Words and photos: Lionel Kong
The original BMW 8 Series appeared in 1990 and was discontinued by 1999. A two-door grand touring coupe, it had a niche audience and was not widely known to mainstream audiences, whose benchmark of big BMWs was largely confined to the 7 Series sedans. But you might have noticed that BMW now has a thing for putting a series production car into almost every single digit number in existence, and the 8 Series coupe reappeared in 2018.
At the end of 2019, the 8 Series Gran Coupe was launched, adding two more doors to the big coupe, and perhaps to try and tempt some Porsche Panamera owners over.
It’s actually a very understated car despite it being just over five metres in length. Longer than the coupe by 231mm and 30mm wider, the 840i Gran Coupe driven here is powered by a 3.0-litre, turbocharged inline 6-cylinder engine.
Design, Interior, Features
There’s very little in the way of external badging, and there isn’t even a Gran Coupe logo anywhere on the car. The 840i emblem at the rear is all that you’ll find as you walk around the vehicle. The four-door version of the 8 Series is quite different in profile to the coupe, and every external panel from the front doors onwards has been reworked. There is a proper sense of muscle to the shaping of the car’s curves, though we would venture to say that the two-door coupe is definitely the more svelte-looking of the two.
There is more practicality with the Gran Coupe though, as besides the additional rear doors, it is 61mm taller than the coupe and has a rear track width has been pushed out by an additional 28mm to 1,671mm, making it the widest production BMW built to date.
The dashboard and centre console feature a sprinkling of laser-cut glass elements, giving the interior a very unique vibe. Even the illuminated gear knob is made of glass. It’s not overly ostentatious, but there as the driver you do get a sense that there’s a lot of tech beneath the surface that you can’t see directly packed into the car.
BMW’s Laserlight high beams are standard fit. Even though you’ll never need to use them in Singapore, you can at least feel good about your car having them, just in case the whole island blacks out one night.
The car operates on the BMW operating system 7.0, which also features the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant. Like most of the current BMW lineup, you can actually talk to the car and operate a lot of stuff without the use of buttons. Activated by the phrase, “Hey BMW,” the current-gen voice recognition system did not mishear anything during the three-day test drive, and was great at doing things like adjusting the air conditioning and switching audio playback sources.
Instead of faffing about the onscreen menus to go from bluetooth audio to the radio for example, you just say, “Hey BMW, play the radio,” and the car does it.
While the rear has plenty of legroom, there’s a big elephant that needs to be addressed. Or in this case, the big centre tunnel dividing the car into two sections right down the middle. It’s designed to give the two passengers in the back a degree of personal space and features a pair of USB-C charging ports plus discrete air conditioning controls, but look at the rear bench and you’ll see three sets of seat belts.
This means that the car is essentially a 4+1 seater, as the centre seatbelt clearly marks that BMW has planned for the rear bench to seat three passengers, but the fellow in the centre seat is going to have to straddle the centre tunnel and have the air vents up between the legs. Clearly not a usable space for long rides then.
To be fair though, it’s a decently thought out compromise while some of the competition don’t even have the option to seat a third person in the back row.
There’s also electrically operated sun shades across the three panes of glass at the back half of the car, pretty much a standard these days at this level of grand touring vehicle.
It might be designed to carry passengers in comfort, but the 840i is very much a big sports car at heart. The 340 horsepower from the 3.0-litre turbo engine gets it from a standstill to 100km/h in 5.2 seconds, but that’s just a tiny part of the driving experience.
It’s incredibly nimble despite its size and first impressions was that the steering was doing something clever. This was confirmed with a check on the specifications, which revealed that the 840i has progressive and four-wheel steering. The rear wheels steer slightly opposite of the front at low speeds to help with maneuverability in urban traffic and parking. Above 72km/h they steer in the same direction as the front to enable smooth lane changes on the highway. Progressive steering also makes the car more sensitive to steering input at low speeds so that you can execute tight turns with less movement to the wheel.
These technologies are not new and have been available in luxury cars for years, but the 840i’s steering assistance does feel more active than cars before it.
Considering that it’s also a very wide car, designing the back end to steer more at parking speeds really does help the car drive safely up tight multi-storey car parks.
The low slung driving position does give the car a sporty feel from the driver’s seat, and any worries about it being too big a car to handle simply vanish within the first few kilometres out of the car park. It’s one of those magical cars that seem to shrink around you as it gets up to speed, and corners with surgical precision.
One of the most useful things about having a muscular engine is not how quickly it can sprint from a standstill, but rather how quickly it can go 80km/h to 100km/h for a quick burst of acceleration for highway overtaking. In the 840i this is a nearly effortless process.
Practicality, Costs, Competitors
The 840i Gran Coupe fills out a very specific niche, but BMW has been making cars that people didn’t know they wanted for quite a long time now. It’s a big car that isn’t a proper five-seater, and if you want a certain level of visibility, a car like BMW’s own X6 arguably commands more visual presence on the road.
There is a reasonably big boot in the back and the rear seats fold in three sections split 40:20:40, so long items can be carried easily.
In the Chrome Line trim seen here, the 840i Gran Coupe carries a sticker price that is $10,000 higher than the 740Li that’s also powered by the same engine. You can also get the 840i in M Sport trim for an additional $6,000, and statistically that’s always been the better selling version of any BMW in Singapore, even though it’s mostly just a selection of bolt-on parts from the M Sport catalog.
The 8 Series sits in roughly the same category as the Porsche Panamera, which starts from $370,388 before including COE. A little higher up the scale is the Maserati Quattroporte, which lists for $428,800 without COE. All are 300hp+, six-cylinder engined cars, though the BMW is arguably the most ‘mainstream’ of the lot.
For most people shopping at this price point, a 740Li is almost as well-appointed as the 840i Gran Coupe, so you really do have to see something special in the 840i to justify owning one over a 7 Series. Or perhaps you just really like the way it looks.
It’s got that typical BMW DNA of feeling of being both highly efficient and still fun to drive, which is a very fine line to walk on and other manufacturers still try hard to replicate.
BMW 840i Gran Coupe
|Engine||2,998cc, inline 6, turbocharged|
|Power||340hp at 5000-6500rpm|
|Torque||500Nm at 1600 to 4500rpm|
|Top Speed||5.2 seconds|
|VES Band / CO2||C1 / 170g/km|
|Price||S$477,888 with COE|
Verdict: A powerful, classy grand tourer for an arguably niche segment