For as long as I can remember, the letters BMW have been synonymous with two things: desirable automotive design and superior driving dynamics. They were by far and away the pick of genuine car enthusiasts, especially the prized factory-fettled editions with the blue and red M logo that carried a lot of cachet.
Mind you, that didn’t mean you had to be the owner of a high-performance M-car to have real driving fun, because BMWs had an inherently good chassis right out of the box. So, even entry-level versions felt like proper driver’s cars, only the hotted-up versions were not only better again, but also highly sought after and generally limited in numbers.
Cars like the 1985 E30 M3 and E28 M5 – the first production-based M-car, which was as fast as a V12 Ferrari sports car of the same era, as well as going toe-to-toe with Porsche’s flagship 928S. These were nothing less than superlative cars that wrote the book on high-performance production cars for the road.
The E30, in any guise, provided the kind of raw feedback that enthusiasts craved and raved about. The M versions have always been highly desirable, and in that regard not much has changed, only there are more of them today, especially if you count half-strength versions like the M-Performance versions – quick and more special than the garden variety, but less fast and furious than the full-tilt M-Competition models of today.
But, some would argue that over the last few years, the Bavarian Motor Works has taken its eye off the ball and lost its way a bit with its core values. Apart from a few exceptions like the M2 and M5 Competition models, which seemed to have had the correct DNA installed, and as far as we’re concerned go as good as they look.
This leads me back to classic BMW design; something the revered BMW 8 Series has never been short of. Indeed, the first-generation 850i Coupe broke new ground with its combination of big V12 power, stunning good looks, and exceptional road manners, but that was nearly 30 years ago.
It practically achieved bedroom-wall status before going one better in 1994, when the more technically advanced 840Ci emerged with a V8 engine under the bonnet. It was even more dynamically proficient thanks to its lighter weight up front.
I know, because at the time I was the executive producer of the Network Ten car show Behind the Wheel with trumpet man James Morrison, who had one on long-term loan. It was a sensational car in every way, but then the model ceased production in 1999, only to reappear in 2018 as a second-generation model in coupe and convertible guise.
But, here’s the thing, no longer is the Coupe a strictly two-door affair, because it seems buyers these days are looking for a bit of magic in the family sedan. Specifically, a blend of coupe styling, sports car performance and four-door practicality, all tied up in one neat little package.
BMW is late to the party, too, and certainly well behind compatriots Mercedes-Benz and Audi with their CLS and A7 models, respectively, and go-fast variants like the Mercedes-AMG four-door GT and Porsche Panamera sitting higher up on the totem pole.
In less than a few weeks, BMW will drop a slew of new 8 Series variants including the rear-wheel-drive 840i Gran Coupe ($199,900 plus on-roads) and the all-wheel-drive M850i xDrive Gran Coupe ($272,900), which will join the 840i Coupe ($202,900) and 840i Convertible ($217,900).
They follow the M850i ($272,900) and M850i Convertible ($281,900) that touched down in Australia earlier in 2019, while the hardcore M8 Coupe (review coming on 9th October, 2019) won’t lob locally unit Q1 2020 with pricing and specifications to follow closer to the drop.
Recently in Portugal, we got to sample the 2020 BMW 840i Gran Coupe on a mix of motorway, B-roads and tight streets in the Algarve region of the country, and frankly it was a bit of a surprise package.
From any angle, the Gran Coupe is a sleek bit of kit with a masculine stance that gives it a convincing on-road presence that sparked plenty of thumbs-ups from the public gallery no matter where we were en route to Portimao, where the flagship M8 Coupe awaited us on the track.
There are a few things going for this four-door Beemer, not the least of which is its low-profile, blacked-out signature kidney grille – the polar opposite of its bolder SUV design language. The whole car looks decidedly squat, and does a fine job of balancing aggression with a sense of premium elegance.
Built on the GKL+ Grosse Klasse (Large Car) platform that also underpins the 6 Series, 7 Series, X7 and i8 models, the Gran Coupe adds extra real estate in precisely the right spots. Measuring just under 5.1m in length, this four-door coupe is 231mm longer, 30mm wider and 61mm taller than the standard coupe thanks to a more upright windscreen.
For sure, it’s a demonstrably more comfortable cabin with extra shoulder room all round and extended leg room in the second row. But that doesn’t mean Matthew Dellavedova is going to enjoy his time back there, because truth be told, anyone over 175cm (5’ 9”) is bound to find it as challenging as a Bikram Yoga class in a one-bedroom council flat.
Actually, it’s being billed as a 4+1, and while cramming three full-size adults in the rear seats may be doable, it’s absolutely not advisable due to the centre console that extends into the rear quarters making it a most unpleasant experience. And, let’s not forget the boot and the 440L of stuff it will hold.
I’ve always liked BMW interiors. High-quality materials, minimal clutter and easy-to-use electronics, with one of the best infotainment systems in the business – namely iDrive.
The 840i Gran Coupe gets the latest rendition, complete with a full-size (12.3-inch) digital instrument cluster and similarly large (10.25-inch) infotainment touchscreen tilted towards the driver. It’s not as vibrant as Audi’s Virtual Cockpit or as blingy as the dual screens in a Benz, but it’s clear and concise.
The seats (all round) offer standout support and comfort, and the driving position is just about spot-on for this class of car. Deep-set, if you want it, and good forward vision that enables you to position the car on the road with a high degree of accuracy, should you have the good fortune to be driving in this part of Europe.
While there’s no denying the fun factor of piloting the full-fat 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8-powered M850i, this new 3.0-litre straight-six turbo petrol in our rear-wheel-drive 840i Gran Coupe is no slouch. Punch it, as we did on several occasions during a drive program that was frustratingly brief, and before you know it you’re hitting the two-tonne mark – and even then, there’s plenty more travel under the right-hand pedal.
It’s hooked up to a quick (but smooth shifting) eight-speed auto transmission that seamlessly sends all 250kW and 500Nm to the rear axle exclusively, but even under heavy load off the line, the Gran Coupe is very well behaved.
Proportionally, I know it’s a big, comfortable unit, but it’s the sort of car that takes no time at all to get confident with, to the point where you can take it by the scruff of the neck and throw it around. And, I mean that quite literally.
Compared to a few of its rivals it might be down on power, but the engineers have clearly worked to balance the power with the chassis so it’s fun to punt in just about any conditions. And, just for the record, it claims a sprint time from 0–100km/h in 5.2 seconds, or three-tenths down on its V8 stablemate. But that’s not where this thing shines brightest. It’s the mid-range punch where it excites us most.
High-speed corners are another thing the Gran Coupe seems to relish. Keep it pinned in the long sweepers and it feels rock solid – and that’s in the softest suspension setting. Mind you, that’s more likely down to the M Sport differential with its active locking function. We certainly would have liked to play around with this some more.
The brakes don’t look to be anything special – vented front rotors with four-pot calipers and single-pistons down the back – but they’ll stop you on a dime and they’ll do it from big speeds. No surprise there.
I’m still not a fan of the ridiculously thick-rimmed M steering wheel, but that hasn’t stopped BMW working on steering feel and feedback in its cars. For so long it was the benchmark, and then as if overnight it got up and vanished. At this point in time, I haven’t been able to establish if our tester was equipped with BMW’s Integral Active Steering, but it was both fast and accurate yet less numb than we have come to expect of late.
Standard spec on board the 840i includes Adaptive M suspension with electronically controlled dampers, and while cornering work is still proficient in the default mode, dialling it up a notch or two to Sport or Sport+ will transform this car into something far more capable than you might expect.
Body roll isn’t something you think about behind the wheel of the Gran Coupe, because there’s barely enough to register – even from the period I was confined to the passenger seat.
And while I half-expected a firm ride, for sure in Sport, that’s just not the case. Again, the chassis engineers have seen to that. It’s something we properly tested, too, on the sharp cobblestoned driveway of our hotel. They barely registered through the chassis and were completely isolated from the cabin. It’s more than a surprise to us given this car’s adept handling characteristics.
There are cheaper offerings in what is already a niche play, but I would argue that none look quite so resolved as BMW’s all-new 8 Series Gran Coupe.
Moreover, there are no real chinks in this car’s armour, at least that were evident on what was a short test route. It’s the complete package that delivers on all fronts. That’s not to say that a far more thorough test regimen on local soil might raise some issues, but until then BMW’s Gran Coupe is definitely something you should be interested in.