What are you driving?
This is the BMW 8 Series, which is the new 6 Series. Confused? Yeah, us too just a little. As before, this car is, in its essentials, a two-door coupe built on a 5 Series chassis and engines, which really ought to make it a 6 Series. BMW, though, reckons that this one tilts more towards the 7 Series in terms of luxury and prestige (it may have a point there, right enough) and also happened to have a badge lying around, unused, from the early nineties, so 8 Series it is. Besides, there are two potential bonus benefits. On the one hand, it possibly opens up space for a new 6 Series (we're purposely ignoring the elephantine 6 GT here) to be introduced as a proper, focused, Porsche 911 fighter (such has been long-rumoured, and it could become reality as a hybrid-engined car to replace the current BMW i8). Secondly, once you make the number bigger, you can charge more for it...
The 8 Series then is a classic big GT - engine at the front, decent boot at the back, and a decadent cabin between, with lots of space for those in the front, and almost none at all for those in the back. Our test car is an 840d, using the latest generation of BMW's turbocharged straight-six diesel engine, this time using two turbos - one small, and one big - for improved low-down response and bigger high-end power figures. Diesel may be falling out of fashion, but arguably it's in precisely this kind of car - one designed for high-speed city-to-city driving - that it still makes the best sense.
Name its best bits
Let's start with the styling, which is somewhat divisive. There are roughly an equal number of people who think that the 8 is too big and too over-styled for true beauty as there are those who say it's basically perfect. We lean towards the second camp. It's not perfect, but the design is far more cohesive and coherent in the flesh than in the photos. Our test car looked very handsome indeed wearing its distinctive sea-grey 'Barcelona Blue' paint work and riding on gorgeous 20-inch bi-colour alloys. Complexity of the styling, which does indeed look a bit over-done in photos, just coalesces really rather beautifully in person.
The interior is nothing short of an utter triumph. Again, it helps if you avoid the predictable black interior trim and go for the 'Merino' Tartufo & Black interior option (an €812 option), which really lifts the ambience. The quality of the interior fixtures and fittings, from the crystal gear shifter (which just about manages to avoid looking naff) to the knurled alloy finish on the air vent closure rollers is gorgeous. This is a truly wonderful cabin, one that you just slot into and never want to get out of. The only possible let-down is the new TFT screen digital instruments layout, which works well, and which has a pleasing almost retro quality about the design, but which is indistinguishable from those found in much more affordable BMW models. The old round dials just looked classier too.
The engine is little short of a masterpiece, though. Those who think diesel is dead have clearly never driven one of these. How else would you manage to combine the same torque rating (well, close enough anyway) as a Mercedes-AMG C 63 with a sub-five-second 0-100km/h time and day-to-day fuel economy that can beat 40mpg. Maybe even 45mpg if you're not clogging it too hard.
Add to that exceptional smoothness and an engine note that never rises above 'cultured growl' on the smooth-o-meter and you have a powerplant for the ages. You'll never get tired of the way this engine can smack the back end of the 8 with a sledgehammer from idle, nor the way the fuel gauge seems hardly to twitch on a long journey. Essentially, there is no road in Ireland long enough for the 840d - no matter how far you've gone, you just want to keep on rolling.
Anything that bugs you?
The handling is not perfect. I know; first world problem and all that, but I still think a BMW should feel light on its toes, agile. The 840d does, but only up to a point. The steering is a touch light for proper feedback, but it's good enough to be enjoyable, and the 8 Series can give much more expensive cars (Bentley Continental GT, we're looking at you) a lesson in keeping its body weight and movements in check on a challenging road, but you are never left in any doubt that this is something of a fast-lane leviathan. The sheer mass of the car (it tips the scales at 1,905kg) means that occasionally you can sense the suspension straining to keep everything in check. It rarely fails to do so, but it does start to feel as if you should maybe back off and return to the car's default effortless cruising setting. Hopefully, somewhere in Munich, someone is planning a rear-drive 840i that will shed a few hundred kilos compared to this car, and feel nimbler and more agile because of it.
And why have you given it this rating?
It would be churlish in the extreme to consider the 8 Series anything other than a truly accomplished car. From its styling to its cabin to its mighty engine to its amazing comfort levels, it is one of the best cars to roll out with that blue and white badge on its nose of recent years. The fact that it feels hefty in some situations is really nothing more than a reflection of the realities of mass and physics. Get the 840d on the right road (a long one, with fast open corners preferably) and it more than justifies its badge, position, and price.
What do the rest of the team think?
I'm utterly seduced by the exterior appearance of the new 8 Series. That's backed up by a gorgeously-made interior of the highest quality (though shame about the useless rear seats) and a powertrain that mixes serious performance with smoothness and civility and even palatable fuel economy. Sure, the 840d feels heavy and big (it is on both counts) on tight and twisty Irish back roads, but it's still a special car you won't ever want to get out of.
Shane O' Donoghue - Editor