CERNOBBIO, Italy — “The 8 Series coupe is the sportiest car in its segment,” claims BMW CTO Klaus Fröhlich. “It’s neither a Vantage nor a 911 but a proper high-performance BMW with a character of its own.”
We’re not willing (or able) to explore the validity of that statement from behind the wheel of the one-off BMW 8 Series Concept, a raw, handmade car from bottom to top save for the chassis and drivetrain. Like every other concept car worth a couple million, this one too must be operated with velvet gloves at the speed of a retired marathon runner.
BMW let us have a taste of what’s to come on a stretch of gravel lane leading to Villa Erba shortly after the 8 Series Concept was unveiled at the 2017 Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este. Befitting the class, a quick stab of the throttle sent the rear wheels spinning, accompanied by a throaty, V-8-like growl. Electric minders were summoned to action following an exaggerated flick of the steering wheel, and it didn’t take significant application of the brake pedal to cover the shiny 21-inch wheels with dust.
We don’t know exactly what’s under the hood of the 8 Series Concept, but the production model will almost assuredly come with versions of BMW’s turbocharged 3.0-liter I-6 and 4.4-liter V-8 engines (a V-12-powered variant is unlikely), with xDrive all-wheel-drive offered as an option. All will come standard as mild hybrids thanks to the addition of a 48-volt electric system that provides around 20 hp and 50 lb-ft of torque. And like all models based on BMW’s flexible CLAR architecture, the 8 Series is package protected for a plug-in hybrid version, which is expected to add around 111 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque. That variant will be available “when the market is ready for it,” according to BMW.
The exterior design of the new 8 Series (more than 80 percent of what appears on the concept will make to production) is less derivative than that of the 6 Series coupe it replaces. Shorter, wider, and lower, it sports different proportions than the 6, and it sits on a longer wheelbase. The butch rear end is wide and tall. Highlights include wraparound winglet-style tail lamps reminiscent of the i8, a neatly integrated air deflector lip, triangular tailpipes, and massive manga-style wheelhouse vents.
Paying the price for the car’s striking roofline and tapered greenhouse are second-row passengers, who will be treated to a distinct lack of head- and legroom.
“We moved the rear seats closer together and at an angle to make a provision for the car’s broad shoulders and a self-confident stance,” explains project designer Marc Girard. “The front end is defined by an aggressive sharknose grille which makes a real statement. It may look vulnerable, but for optimum impact protection the entire section is made of composite materials.”
The 8 Series is another BMW which consciously avoids sharp edges, difficult to stamp creases, and super-narrow cutlines. “This car is a sculpture,” claims senior designer Adrian van Hooydonk. In that case, the work of Henry Moore was definitely more of an inspiration than Pablo Picasso. The frameless door windows are a nice touch, but why not delete those disruptive B-pillars?
While the seats and steering wheel are pure show car elements, the dashboard, which features the seventh-generation iDrive, is quite close to the real thing. The main display in the center stack connects the car to the outside world, while the smaller monitor in front of the driver depicts a speedometer and tach, and provides navigation information. In sport mode, an XXL digital speedometer is framed by two vertical rev counters.
Predictably, the 2018 8 BMW Series will come with a much more ambitious price tag than the 6 Series, likely to the tune of an extra $20,000 or so, making for a starting price somewhere between $100,000 and $110,000.
In addition to the coupe (codename G14), we are going to see a convertible (G15) and, almost certainly, a Gran Coupe (G16) due in 2019. On top of this threesome, there will be the M8 coupe (F92) and, in 2020, a high-performance M8 Gran Coupe (F93). BMW would be happy with a combined annual output in the area of 10,000 units.
Although the exercise of driving the BMW 8 Series Concept doesn’t offer many insights, it does whet the appetite for the real thing. We’ll learn more about the car later this year when BMW unleashes the first pre-production 8 Series models on its Miramas proving ground.