ALGARVE, PORTUGAL - Enter stage door left the BMW 8 Series Gran Coupe.
And you would be excused if you take a second look because it’s retained the lines of the current 8 series but has added some curves in all the right places with a tapering roofline, wide hips and the signature kidney grille heading up a front end that makes the current 8 series one of the best looking cars on the road.
The curves are thanks to the rear doors fitted to a wheelbase that’s 201mm longer than the Coupe and 28mm wider. The Gran Coupe is not just a stretch job though, with every panel from the windscreen backwards that’s been redesigned making it a proper four-door sedan.
The frameless rear doors are nice and big, making entry and exit easy even for a tall person like me. Space and legroom is ample and when I asked a colleague to move the passenger seat as far back as he needed it, I still had about 10cm between the back of the seat and my knees and my head was a good few centimetres below the roof.
It’s not limousine space-like but the GC was never intended to be that kind of car because the seats fit snugly with good lateral support, which you’ll probably need when the driver starts enjoying its handling characteristics.
BMW says it’s a 2+1 rear seating configuration with a third seatbelt in the middle but in reality there’s only space for two. Should you be seated in the middle you’ll have to straddle the full length rear centre console and I cant see any adult looking forward to that prospect.
But it’s up-front where you want to be with ample room and incredibly comfortable seats that can be electronically adjusted to give support where you need it. It’s basically the same as its two-door sibling, beautifully made and ergonomically excellent with aluminium mesh effect finishes and soft touch leather trim everywhere.
The centre console houses the electronic gear shifter, electromechanical parking brake, and iDrive controller with a function cluster that easily takes you back to navigation, telephone, home or vehicle settings.
The 12.3 inch touch screen has BMW’s Operating System 7.0 from where you can set everything in the car to your heart’s content with an easy menu that can be shifted using the iDrive controller, touch screen, steering wheel buttons, voice control and gesture control.
For your money you get Apple Car Play compatibility but strangely Android users get mirroring only.
The tech is carried over to the reconfigurable digital gauge cluster behind the steering wheel. It’s easy to move through the various displays and even though it’s available from the 3 Series up, it takes a bit of getting used to and I still struggle to read the dials on the colour scheme with a font that takes some getting used to.
I tend to focus on the digital numbers telling me how fast I’m going in the centre of the speedometer rather than the cluster or in this case, the head up display. And while I know digital dials and readouts are virtually standard these days it does seem a little clinical and impersonal.
That goes for the Active Sound Design too that pipes powertrain sound into the cabin. For me at least, it tends to make the reality of driving somewhat contrived. It is, however, not restricted to BMW.
The Grand Coupe is a Grand Tourer in the true sense of the word with oodles of comfort and luxuries, as well as a 400 litre boot which BMW says is good enough for three golf bags.
The set-up can be changed using the 40:20:40 split rear backrest folded down from the boot using a lever.
Coming to South Africa is the BMW M850i xDrive Gran Coupe powered by a twin-turbo 4.4 litre V8 pushing out 390kW and 750Nm of torque, a six-cylinder 3.0 litre diesel 840d xDrive Gran Coupe with 235kW and 680Nm of torque and the one we got to drive at the launch in Algarve, Portugal, the 840i Gran coupe.
The newly developed, classic free-revving 3.0 litre BMW straight six twin turbo engine gives you 250kW and 500Nm.
Not the kind of power that the V8 will give you but the ride is equally exhilarating, it being the only rear wheel drive of the trio but also has the same eight-speed Steptronic Sport transmission with shift paddles should you think you’re quicker than the box.
Power delivery is smooth and enthusiastic, and despite its size, enjoyed being thrown around corners and bends with a tight chassis that’s a good balance between sports car and tourer even in Sport mode.
Push the loud pedal and the gearbox easily drops a gear or two to pass slower traffic while it’s pretty quick from a standing start too and according to BMW should get you to 100km/h in 5.2 seconds.
Steering is direct and it has no hesitation responding to your requests but I did, however, find it gave little feedback to the driver no matter what mode I was in.
Despite its willingness to get-up-and-go though, the 840i is very much an easy every day driving car and long distance cruising vehicle.
The ride quality is outstanding as is build quality, and with an almost silent cabin a long distance drive at speed is what this car is made for. Move the setting to Adaptive and the car shifts the driving parameters to suit your driving style, so if you’re belting through curvy mountain passes it increases throttle response and holds the gears for a longer time and when you’re back on the highway it will settle down as a cruiser again.
As you would expect an array of driver assistance systems abound with driving assistant, collision and pedestrian warning with city braking function, lane departure and changing warning, speed limit info and rear crossing traffic and rear collision warning.
BMW says the Gran Coupe is likely to make up 50% of all 8 Series sales worldwide and while the two-door Coupe definitely has a serious cool factor going for it, the practicality, space and similar figures make this the better buy and without having driven it, I think the diesel version as an all-rounder would be the one to go for.
We also drove the all-new BMW M8 Competition on this trip, so keep an eye out for Drive360 and IOL Motoring on October 10.