|What is this then? A BMW is a 3-series or a 5-series or, at a push, a 7-series. Where the hell does this 2-door super coupe come from?||
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The generous amongst us will say that it's the 90s rendition of the super looking 6-series, the less than generous view is that in the grabbing 80s BMW saw rafts of Porsches being pushed out to the image-conscious yuppies and decided to get a piece of the pie and came up with this large and very expensive posing motor. Unfortunately, by the time the car came to market, the grabbing 80s had become the caring 90s, the economy was in meltdown and the market for super coupes went down the drain.
So, nowadays when you think of BMW coupes, you think of the worthy 3-series coupe, but this underrated supercar is well worth a look. It's a car for the connoisseur, much rarer and far most interesting than the 3-series.
This is a superbly styled, aggressive-looking motor car, full of wonderful touches, many of them expensive to make but oh-so-wonderful to behold. Check out the pop-up headlights that come through the bonnet or the very 80s boat-style flared wheel arches or the huge and fabulous split rim style alloys with monstrous 265 tyres. But, best of all, check out the windows. Pillar-less coupes are fairly rare in Europe but they have always been popular Stateside and in Japan. You only have to look at this piece of rolling sculpture to see why. When done correctly they look ohhhhh sooooo goooood.
The windows work great too. Party trick Number 1 is to drop them down an inch when you activate the handles which enables you to slam the doors without knocking them out. Trick number 2 is the rear windows which tip and slide into the rear panels. Open the electric sunroof and you get about as near to topless as you can get without getting damp in winter (or deafened).
This one is finished in light metallic silver with a light grey leather interior and
just oozes class and sophistication and not a single tree had to die to trim
a fair few cows probably did).
The front seats are not only good to sit in but pretty interesting
technically too. Being pillar-less mounting, the seat belts become somewhat of a problem.
Lesser companies may have just hung them from the roof but BMW obviously thought this
would ruin the lines somewhat and built them into the seats. Actually, the early Range
Rover was the first to bring out the belt-attached-to-the-seat idea so the Germans
dont invent everything first (Protestants, printing, cars, diesels,
jet planes, rockets, atom bombs, motorways, etc, etc, excepted).
The silver paint seems to shrink it a little as it doesnt quite look its size. The cabin is tight and rear legroom sparse but this is made up by the large boot and long bonnet. You would swear it was shorter and smaller than an XJS but the reality is that it's got terrific ergonomics and once youre in the driving seat you can always work out where the extremities lie. This makes up for the fact that its actually the same length as an XJS and a damned sight wider.
Sitting in the driver's seat gives you a view of the only obvious disappointing part of this car - the dash board binnacle. Boy, is it staid. If you got it in a thirty grand motor you would be very disappointed. In a car as expensive as this you're dismayed. Its the art of minimalism taken to the extreme, which is strangely at odds with the sheer hedonism of the rest of the car. The rest is beyond reproach, unfussy but fabulously classy without a hint of any retro cheese.
Of course, we can sit and stare at a car all day and in the V8's case thats not too
onerous a task but driving is believing.
|The big V8 motor churns into life with a smooth purr rather than a growl. European noise laws may have taken away the headline decibel figures but they cant take away the V8 signature beat and they can't legislate out the way engine sits there at tick- over, saying Go on, you know you want too!|
This may only be the 4 litre Economy version but it still sticks out some fairly massive horsepower figures. It needs too as well because the kerb weight figures are somewhat on the portly side - all this trickery and trim comes at a cost. The auto box is perfectly matched to the engine; changes are sublime, almost telepathic, - sharp, swift and smooth, seemingly always with the right amount of thrust constantly on tap. When the box is this good you dont need a mode switch but you've got one anyway although you dont have to use it unless youre in a very serious hurry. The transmission had lost its marker board to say which gear I was in so I didnt bother trying to manually shift it but I dont think I'd want or need to bother even if I knew where the gears were.
On paper the performance won't set your trousers on fire but really you have to look at its competitors in the rarefied air of the up-market super coupe section.
There isnt much to be honest, mainly the XJS, some odd Mercs, maybe the occasional Maserati or even the odd 928. In this kind of competition the Beemer is fairly competitive but thats just paper talk. On the real road things are a whole lot different, performance accessibility is the key and this BMW has that in abundance. If your main aim is outright performance then a whole host of Jap Super cars are available for much less dosh but 90% of people will be more impressed by a BMW than a Nissan and the word Skyline will mean nothing to them. More recent versions have, of course, now got to compete with the XKS and XKR but, strangely, the Jag (which should have been the coup de gras on the V8's production run) has re-ignited interest in this market sector and pushed the V8 series sales back up.
For such a big heavy car to run low sevens 0-60mph with an auto box pays testament to the engine's sheer grunt, though the trade-off is probably the rear tyres living a short-but-glorious existence and fuel economy that would make an oil company shareholder smile. Wallet-bashing considerations aside, you cant take away from the BMW the sheer grace with which it supplies the performance. It supplies huge power from tick over to red line, take your foot off the brake and it doesnt creep forward as such, more sort of trundles around merrily. I could probably negotiate the average traffic jammed trip to work without touching the accelerator just by dabbing the brakes on and off.
On the handling front it would be difficult to find fault with the outright grip supplied by the massive sticky tyres and even then ride is on the good side considering the width of the rubber. The only real downside is the slightly dozy steering. The action is fairly slow around the centre but supposedly sharpens up as more lock is applied. I cant say that I noticed the sharpening, just the fact that, compared to BMWs own lively steering 5-series and its rather inert slightly heavy feeling, it does at least engender a positively planted stable feeling through faster bends. Whatever it's downsides it's light years better than the finger tip light systems used in the XJS.
No matter how hard the motor's working outside, on the inside you stay becalmed in your own personal comfort bubble. The seats are low and laid back giving a racy position without any Italianate body contortions. The gearbox and engine are quite intrusive (size wise) into the cabin but there is still plenty of room for your feet with just two pedals.
The steering adjustability sounds limited with only reach adjustment but for me the steering wheel was perfectly positioned, if a little on the large size. The electric seats, by contrast, allow you to adjust infinitely in every direction. Even with the seat dropped right down you can still see over the bonnet end and the large glass area helps visibility down the flanks. This takes most of the stress out of parking and town driving as you can judge the extremities of the car very easily. This isn't something which all pricy sportsters can manage so extra marks for that.
Even in this low-end version of the 8-series, BMW managed to supply a rather un-Germanic long equipment list - electric everything bar the cup holders (they are probably working on them though). The main question in summer will be: do you open all the windows and sunroof and catch the breeze as the multi-player CD soothes you along or do you shut the windows and turn on the air con?
The real question for people considering this class of BMW is maybe whether to go for an M3 coupe or one of these.
On paper it's an easy choice. The M3 is quicker, has sharper handling and is more economical. But in the real world they are both quicker than Mr Plod will allow you to use; both handle and grip to levels way beyond the point at which you're starting to get rather silly and if you can afford to buy and service one, fuel consumption is probably the least of your worries.
Now, before you buy that expensive 3-series coupe, just park it next to an
8-series. Check out the sharp, low nose against the 3s saloon-on-steroids appearance. Wind the windows down and admire the sensuous pillar-less curves. If you're still not convinced, get an eyeful of the quad-piped, squat rear end.
So, do you join the land of 316s body kits, big alloys and prised off badges? Or do you go for the real class act that needs no disguise? The choice is yours.