Forget the M850i, let alone the puffed up M8. The sweet spot of the 8 Series range is firmly planted at the bottom where the BMW 840i Gran Coupé gives the Audi A7 and the Mercedes CLS a hard run for the money.
Priced at $199,900, and arriving in Australia in Q4 2019, it replaces the 640i which cost $181,810 in 2018 when equipped with a 235kW straight six.
In exchange for the premium you get a prettier and more exclusive haute couture body style, a more generous and partly bespoke specification, and the street cred bonus generated by the more prestigious 8 Series badge.
Typically, at least half of the appeal relayed by any given product is based on substance. The other half, however, is created and then blown up by marketing.
But not even marketing can coax this author into the expensive ($272,900) and much thirstier M850i Gran Coupé which is almost 200kg heavier and accordingly more ponderous. In the real world, the 1.3sec advantage on the 0-100km/h acceleration run is almost immaterial. What matters more are traditional BMW qualities such as agility, nimbleness, sharp handling, a sweet engine, and overall driving pleasure.
MOTOR performance testing: M850i bests first-gen R8 V10 Plus!
The 840i has all that in abundance. At the end of a long day on rough roads, empty highways and one of the world´s best race circuit, the quintessential impression is that of quantifiably enhanced involvement.
The RWD car splits the torque expertly between the rear wheels but not between the axles, and as a result its handling attitude is at all times laser sharp and absolutely unambiguous.
Nine out of ten test cars provided by BMW over the last 18 months were xDrive versions - which made one almost forget where the brand is coming from, how much fun a back-to-the-roots rear-wheel drive layout can be, and that it does not take a high-performance M model to put a smile on your face.
While not quite as quick and light-footed as a 340i, the 840i Grand Coupé instantly connects with all senses, including intuition and experience-based expectations. Marketing has tried hard to tap deep pockets for switchable anti-roll bars and rear-wheel steering, but there is absolutely no need to spend extra on these additives.
All it takes to ensure a totally balanced composure are the M Sport and M Technik packs, which comprise a drag-reducing body kit, better seats, 20-inch wheels and tyres, 19-inch sports brakes, and the M Sport limited-slip differential. True, some of the other stuff is nice to have, but not essential.
By making doors, roof skin, firewall, and engine rails of aluminium, and by using other lightweight materials for bootlid, transmission tunnel and instrument carrier, the Gran Coupé is only 70kg heavier than the two-door sister model.
Standard equipment includes the adaptive M suspension, M Sports differential and the same M Sports brakes as fitted to the M850i. The seventh-generation iDrive system complete with head-up display is a carry-over item from the recently facelifted 7 Series.
Perhaps its biggest flaw is that the new Gran Coupé is a 4+1-seater. By generating this clumsy designation, the marketing team shot itself in the hoof. You guessed it: the tall middle seat is not even comfortable enough for a strapped in toddler, the 40:20:40-split rear backrest is too easily at odds with broad shoulders, and the big 440-litre boot expands at the expense of head and legroom in row number two.
But the short early-morning drive from the hotel to the race track was a real eye-opener. At an indicated 261km/h, the least powerful 8 Series Gran Coupé is certainly fast enough to jeopardize your licence no matter where.
The imposing 20-inch Pirellis provide grip in abundance without micro-destroying the ride at low speed or on Jurassic terrain. Unburdened by traction duties, the steering is a leather-wrapped life insurance system which helps, together with other dynamic wizardries, to lift car control to a new level.
And it does take car control to keep things together when one gives this car stick with ESP off, the transmission in manual, and the driving experience selector in Sport Plus.
Do exactly that, and the glory days will return in Full Monty: supported by a delicate and transparent 3D steering, a confident chassis with strong telepathic talents and brakes which have been trained to do their job even at eleven-tenths.
The 840i sDrive fuses modern technology and traditional brand values to a remarkably competent and entertaining whole.
All about the drive with MOTOR reviews
2020 BMW 840i GRAN COUPE sDRIVE SPECS
Engine: 2998cc inline-6, DOHC, 24v, turbocharged
Power: 250kW @ 5000-6500rpm
Torque: 500Nm @ 1600-4500rpm
0-100km/h: 5.2sec (claimed)