FIRST DRIVE | Stylish new BMW 8 Series packs a sporty swagger
Munich's latest offering is as good at taking curves as showing them
The new 8 Series Coupe, with its two doors and severely restricted rear seating space, is a car that definitively shuns practicality in favour of posing. But it is, many would probably agree, BMW’s most beautiful car.
With an elongated silhouette and elegantly flowing roofline, and a central roof cutout that recalls the “double-bubble” styling of classic racing cars, the curvacious Bavarian has the styling glamour to slot effortlessly into millionaire’s playgrounds like Clifton or Monaco, with brands like Versace reflected in its windows.
The 8 Series replaces the 6 Series as BMW flagship coupe, and it will soon be followed by the four-door 8 Series Gran Coupe.
With its hunkered-down stance and wide track the BMW oozes speed-chasing intent, and the go-fast hardware beneath that sporting swagger doesn’t disappoint.
The first variant to reach local showooms is the high-powered M850i xDrive, available as a Coupe for R1,887,827 and a Convertible for R2,009,859.
The turbocharged 4.4l V8 engine — while not tuned to quite the fire-spitting levels of an M5 — lays down a very respectable 390kW of power and 750Nm of torque, the latter already on call at just 1,800rpm.
That’s powerful enough to shoot this big coupe forward at a very rapid rate. The 3.7 second 0-100km/h sprint is fast enough for some enjoyable chest-pressing urgency and also, though few owners might admit to such antics, brisk enough to avoid embarrassment from the hot hatch contingent at the traffic lights.
An M8 version will follow in due course with the power in the V8 engine dialled up to 10.
In the meantime, the M850i xDrive serves up a suitably dynamic driving experience. At 4.8m long and tipping the scales at 1.9 tons, the coupe I drove at last week’s media launch in the Cape is no light and lean machine. However this portliness is very well masked in a chassis that features rear-biased all-wheel drive, adaptive M Suspension that softens and stiffens the dampers on demand, an electronically controlled rear diff lock, and integral active (rear wheel) steering.
Thus armed, this large BMW is a very neat handler with a quick turn-in that defies its size, even though the steering is perhaps a smidgeon lighter than the most enthusiastic drivers might prefer.
Aside from that glitch, it’s a big car that reacted like a much smaller one when attacking the Cape’s curviest roads.
The M850i straddles the comfort-sport equation very well with its different selectable modes, and switching from comfort to sport adopts a racier character and raunchier exhaust note. The ride is comfortable in most instances, and though the low-profile 20” tyres felt somewhat jittery over the worst road imperfections, this seems a fair trade-off for the corner-carving performance on offer.
An almost fully sealed underbody, active air flap control and air curtains help this streamlined BMW slip efficiently through the airstream, and it is a notably quiet driving experience until you press the sport button that opens the exhaust flaps and liberates a louder holler.
The cabin is all luxurious ambience in leather, brushed metal and mood lighting, and can be glammed up with items like the optional Swarovski gearlever, which is less garish than it sounds.
BMW’s latest infotainment system and digital instrument panel give a high-tech feel to the deluxe cabin and, though the cramped rear seats are more suited to poodles than humans, there’s shoulder and head room aplenty up front.
The spec sheet comes comprehensively loaded including a digital key which allows you to unlock the vehicle and start the engine using a smartphone.
There are various extra-cost options available such as wireless smart phone charging, climate-controlled seats, a Bowers & Wilkins Diamond surround sound system, and a carbon exterior package, among others.
Semi-autonomous driving features like active cruise control and lane departure warning are part of the standard deal, as is a head-up display, while laser lights and night vision can be ticked off in the options boxes.