Sporting life: the new BMW 8 Series and Z4
We test drive two revived BMWs on the opposite ends of the sporting spectrum
While the most common sights on the UAE roads wearing the circular BMW badge are probably the German giants’ smooth saloons, its finest moments have long been represented by its sporty output, most notably when its M Sport division gets involved.
Fans of such rapid exploits are in for a treat in the coming months, then, with new entries at either end of the size scale: welcome the new 8 Series and Z4, a full-sized coupe and a zippy two-seater respectively.
BMW anoraks and aficionados may recall the original 8 Series. Embodying all the flamboyance and excess of the early 1990s, the big, shark-nosed coupe signalled a bold push upmarket for the Teutonic brand and was replete with all the engineering know-how and styling pizzazz the company could throw at it.
The 8 Series upped the ante with goodies such as pop-up headlights (the only Bimmer to date to feature these, other than the low-volume M1) and a 5.6-litre V12 mated to a six-speed manual gearbox. It’s a configuration that remains unique to that model.
Despite its titanic on-paper credentials, that particular series never stacked up as a great drivers’ car. But now some comprehensive model reshuffling by the Bavarians means the 6 Series moniker has been consigned solely to a five-door GT model, paving the way for the 8 Series badge to return on an all-new coupe flagship.
The newbie recaptures the long, low-slung appeal of its two-decade-old ancestor and it, too, comes tech-laden to justify the circa-Dh550,000 price tag that the M850i xDrive will wear when it’s launched in the UAE on November 24. This will be the sole model offered initially, although a steroidal full M8 version will join the party towards the end of next year.
The M850i will be quick enough for most, given that it scores an uprated version of BMW’s twin-turbo 4.4-litre V8, belting out a towering 530hp and 750Nm of torque. This massive wall of grunt is channelled to all four corners via an eight-speed auto and BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive system, resulting in a supercar-rivalling 3.7-second 0-to-100kph split and an electronically governed top speed of 250kph (which it can hit with ludicrous ease).
BMW’s boffins have thrown a plethora of tech wizardry to keep the M850i’s massive performance and hefty 1,890-kilogram girth in check, and this means that it comes standard with four-wheel steering, dynamic dampers and 19-inch M Sport brakes.
Many prospective buyers are likely to swoon over the styling alone, because that long fastback roofline (with “double-bubble” central cut-out) enables the 8 Series to stand proudly apart from the rest of the relatively generic-looking BMW line-up. Further visual differentiation comes from the muscular haunches and the slimmest headlights that you will find on any Bimmer. The M850i’s derriere is also easy on the eye, with elongated L-shaped tail-lights and a ducktail spoiler that’s neatly integrated into the boot-lid.
Inside, you will find lots of familiar BMW design elements, but the virtual dials are configured differently – most notably the tachometer, because the (virtual) needle sweeps from right to left – anticlockwise, in other words. While that looks cool, I find the readings hard to take at a glance in the cut and thrust of real-world traffic. The cabin is a comfortable place to be, though – unless you’re in the back, in which case you will feel distinctly cramped. Be in no doubt, this is a 2+2, rather than a full-fledged four-seater.
Once on the move, it’s evident that the 8 Series is designed to effortlessly devour vast distances. Ride quality is decently compliant in Comfort mode, and even switching to Sport doesn’t make it a brute of a thing. Yes, the V8’s soundtrack becomes distinctly more audible, with copious pops and crackles from the twin exhausts, but it’s still quite liveable in most conditions.
An eye-wateringly rapid and foolproof device it may be, with its scorching acceleration and sure-footed handling, but the 8 Series is more grand tourer than sportster, and this is partly down to its almost two-tonne bulk and sizeable footprint on the road. Ironically, there are more jollies (but arguably less posing value) to be had for a much smaller spend in the all-new Z4 that I also drive at the same launch event in Portugal.
The revamped roadster dispenses with the folding metal lid of its predecessor in favour of a traditional soft-top, saving 40 kilograms and lowering the centre of gravity in the process. Underpinned by an all-new platform that will be shared with the upcoming new Toyota Supra, the latest Z4 debuts styling that’s aggressive, but perhaps a tad overdone with its plethora of scoops, vents and multi-surfaced panels.
That said, the Z4 is fast, furious and fun, with the range-topping M40i serving up a 340hp and 500Nm punch for a sharp 4.6-second 0-to-100kph sprint. It’s also sublimely balanced and massively chuckable, aided by perfect 50:50 weight distribution over front and rear axles. So a foolish grin on your face is the likely result after a hard drive. You will have to wait a little bit longer for the Z4, because it won’t land here until March. The M40i flagship will be priced at about the Dh300,000 mark, although there will also be cheaper four-cylinder sDrive20i and sDrive30i models, pushing out 195hp and 255hp respectively, representing a far more affordable way into BMW’s sports selections.
Updated: November 9, 2018 12:25 PM