► New Gran Coupé version of the 8, driven
► Our European editor prefers the sDrive
► Four doors, more stylish?
Forget the M850i, let alone the puffed up M8. The sweet spot of the 8-series range is firmly planted at the bottom where the 840i Gran Coupé gives the Audi A7 and the Mercedes CLS a hard run for the money. Keep reading for the full CAR review of the new BMW 8-series Gran Coupé, in 840i sDrive spec.
What’s the Gran Coupe then?
The new Gran Coupé is a 4+1-seater, but by generating this clumsy designation marketing shot itself in the hoof. You guessed it: the tall middle seat is not even comfortable enough for a strapped in toddler, the 40:20:40 split rear backrest is too easily at odds with broad shoulders, and the big 440-litre boot expands at the expense of head- and legroom in row number two.
By making doors, roof skin, firewall, bumper carriers and engine rails of aluminium, and by using other lightweight materials for bootlid, transmission tunnel and instrument carrier, the Gran Coupé is only 70kg heavier than the two-door sister model. Standard equipment includes the adaptive M suspension, M sports differential and the same M sports brakes as fitted to the M850i. The seventh-generation iDrive system complete with VR head-up display is a carry-over item from the recently facelifted 7-series.
In summary, in exchange for a hefty premium, you get a prettier and more exclusive haute couture body style, a more generous and partly bespoke specification, and the street cred bonus generated by the more prestigious 8-series badge. All this comes at a cost, though: without the subjective and emotional qualities dreamt up by marketing, most buyers would struggle to ignore negatives like the much steeper asking price, the higher weight (by 95kg) and the tighter cabin space (by two dress sizes in second row).
What trims does it come in?
The Gran Coupe is available in 840i sDrive, and M850i-spec, and we’ll set our stall out early; it’s the former trim you’ll want. Not even marketing can coax us into the really expensive and much thirstier M850i Gran Coupé. It’s almost 200kg heavier and accordingly more ponderous, and in the real world, the 1.3sec advantage it has over the 840i on the 0-62mph acceleration run is almost immaterial.
Okay, what’s the 840i sDrive like to drive then?
The short early-morning drive from the hotel to the race track was a real eye-opener. At an indicated 163mph, the least powerful 8series Gran Coupé is certainly fast enough to jeopardize your licence no whether where. The imposing 20-inch Pirellis provide grip in abundance without micro-destroying the ride at low speed or on Jurassic terrain. Unburdened by traction duties, the steering is a leather-wrapped life insurance system which helps, together with other dynamic wizardries, to lift car control to a new level.
And it does take car control to keep things together when one gives this car stick with ESP off, the transmission in manual, and the driving experience selector in Sport Plus. Do exactly that, and the glory days will return in Full Monty: supported by a delicate and transparent 3D steering, a confident chassis with strong telepathic talents and brakes which have been trained to do their job even at eleven-tenths, the 840i sDrive fuses modern technology and traditional brand values to a remarkably competent and entertaining whole.
While not quite as quick and light-footed as a 340i, the 840i Grand Coupé instantly connects with all six senses including intuition and experience-based expectations. Marketing has tried hard to tap deep pockets for switchable anti-roll bars and rear-wheel steering, but there is absolutely no need to spend extra on these additives when all it takes to ensure a totally balanced composure are the M Sport and M Technik packs which comprise a drag-reducing body kit, better seats, 20in wheels and tyres, 19-inch sports brakes and the M sport limited-slip differential. True, some of the other stuff is nice to have, but not essential.
What matters more are trad BMW qualities such as agility, nimbleness, sharp handling, a sweet engine and overall driving pleasure. The 840i has all that in abundance, and is - at least during three out of four seasons - the more rewarding driving machine. At the end of a long day on rough roads, empty highways and one of the world's best race circuit, the quintessential impression was that of quantifiably enhanced involvement.
The RWD car is and feels lighter (if only by 55kg) compared to the xDrive, it splits the torque expertly between the rear wheels but not between the axles, and as a result its handling attitude is at all times laser sharp and absolutely unambiguous.
So, the 840i Gran Coupé sDrive is the real McCoy. If this car doesn´t get you hooked, go ahead and pay thousands more for an M850i before setting the cruise control on snooze.