There is more to BMW’s new 8 series GT than meets the eye.
These past few weeks have seen the unveiling of more than one automotive eyesore, courtesy of the German ‘premium’ brands. And the one among these that truly stood out was the BMW 8 series.
This is mainly due to what this BMW is not. It is not an oversized ‘utility’ behemoth, nor another ‘crossover’ of some sort. It also isn’t some supposedly all-new category of car (like its ‘first ever’ X2 sibling, to name but one). Instead, it is among the most traditional of automobiles there is, a gran turismo. Which means it is the kind of car that ought to blend in seamlessly on the driveways of the Hotel du Cap or a modernist bungalow in Palm Springs.
Unfortunately, where this Achter blends in far more easily is any streetscape featuring aforementioned BMW X2 or any other passenger car overstyled according to the current automotive aesthetic idiom. For it clearly lacks the two traits that are the essential strains in any gran turismo’s DNA: elegance and grace.
The reasons for this are manyfold and not the main subject here. Instead, the focus is on whether BMW are aware of these fundamental shortcomings and, if that is the case, why they decided to pursue this stylistic path regardless.
Despite the nomenclature suggesting otherwise, the 2018 vintage Achter wasn’t inspired by its 1989 predecessor. That car, a Wolfgang Reitzle vanity project to some and a sales flop to everybody else, never gained as much of a following as the car it was supposed to overshadow in almost any regard, the original E24 Sechser.
Instead, it was the Pininfarina-designed Gran Lusso one-off unveiled in 2013 that convinced BMW’s top brass of the merits of a luxurious two-door range topper. Unfortunately, that conviction obviously didn’t extend as far as the actual styling of that car, as Pininfarina’s services were not deemed essential for the production vehicle (however, Gran Lusso’s exterior designer, Felix Kilbertus, ended up being poached to BMW’s Rolls-Royce division, where he will hopefully soon find himself in a position to apply some of the grace his Pininfarina work possessed to future Best Cars In The World).
As unveiled in concept form at last year’s Concorso d’Eleganz at Villa d’Este, the Achter for this millennium was a bit of a GT-by-numbers. Appearing as though someone had grafted some BMW i8 rear lights and a rather maniacal interpretation of the traditional kidney grille onto an Aston Martin VH platform, the concept 8 series didn’t rewrite any rulebooks or break new ground, but didn’t offend either – objectionable frontal aspect excepted.
In terms of surfacing, stance and proportions, it certainly was in an altogether different league to the dozen or so other concept cars the Bavarians had also brought along to the Frankfurt Motor Show. Incidentally, word also got out that this above average (by recent BMW standards) effort had been finished after the brand’s former chief designer, Karim Habib, had left for Infiniti – which one might interpret as an act of none too delicate back-stabbing.
From the perspective of June 2018 however, all of this is simply confounding. For in road car guise, the 8 series that can actually be bought bears astonishingly little resemblance to the concept car. Gone are any traces of pleasing, Aston Martin-inspired proportions and stance. Absent is the relatively calm (albeit decidedly un-BMW-like) surfacing. Instead the road-going Achter is an obviously significantly larger car than its harbinger.
Its greenhouse therefore appears much smaller compared to the lower body, rendering it a bit of a crossbred between a semi-fastback à la Aston Martin and a three-box coupé, such as BMW’s previous Sechser models. The addition of a rather jarring door handle might be seen as a necessary petty offence in this context, but the very poor stance (despite an imposing wheel diameter) and busy-yet-undefined surfaces – best exemplified by the weak rear haunch – most certainly cannot.
This larger, heftier, coarser Achter was naturally signed off well before work on the concept car went underway, as is the industry’s norm. It would also have been supervised by aforementioned Mr Habib, whose lack of involvement with the superior concept car was made obvious in such a specific manner.
This suggests, above all else, that the working environment at BMW’s design studios is far from ideal, in numerous ways. For the somewhat bad-mouthed Karim Habib has since shown in his new post at Infiniti that, given the right team supporting him, he can deliver better work than he did during the last years of his tenure at Munich’s Forschung- und Innovationszentrum.
In addition, the compromised, lazy visual aggression, pseudo-athleticism, ornate surfacing and supposedly muscly stance of the production 8 series hardly betray a creative process driven by conviction – which is what ought to have been the driving force behind the decision not to adapt Pininfarina’s Gran Lusso design.
All things considered, the new 8 series, and current BMW design in general, must be considered the visual manifestation of internal politics getting the upper hand over determined creativity.
In design, lack of stylistic determination is the inevitable result of bad leadership. In the new BMW 8 series’ case, the string of bad decisions suggesting this assessment began when those in charge came to the conclusion that they could do better than Pininfarina. And it probably didn’t end when it was decided to present to the public a precursor concept that is so obviously superior to the production car it inevitably taints the latter from the get-go.
There are still plenty of talented designers working at BMW. It’s a shame they don’t enjoy the quality of leadership they deserve.
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