IF YOU’VE been eyeing up the 8 Series — BMW’s flagship coupé — but looked at the back seats and suspected your neighbours may report you to social services if you tried to squeeze your children in there, the German car maker now has the answer: the 8 Series Gran Coupé.
To English speakers the lack of the final “d” in Grand might jar (BMW prefers the Spanish translation, apparently), but it doesn’t take a genius to realise that its Gran Coupé models are bigger versions of the standard coupés on which they’re based, while retaining the sleek styling at the rear end.
And the 8 Series Gran Coupé is a big car. By increasing not just the length (+231mm), width (+30mm) and height (+61mm) of the standard 8 Series but also the distance between the front and rear axles (+201mm), BMW has significantly improved space in the back. The rear wheels are 28mm further apart, too, and by adding a second set of doors, getting in and out of the two rear seats is much easier, too.
The Gran Coupé’s project leader told those of us attending the car’s launch that, despite its ballooned dimensions, “the additional space changes nothing about the car’s performance qualities”. We’ll get to its dynamic capabilities but even if there’s a moderate sacrifice in performance and handling, it’s perhaps no surprise that BMW expects to sell more Gran Coupés than 8 Series and 8 Series Convertibles put together (around 1,000 in the first 12 months).
The looks have changed a fair amount, of course. The new 8 Series Gran Coupé cannot be considered ugly — in fact it has a rather fetching silhouette, and the sculpted rear end is very pleasing to the eye — but that stretched body and raised roofline inevitably compromise the aesthetics to some extent.
The standard 8 is an achingly beautiful car, a sleek arrow-like machine harking back to the legendary E31 8 Series from the 1990s. The Gran Coupé is much more lumpen by comparison, but compare it to the Porsche Panamera Turbo and the BMW is subjectively the more attractive of the two.
Open the rear doors (of which there are none on the standard 8, of course) and any concerns about compromised looks vanish, as you take in the acres of space back there. Two inviting sports seats (this is a pure four-seater), featuring cobra-like backrests, greet you. Climb in and the levels of comfort are impressive, with plenty of legroom for those well over six foot. The very tallest rear passengers might complain about headroom, though most adults will have plenty of space all round.
The build quality and use of premium materials is just as impressive as the regular coupé, too. A full leather interior is standard, of course, (in Black, Cognac or Ivory White) and there’s quad-zone air conditioning, so both rear passengers can set their own temperature. A couple of USB-C sockets in the rear centre console mean smartphones and tablets can be kept topped up during long trips.
Those rear seats both fold down separately, as does the centre armrest, giving a 40:20:40 split rear bench, allowing long items to be passed through the boot (which offers a decent 440 litres with the backrests in their upright position).
In the front, it’s familiar BMW fare and those used to the 8 Series will find it hard to spot an difference, although the extended centre console is exclusive to the Gran Coupé. It’s very smart and solid, with the centre screen being both clear and quick to operate, if not the largest or most impressive option on the market.
You can control it in a number of ways: directly via touch; with the traditional iDrive wheel between the front seats; gesture control; or Alexa-style smart voice command. A plethora of control methods might seem like a good idea but the last two are somewhat gimmicky.
Saying, “Hey, BMW, I’m tired,” launches a programme of music, ambient light and air conditioning designed to keep you alert, for example, which is presumably for people who can’t open the window and pull over for an extra strong flat white. And “Hey, BMW, turn on my heated seat,” is presumably for those so exhausted they can’t even summon the strength to press the heated seat button on the dashboard.
Gesture controls seem to be even more of a waste of time. Turning up the volume by winding your index finger clockwise or counter-clockwise in front of the dashboard seems ridiculous given that the volume control knob is mere millimetres in front of your hand.
But of course, all of this is about bragging rights. “You own a Audi A7, eh? Can you bat away unwanted radio stations with a swipe of your hand? You can’t? Oh, dear.” I imagine the customers having these sorts of conversations are also the ones who specify BMW’s optional blingtastic polished glass gear lever. They probably won’t give two hoots that Android Auto is not supported, either, as the 8 will run Apple Carplay, and they’re iPhone users.
As a driver’s car, though, the 8 Series Gran Coupé is mighty. All four seats are slight but wonderfully supportive, while the control console is angled towards the driver. The fully digital instrument binnacle provides speed, revs, sat nav and entertainment info in a superbly stylish yet functional way, and the head-up display is standard across the range.
Speaking of which, there are three versions available to us Brits at present: the 3-litre, six-cylinder petrol-powered 840i Gran Coupé, producing 340hp and capable of 0-62mph in 5.2 seconds; the 3-litre, six-cylinder 840d xDrive Gran Coupé, which has 320hp and is heavier but gains extra torque from the diesel motor, as well as four-wheel drive, so manages 0-62mph a fraction quicker (5.1sec); and the range-topping 4.4-litre 8 petrol-powered M850i xDrive, which produces 530hp and 553 lb-ft or torque, making it good for 0-62mph in 3.9 seconds — not bad for a cruiser that weighs more than two tonnes.
Fuel economy and CO2 emissions are amazingly good for the 840i and 840d xDrive — officially 37.7-38.2mpg/168-170gkm and 44.8-45.6mpg/162-166g/km respectively. Of course, the M850i xDrive couldn’t be called frugal, managing 28.2-28.5mg/226-229g/km.
The M850i xDrive in M Sport trim is tremendous fun, though, with a wall of power to give it the true luxury grand tourer feel. Even this will be out-gunned in due course, though, as an M8 Gran Coupé is on the way, based on the M8 version of the 8 Series Coupé. Confused yet?
What’s important to understand is that on the mountain roads just north of Faro, even the base, rear-wheel drive 840i proved itself fun. Front-end grip was stunning, stopping power impressive, chassis composure sublime, even on some of the rougher roads, the eight-speed Steptronic Sport gearbox was smooth and quick, and its ability to switch directions and hug the inside of sharp corners surprisingly good (rear wheel steering providing physics-bending dynamics).
The base petrol motor was plenty powerful enough, too. While the 840i’s power peaks just before 5,000rpm, maximum torque is available from as a low as 1,600rpm and stays with you up to 4,500rpm, meaning it was more than capable of quick overtakes at most speeds.
And when you hit the highways, BMW’s advanced adaptive cruise control and steering assist system is one of the best out there, taking the strain off long journeys.
The 8 Series Gran Coupé is a harmonious mix of luxury, technology and driving pleasure. Whether it convinces in the same way as the Porsche Panamera is another matter, but on its own merits it more than deserves a look.
Prices for the 840i start at £69,340, which undercuts the cheapest Panamera by three grand. If you want four-wheel drive you’ll need to go for the diesel 840d xDrive, which will set you back upwards of £73,915, or the M850i xDrive, which costs from £97,720. That’s serious cash, yes, but if you compare it to less spacious luxury GTs from the likes of Bentley, Aston Martin and McLaren, it’s arguably a bargain.
If you want firepower to match, you’ll need to wait for the M8 Gran Coupé. And that should give the similarly-sized Mercedes-AMG S 63 four-door, which Clarkson recently raved about in Sunday Times Driving, a run for its money, too.