Full-fat grand tourer that's as fast as it is dramatic
- Instant, relentless acceleration
- Soul-stirring V8 soundtrack
- High-tech chassis with great handling
- Debut of new BMW interior tech
- Likely to be more expensive than 6 Series
- Hybrid powertrain not on the cards
- Less practical than a BMW M5 saloon
- Low roof means less headroom, poorer visibility
The BMW 8 Series Coupe takes on the luxury grand tourer baton from the soon-to-be-discontinued 6 Series family of cars. Resurrecting the 8 Series badge hints at a deliberate move to more affluent pastures.
However, like the car it replaces, the 8 Series in Coupe form is hard to pick a distinct rival for, thanks to its unflinching performance and 2+2 seating configuration. It’s similarly fast to a Porsche 911 but larger, and on a size-par with the Mercedes-Benz CLS, but with two fewer doors.
That picture will inevitably change when the Convertible and four door Gran Coupe versions arrive, but as it stands, the new 8 Series Coupe weighs in against some seriously exclusive rivals like the Aston Martin DB11, Bentley Continental GT and Lexus LC.
Can the BMW 8 Series Coupe stand up to such expensive competition?
As you can probably judge from the pictures, the 8 Series Coupe we’re in isn’t 100% finished (we’re actually the first people outside of BMW to drive one) so it’s hard to tell how good a job Munich’s styling department has done given the heavily camouflaged nature of both the exterior and interior.
What we can tell you is that the uncovered bits of cabin we could see looked very nice and that the 8 Series, along with the new X5 SUV, will feature BMW’s revamped iDrive 7.0 infotainment system and digital dials, which promise both better ergonomics and ease of use.
For now though we’re here to focus purely on the chassis and drivetrain – specifically the M850i xDrive model that BMW’s engineers told us represents the benchmark car in the soon-to-be released range. This one, they say, is peak 8 Series Coupe.
Does the M850i badge mean it’s the equivalent of an M3 or M5?
It’s a bit too early to tell where the M850i will fit in the 8 Series range but it’s likely to be in the middle, between a smaller engine and a faster one, like the outgoing 6 Series. There’s also no mention of a diesel or hybrid model, the latter seemingly taken care of by the i8 Coupe and Roadster.
Thing is, on paper this not-quite-the-fastest 8 Series has got some serious chops – a new(ish) 4.4-litre turbocharged V8 putting out 530hp and 750Nm of torque, plus a host of chassis tech that you’ll be surprised to hear comes as standard.
This includes rear-wheel steering, an M Sport electronic limited-slip differential, and adaptive dampers, plus the option to upgrade the latter with something called Active Roll Stabilisation, which we’ll come onto later. But first, that new engine.
Doesn’t BMW already have a 4.4-litre V8?
Yes and ostensibly this is the same unit that finds service in the M550i (which we don’t get in the UK) but with about half its parts swapped out to increase power. This includes a bigger, boostier turbo, a higher-voltage ignition system, plus stronger internals to cope with all the extra grunt.
BMW told us it was a prerequisite for the 8 Series to feature an engine with its own character, rather than just a recycled existing V8. That means it gains 68hp and 100Nm of torque over the M550i and crucially that latter figure is available from 1,800rpm, for effortless acceleration - something of a grand tourer necessity.
Thing is, that’s the same torque offering you get in a M5, which also uses a derivation of this 4.4-litre V8. So why not use that motor instead? Well, BMW’s powertrain engineers said the M5 was too aggressive in its delivery, and with 600hp, left little room above the M850i for a proper M8 further down the line.
Fascinating – what’s the M850i Coupe like though?
It’s entirely as potent as you would imagine a twin-turbocharged 4.4-litre V8 to be. The M850i thunders into life, then rumbles and burbles around at low speed with all the menace of distant artillery fire.
On the road it proves to be flexible and forceful in equal measure. The straight line performance is a given, but the way it pulls from virtually zero revs is the real selling point – breathtaking, effortless acceleration is never far away, and the well of reserve power feels as deep as the bellow from the exhaust, complete with the now trademark crackles and bangs on the overrun.
Helping to manage all of this is a redesigned eight-speed automatic gearbox, strengthened to help deal with the increase in torque, and tuned to deliver faster shifts. It’s also cleverly linked to the brake pedal – scrub off speed gradually and the ‘box will shift down accordingly. Stand on the brakes in anticipation of a tight turn and it’ll cascade down the gears, keeping the revs above 4,500rpm for a speedy getaway.
The BMW 8 Series Coupe is quite a big car though, does it corner well?
Driving a pre-production car that hasn’t been entrusted to a civilian before on narrow Welsh roads glistening with rain is quite an intense experience. We’re also sat on the wrong side, of course, next to the man responsible for the entire 8 Series family. So this is his car, really, and he wants it back at the end of the morning.
At first the overwhelming sensation is size – it feels like we’re working hard to keep the car threaded between the potholes on one side and the thump thump thump of catseyes on the other. Good news, then, that the steering is direct, nicely weighted and inspires confidence in the way it dials out small corrections from just off the straight-ahead position.
The wheel itself feels at first like a standard BMW item – as thick as a bike inner tube and almost as squashy – but this time around the amount of padding has been cut down, so the rim itself is much firmer. This improves feel, says BMW’s engineers, reducing the latency between your fingertips and the road surface.
We start off in Comfort mode, which sets the chassis, drivetrain, steering weight and exhaust sound to its most refined and quiet set-up. It’s wafty and hushed too, the big V8 kept nicely muffled under the bonnet. Ramp up through the Sport and Sport+ modes and things quickly become more aggressive, but in an encouraging way that pushes you to explore the chassis’ limits.
Confidence grows thanks to the surprising agility added by the rear-wheel steer system, which helps you make tighter turns in town and adds stability in high-speed corners. The optional M Suspension Professional with Active Roll Stabilisation endows the 8 Series with superb body control too, again helping it feel like a smaller car and increasing the keenness to turn in and carry speed. Unlike a similar system in the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, you can’t feel this working in the 8 Series. It just does.
Standard xDrive all-wheel drive and M Sport differential gives the 8 Series incredible traction even on the soaking wet roads we’re testing it on, allowing us to power out of corners with seemingly boundless adhesion. This car was tested to its limits on the Nurburgring and it certainly shows – it feels seriously planted on rolling gradients and is barely ruffled by the worst crests, dips and off-camber bends that Snowdonia can offer.
The Parkers Verdict
There’s a huge amount of tech in the 8 Series Coupe and BMW’s chassis engineers said priority number one was making sure it all worked without the driver noticing its presence. For the most part this has been a success - we were only really aware of the wheel steering, and even then at low speed in town, and the car still has some development work ahead of it.
For the rest of the time the 8 Series just felt like a seriously well-sorted sports car – comfortable in a straight line yet resistant to body roll thanks to its clever suspension, with none of the confidence-sapping understeer you’d expect in a big all-wheel drive coupe.
We’ve not experienced such a broad spread of chassis and drivetrain characteristics before either – without overegging it the 8 Series feels like two different cars depending on whether you had it set in Comfort or Sport+.
The term grand tourer has for a while signified a jack-of-all-trades that is neither as comfy as a limo or fun to drive as a sports car – a big coupe hamstrung by compromise and expensive enough to be replaced by two cheaper, more focused cars. Not so here.
We’ll reserve final judgement until we’ve driven a finished article in right-hand drive configuration, but for now at least, it seems that the BMW 8 Series Coupe could be a seriously multi-talented car.