Only when a car really merits it does BMW wheel out the number 8 for one of its showroom models. That’s what the suits in Munich would like us to believe, at least, although it’s true that BMW has used that number very sparingly during the 90 years or so it’s been manufacturing cars. Just four times, in fact.
It was in 1990 that the original 8 Series went into production as BMW’s new halo model, a luxury coupe that offered a great deal more speed and opulence than the 6 Series it indirectly replaced.
Next was the Z8 in 2000, a two-seat roadster that married the M5’s rumbling V8 with a very pretty and exquisitely retro body. Like the 8 Series before it, the Z8 was a BMW flagship, the ultimate Ultimate Driving Machine. So desirable is the Z8 judged to be today that if you want to buy one, you will have to fork out at least £150,000 for it. The number 8 was used more recently for the i8, the pioneering hybrid sports car that in 2014 was so far ahead of its time that five years later its time still hasn’t arrived.
And now there is this. It’s a new 8 Series, tested here in 840d xDrive specification. Soon enough there’ll be a fire-breathing M8 with more than 600bhp and elsewhere in the range you’ll already find the M850i xDrive, which with 523bhp manages to be both extremely fast and still not the fastest model in the range. This diesel version costs from £76,295 and props up the entire 8 Series range, sitting as it does right at the very bottom of the pile.
Like so many modern cars the new 8 Series is somewhat colour and trim dependent, because while the right versions in the right shades can look as striking on the road as a concept car on a show stand, others can look a little anonymous. It is a very sleek shape, however, one with many complex and intricate surfaces along its flanks. The cabin is a curious mix of the very good, the less so and the downright distasteful, because while the general sense of quality and solidity is impressive there are some cheap-feeling materials here and there, plus a row of very unsatisfactory and plasticky buttons, as well as an overall dashboard architecture that’s made to feel a decade out of date by the i8’s swooping cockpit layout. To my eyes at least, the cut-glass starter button and gear-lever just look crass.
IN THE CABIN
When you drop into the car’s cabin you’re immediately presented with 22 inches of digital screen, split between the central infotainment display and the digitised instrument binnacle. What could be somewhat overwhelming is actually very intuitive, partly because the screen directly ahead of you seems only to display the information you actually need and also because the iDrive system that allows you to navigate the central display is perhaps the easiest to use of its type. At least it is with a little familiarity, which comes quickly.
The 840d comes as standard with all manner of toys and gadgets, including wireless phone charging and gesture control, which allows you to make certain basic commandments like lowering the volume of the stereo simply by waving at the dashboard in the right way. Standard safety kit is generous as well, although if you want lane keep assist and lane departure warning you’ll need to upgrade to Driving Assistant Professional. The rear seats are very small but useful for small children while the boot is cavernous.
Every model in the 8 Series range has four-wheel drive, but it’s an intelligent system that favours the rear axle the vast majority of the time and sends drive forwards only when the rear tyres are close to running out of bite. It’s a very elegant solution to the problem of making a car feel balanced and alert like a rear driver, but also giving it some chance of effectively deploying the kind of enormous power outputs sports car buyers have come to expect.
SPORTS CAR OR GRAND TOURER?
And while the new 8 Series is a sports car and should be evaluated as such, it isn’t a sports car in the Porsche 911 mould. It sets out to be swift and stylish like a 911, but also far more cosseting on very long journeys, like a grand tourer. It’s just as well, therefore, that the 840d rides very comfortably, smothering a broken road surface that a 911 would rattle heavily over. In fact, the 840d is about as serene and relaxing as any comparable car on sale today, falling only a little short of the superbly luxurious Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe as a device for lowering your blood pressure.
The fuel it burns mightn’t be in vogue anymore but the turbocharged six-cylinder diesel engine is very well suited to the car it drives. It actually doesn’t sound much like a diesel, being growly and energetic rather than horribly clattery and lethargic like so many other diesels. The peak power output of 316bhp and a whopping 501lb ft of torque make the 840d plenty brisk enough. The automatic gearbox is very smooth and well-mannered, too, and when you do flick it into manual mode and take control of the gears using the paddles mounted on the steering wheel, you find it responds almost as keenly as a twin-clutch transmission.
Our test car came equipped with the £2,500 M-Sport Technic Package, which apart from slightly different body styling and revised interior trim also includes uprated brakes and a limited-slip differential in the rear axle. If you want your 840d to do more than simply waft along a motorway, this package is £2,500 well spent.
Inevitably, the 8 Series has a full suite of driving modes and it’s in Sport or Sport+ that you discover the other side to its character. Or rather, the smaller part of its character, because while its tyres do find plenty of cornering grip and while the adaptive dampers do a good job of keeping the car’s 1,905kg mass in check across an undulating road, the 840d never transforms into the sort of car you wake up early on a Sunday morning to go for a spin in. It can be quite game and there is fun to be had, but the 840d is a grand tourer and a day-to-day coupe rather more than it is a thrill-a-minute sports car. It’s closer in personality type to the S-Class Coupe than it is to the 911. But if a thrill-a-minute sports car is what you’re looking for, you probably wouldn’t be considering the diesel model.
Worthy of the number 8, then? It is, but while both the Z8 and i8 will go down in performance car lore, the new 8 Series is a rather more like the original 8 Series; quick, competent and luxurious without being in any way earth shattering. A fine sports coupe, but no landmark car.
Price: BMW 840d xDrive from £76,295. As tested £82,815
0-62mph: 4.9 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
Fuel economy: 45.5mpg (Combined)
History Guide: BMW 8 Series E31
Until this new model arrived last year there had been only one generation of 8 Series. The E31 went on sale in 1990 and was killed off just before the turn of the century, meaning the 8 Series designation had lain dormant for the better part of two decades.
The original 8 Series replaced the E24 6 Series, but it was a pricier and more prestigious sort of coupe. There are echoes of this with the latest version; the F13 6 Series went out of production in 2018, paving the way for this bigger and more expensive car that has indirectly replaced it.
The 1990 8 Series was powered by a range of V8 and V12 petrol engines, and much like this latest version it was less about precision and agility along a mountain road and more about effortless speed between two distant points. It was ultimately dropped from BMW’s price lists in 1999 after sales stalled.
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