Each of the 8-Series models also has the xDrive four-wheel drive system on board that can distribute power to the front or rear wheels, depending on how traction can best be maximised.
However, as this is a BMW, there is a bias towards the rear wheels in regular driving conditions that is consistent with the company’s proud heritage for rear-drive cars.
The power, traction and swift gearchanges all contribute to make this 8-Series an accomplished car on the road.
Factor in BMW’s usual high standard of handling and it adds up to a pretty rewarding drive: there’s plenty of grip, it feels stable and nicely balanced, and different driving modes mean that there’s a setting for most driving conditions.
There’s also an active steering feature that means the rear wheels steer slightly, to help reduce the turning circle and give better stability when changing lanes or cornering at high speed.
As befits a luxury car, the 8’s cabin is a very comfortable place in which to spend time, cosseted by the finest materials. The sports seats are extremely comfortable and foster a sense of relaxation – unless you’re sitting in the rear. The 8-Series is described as a 2+2, but the +2 doesn’t mean two adults, because nobody taller than 3ft will fit in them.
They’re best viewed as extra storage space or, when folded, a way of increasing the load capacity of the boot – which is a reasonable 420 litres anyway.
Technology-wise, there’s BMW’s iDrive system, which is very good in many ways, but Apple Carplay only works wirelessly (as opposed to plugging a lead into the USB) over Bluetooth and there are still too many menus and sub-menus.
The 8-Series is very impressive and accomplished and ownership would be a rewarding experience in many ways.
But we can’t help feeling there’s just something lacking. We were big fans of the old 6-Series that the 8 replaces, but somehow this doesn’t offer the same pleasing engagement.
The 6 wasn’t exciting, exactly, but it had a certain grown-up je ne sais quoi that made it just feel right. Perhaps the 8-Series four-door Gran Coupé might offer that, but at the moment this coupe doesn’t quite hit the spot.
Not that there’s a great deal in the way of direct competition, outside of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupé, or Bentley Continental GT, which are both more expensive: four-door cars such as the Porsche Panamera and Audi RS7 will be more of a rival to that forthcoming four-door model.
However much BMW wants to convince us it is a sports car, the 8-Series Coupé is a luxury grand tourer: look at it that way and it’s a more convincing proposition.
Steering wheel paddles allow manual gearchange
Model: BMW 8-Series
On sale: now
Price range: £76,270 ? £100,045
Engine range: Petrol ? 4.4-litre V8; Turbo-diesel ? 3.0-litre
Power: 0-60mph in 3.6 secs, 155mph top speed (4.4)
Average fuel economy: 46.3mpg (3.0TD)
CO2 emissions range: 160 ? 224g /km
Rivals: Aston Martin Rapide, Bentley Continental GT, Mercedes S-Class Coupé