Number 8 Dream – BMW Reaches For The Star

BMW makes lavish claims for its forthcoming 8-Series, saying it will herald an upward shift in product strategy. But will it be enough?

BMW Concept 8-Series.

Last week, BMW displayed a concept previewing a forthcoming 8-Series model line which went on display at the sumptuous annual Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este at Italy’s Lake Como. BMW’s Ian Robertson used the occasion to outline the company’s ambitions, telling Autocar magazine, “We want to bring more cars into the upper luxury segment. We are working on other products as we feel there is a lot of opportunity there. The new 8 series is part of this. In the next couple of years we will see the most comprehensive change in the history of BMW.”

The production variant, due to be officially announced late next year, will be the first to use the 8-Series moniker since the demise of the Klaus Kapitza-designed E31 model in 1999; a car that failed to capture the hearts of the Vierzylinder faithful, seen as bloated and lacking the visual drama its specification and positioning promised. The forthcoming G17 replaces the outgoing (and disappointing) F12 6-Series, production of which is said to have already ceased in the wake of tumbling sales.

BMW management are said for some time to have been looking with envious eyes as Mercedes-Benz has been gobbling an ever-increasing chunk of the luxury car market. With the Mercedes S-Class (in its multiplicity of variants) covering a vast swathe of the luxury market, BMW’s current top-line entrants lack the range, visual impact and (arguably) snob value, and unlike their Swabian rivals, BMW’s recent forays downmarket have been counterbalanced at the top end – a matter they appear keen to belatedly address now.

Mind you, what BMW has, and what Mercedes lacks is a credible super-luxury brand. But with Rolls Royce moving into evermore rarefied realms – (the latest Sweptail concept honouring the coachbuilt streamliners of the 1930’s) – a growing chasm is opening up which the current 7-Series is ill-equipped to bridge.

The 8-Series concept, to these eyes a somewhat lazy cocktail of exaggerated BMW cues, Pininfarina’s 2013 Gran Lusso, a pinch of Lexus and a generous helping of Aston Martin, appears to have left a significant proportion of the enthusiast community stirred and shaken, albeit not quite in the manner BMW might have intended. BMW’s design chief Adrian van Hooydonk predictably talked up its significance, calling it “a very big step in BMW design… the start of a new-form of language…” Now Adrian, lets try to be realistic, shall we?

Not that BMW doesn’t urgently need a new form language, the latest G30 5-Series being one of the least visually accomplished new BMWs in decades; a design that cannot even be dignified by the term ‘evolutionary’. Newly appointed styling director, Josef Kaban has his work cut out – too late to materially affect the 8-Series, but his remit must involve repositioning BMW style, not only to punch through a putative glass ceiling but also to take the fight directly to Dr. Zee and his blessedly successful Sindelfingen sidekick.

It’s clear BMW needs to up its game, and this, the first significant attempt upmarket since the days of von Kuenheim and Reitzle must reassure a serially dismayed brand faithful, horrified by product decisions that have eroded a very carefully nurtured driver-focused image. Against such a torrid background, a shift upmarket could now be seen as lacking much by way of credibility.

Another credibility gap involves BMW’s poor track record when it comes to the transition from concept to reality. Therefore it is probably safe to assume the production 8-Series will not present a sufficiently refreshing face to the world, even if it will hopefully offer a slightly less predatory one. But a question remains. What if anything can BMW do to elicit the desire of both existing Mercedes owners and an upwardly mobile BMW faithful, jaded from a flaccid succession of underwhelming Munich offerings. One thing is clear. Whatever former Skoda-man Kaban has up his sleeve, it had better be superb.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

17 thoughts on “Number 8 Dream – BMW Reaches For The Star”

  1. This could just as well be the Generick GT 1000. The proportions are lovely and the detailing better than most current production BMWs’, but it’s oh so trivial at the same time…

    A retro E31 wouldn’t have been the right approach either, but some proper BMW ‘DNA’ wouldn’t have gone amiss, like using some of the details and flair of the E9 & E31 to stir up more charismatic a concoction. BMW GTs used to have rather delicate greenhouses, for example…

    But rather than being respectful of its past (which isn’t the same as being submissive), van Hooydonk – and possibly Karim Habib – decided to just go for almost random 2010s styling cues. We even get a kidney version of The Gorden’s ‘Determined Performance®’ snout. How jolly.

    As Eoin correctly pointed out, BMW needs to get its styling act together, and there’s people less well equipped to do so than Jozef Kaban, as pointed out here:

    1. The i models were supposed to be the future, but the present its about the 2 series Active Tourer and quad-turbocharged one cylinder engines.

    2. And the X models of course. Don’t forget about them.

      It’s a great shame because the i cars have much to commend them, with their skinny wheels, crazy doors and arresting graphics.

      The i8 is apparently a bit of a pain to live with, but isn’t that how it should be? It looks like a concept car, it shouldn’t be ordinary.

  2. An upward shift in product strategy? Who is that information for? I don’t imagine the industry-watchers are fooled by that baffle-gab and not a single customer will be lured by the idea either.
    Designwise, BMW are merely mid-fielders. A lot of what they do is as ordinary as a 70s Ford Cortina: nothing wrong with it, nothing outstanding either. This car is a little nicer mostly by dint of the package. I’m much more impressed when a practical package looks good than when the package is bent for the sake of looks.
    There’s almost an inverse relation between price and design content these days. At least ten marques if not more turn out more coherent, clear designs than BMW. Isn’t that a peculiar state of play?

  3. Well to my eyes this Concept 8 looks very good, indeed the best BMW since the 6 Series Gran Sport or the i8. But yes, BMW has lost its way and revitalisation is needed on numerous fronts.

  4. I know that, as a generic coupe, it will look like other cars already in circulation, but I see a lot of the DB11 in this car. It looks OK, but very conservative when put in context of the i8.

  5. It reminds me very much of a ‘statement concept’, the sort of thing Lexus or Genesis might wheel out to generate some buzz and go toe-to-toe with the establishment names. Those sorts of concepts are fine as far as they go because there is no grand design heritage to live up to. Absent the kidneys and perhaps a touch of the DLO, nothing much about it says BMW to me.

  6. It is of course impossible to discuss the current state of affairs at BMW’s styling centre without mentioning Chris Bangle and the huge creative vacuum his departure appears to have left there. Without having much by way of insight, it’s tempting to view the post-Bangle landscape as one of retrenchment and in Adrian van Hooydonk, a lack of inspired leadership. But is it really that simple? Unlikely. Certainly, the shoes he needed to fill were going to prove a stern challenge for any individual – especially one who had served as Bangle’s deputy.

    There is plainly a serious creative blindspot at senior Vierzylinder management level – an innate conservatism that may have served BMW well in the past but now appears regressive and ‘stuffed-shirt’. What is unarguable is the previous generation of BMW cars have been at best visually uninspired – the F-prefixed cars neither as striking as those of the Bangle-era, nor as sober and assured as the last of the Luthe cars.

    But what we see now is BMW design not only in the woods, but utterly lost in them – as indeed BMW’s styling leader appears to be. Josef Kaban really does have a job on his hands.

    1. One or two cars work well: the four-series coupe and the X3. I quite like the i3 too. The 3 is sometimes called the Munich Mondeo. Frankly, that’s unkind to Ford. The 7 is a disaster in that it pursues no clear line. Good chairs aren’t enough to save it and the technology is icing on the hole in this doughnut. I’d very much rather have a Genesis than a 7.

    2. I’m not so sure about the X3 (though that’s probably the least offensive X car in production right now), but the 4 coupé is arguably the prettiest four seat/two door saloon in production right now. I’d even go as far as describing its roofline as a thing of beauty.

    3. Interesting mention of the 2 door 4 Series, which is handsome, but I prefer the more feminine and Italianate 3 Series coupé that preceded it. The i3 and i8 are interesting designs, but where’s the follow-up for the i-brigade? Has BMW lost its nerve?

      Some of the Banglers get better with age – I saw a 1 Series coupé the other day and loved it!

  7. The accompanying M8 GTE, decked out in camouflage, and ready to devour the Burgerking and storm LeMans while crushing, nay, obliterating any opposition, has been spotted by the usual photographers hiding in the bushes. The licence plate and sign hanging on the side are a bit of a giveaway though, because in side view, the car apes a Mustang GT, disregarding as we have to the various adornments BMW designers may tack on when they pull off the vinyl wrap. Oops, wait a minute. Yes! Photo credits are BMW. Talk about reeking with desperation! The signs tell me BMW doesn’t want this to be confused with a mere Ford.

    It’s peculiar how rapidly a car company can plummet from favour, but it has to principally be appearance. The opposite is also true. Hyundai boomed in North America following the 2011 Sonata introduction, and its mundane replacement has lost way. I actually went so far as to investigate the 2012 Kia Optima becuz it looked great. Drove like a minivan, though.

    BMWs are just not inspired enough to desire at the moment. And the fluffo introduction by Frank van Meel: “BMW M8 will build on the genes of the 8 Series and augment its DNA with added track ability and generous extra portions of dynamic sharpness, precision and agility” is about as lame and rote as you can get. If I had the loot and desire to buy an 8 series, I’d expect those extra portions of dynamic sharpness, precision and agility to be standard. And something different from a Mustang with twin kidney grilles.

  8. Its proportions are just right, the graphics sit nice and square exactly where they should be, but the form language is a regurgitation of all the latest BMW cues, indeed.
    One element I find quite successful is the “folding over” kidney grille, although it should have been taken even further and with an additional hint of geometry in mind, I would say.
    All that said, I still find that the 80s/90s 8-Series was a superior, cleaner and more accomplished try at a luxurious GT.

    1. The grille shows the only real novelty. The rest will take on a bland appearance in real daylight. This isn’t a photo it’s a serving suggestion. If you compare the photos in the “related articled” thumbnails you can see the difference between the (still quite formal) analogue images and the Fast And Furious-style of the CGI image of the beige car.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: