Dy­namic in its own right

IN­TER­NA­TIONAL LAUNCH/ BMW’s new large coupe is raw but yet re­fined, says Mark Smyth

Business Day - Motor News - - MOTOR NEWS -

The BMW 8 Se­ries disappeared from the mar­ket in 1999 after a run of just nine years. Nearly 20 years later it is back and will go on sale in SA to­wards the end of the first quar­ter of 2019.

How­ever, it will be a very dif­fer­ent car to the last 8 Se­ries.

I had a col­league in Cape Town who owned one, with the reg­is­tra­tion Bull-WP. The plate summed up the car as much as him be­cause the 8 Se­ries was in­deed a bit of a bull, with a V8 or V12 en­gine un­der that enor­mous bon­net and a char­ac­ter that was less flag­ship BMW and more Olympic shot-put­ter.

The new one will, of course, give rise to ad­di­tional mod­els, ac­cord­ing to Sarah Less­mann of the 8 Se­ries project man­age­ment team. This will in­clude a Gran Coupe and a con­vert­ible later in 2019.

There will be high-per­for­mance M8 ver­sions too.

A sur­pris­ing piece of news is that BMW has de­cided that it is no longer size that counts. We were sur­prised to find that the wheel­base of the new 8 Se­ries is a full 30mm shorter than that of the old 6 Se­ries.

Less­mann in­sists that dy­nam­i­cally, the new M850i is the best BMW, with the ex­cep­tion of the ac­tual M cars, that is.

The 30mm shorter wheel­base makes a big dif­fer­ence if you sit in the back, which you can’t re­ally un­less you are a child. The old 6 Se­ries has more space but, of course, an 8 Se­ries Gran Coupe is on the way and Less­mann points out that it will have a longer wheel­base.

It’s easy to ex­plain the 8 Se­ries away as a 2+2 then, but you will find more space in a ri­val like the Mercedes-Benz SClass coupe. We asked if this leaves things open for a 9 Se­ries then. BMW ex­ec­u­tives said they couldn’t pos­si­bly com­ment.

To assess Less­man’s claim that the M850i is the most dy­namic non-M BMW, we put it through its paces on a drive around Lis­bon in Por­tu­gal and on the fa­mous Es­to­ril race­track.

Un­der the bon­net sits an M Per­for­mance TwinPower Turbo V8 en­gine gen­er­at­ing 390kW be­tween 5,500-6,000r/min and 750Nm of torque from 1,800-4,600r/min.

The com­pany is promis­ing a 0-100km/h time of 3.7 sec­onds, which is im­pres­sive given that the whole pack­age weighs in at just un­der two tons. That’s with a whole load of car­bon fi­bre in­cluded to re­duce the weight.

Like the orig­i­nal, there’s plenty of brawn about the new 8. Ob­vi­ously there’s the V8 lump un­der the bon­net, but there’s a level of pres­ence about the styling too, al­though that varies de­pend­ing on spec­i­fi­ca­tion. There’s an ac­tive ex­haust to make some noise and large rear tyres to get the power to the tar­mac, al­though not run-flats be­cause th­ese are not as com­fort­able for a car that is both sports car and GT.

Test­ing the GT bit was rel­a­tively easy. It was a Satur­day morn­ing and the roads were full of tourists and cy­clists. We had lit­tle chance to put test to any claims here, al­though the oc­ca­sional piece of twisty tar­mac did al­low us to ex­pe­ri­ence the ac­tive rear-wheel steer­ing.

It’s ba­si­cally the same sys­tem as on the 7 Se­ries, al­low­ing for up to three de­grees of turn with the di­rec­tion de­pend­ing on your speed. It works very well on the tighter cor­ners, mak­ing a car mea­sur­ing in at 4,851mm feel a fair bit smaller. It was com­fort­able too, with a great driv­ing po­si­tion and the kind of equip­ment you ex­pect. GT box ticked.

Talk­ing of equip­ment, it gets the new BMW Con­nected Drive sys­tem in­clud­ing over the air up­dates and a 10.25-inch touch­screen with dis­plays that you can per­son­alise to show the in­for­ma­tion you re­ally need.

It’s joined by a fully dig­i­tal in­stru­ment clus­ter too. The dis­play is a bit too 1980s ar­cade game. Maybe it’s just some­thing dif­fer­ent in a BMW. I’ll re­serve judge­ment for now.

I’ll also re­serve judge­ment on the op­tional glass gear­stick and starter but­ton. The but­ton’s ok, but you can’t talk about how dy­namic and sporty a model is and then have a sort of Swarovski crys­tal gear­stick. You wouldn’t have seen that on the orig­i­nal. Each to their own on this one, I think.

All of which brings us to the track, the best place to test all 530 horses and switch ev­ery­thing into full sports mode.

Here things be­come clear. The M850i is a GT in the orig­i­nal sense, a car that can take you to the track in the morn­ing, play all day and then you pull a sports jacket from the boot and drive to din­ner in the even­ing.

The pad­dle shifters are an­noy­ingly too far in for easy use but leave the gear chang­ing up to the car and it in­stinc­tively knows what you want to do, leav­ing you to con­cen­trate on plac­ing the car cor­rectly.

The new M850i is play­ful but con­trolled, raw but yet re­fined. I’m not con­vinced it’s the most dy­namic non-M BMW though, nor the new flag­ship ei­ther.

The BMW M850i xDrive coupe will ar­rive in SA in the first quar­ter of next year, priced at R1,887,827.

De­spite a lot of weightre­duc­ing car­bon fi­bre, the new M850i weighs nearly two tons. Be­low left: The new BMW Con­nected Drive sys­tem in­cludes over- the-air up­dates and a 10.25-inch touch­screen with per­son­al­is­able dis­plays.

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