There is more to BMW’s new 8 series GT than meets the eye.

(c) Auto-Didakt

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.

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The new BMW 8 series and the cars that did not inspire it, photo (c) Auto-Didakt

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.

(c) Auto-Didakt

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.

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Aston Bavaroise, photo (c) Auto-Didakt
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When 8 is no lucky number, photo (c) Autocar

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.

(c) Autocar

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.

The author of this piece runs his own motoring website, which you are welcome to visit at 

www.auto-didakt.com

 

Author: Christopher Butt

Auto-Didakt

16 thoughts on “8½”

  1. A very thorough and systematic dismembering of the 8 Series, and well deserved too. I completely agree about elegance and grace – and these are dying features on any current or incoming GT that I can think of. Butch, muscle, power and aggression are the current order of the day. It’s a travesty that BMW commissioned Pininfarina to produce something so considered and agreeable – if a little hefty looking – and then stepped away from it so arrogantly. Poor show from BMW.

  2. The weirdest thing about all this is that the i8 – launched over five years ago – still looks way more modern and self-assured than this.

    BMW seems to have almost by accident ended up with two luxurious two-door coupes fighting each other for showroom space. What is the future for that car now?

  3. Despite the measurable differences between the show car and production car being small, the production car is markedly inferior. That´s quite some re-mix. Fists of ham must have been involved in the mistranslation from one to the other.

    1. I’m convinced the concept car was much quite a bit more compact than the production car. The concept didn’t look significantly larger than an Aston DB9, whereas the M850i xDrive or whatever it’s officially called looks humungous.

      But the involvement of cured meat is beyond questioning.

    2. Given that Kris has actually seen the concept with his own eyes, he’s probably well placed to comment on its merits. Certainly, from the images appended here, it’s pretty obvious the production car is a vastly blunter, more bloated device.

      It does raise a question of what exactly BMW was trying to get across here. Other manufacturers have been castigated for this kind of thing in the recent past, so it does suggest either a degree of naivety on BMW’s part, which beggars belief, or a political point being made, which seems as petty as it was ineffectual.

      The depressing truth of course is that few will even notice. The Achter’s styling has been for the most part, well received, with only a few dissenting voices. Still, there’s a new Z4 to look forward to… not to mention the next Dreier, X7 and Einer. So much to anticipate…

  4. I wonder if there’s any correlation between the aggressiveness or otherwise of a car’s design and the manner in which it is driven? Likewise, how other drivers react to it on the road? The Pininfarina concept is, in the main, a calm and elegant design, characteristics that are totally absent in the production 8-Series, which shouts aggression and brute strength. While I’m willing to assert myself when really necessary, I dislike confrontation and would, I suspect, find driving a car like the 8-series tiresome. I decry the trend towards increasingly aggressive automotive design but have to assume I’m in a small minority, given that the customer usually gets what they want (unfortunately).

    1. He does still write for Car, in the last issue he wrote a piece on his drive of the i-Pace from Blackpool to Scarborough, which was pretty average. He probably will like the new 8, but I am struggling to remember a German car that he did not like over the past few years.

      Just to note, I’ve just read John Simister’s article on the new Focus on the Car website, and it’s a model of balance and common sense.

    2. That´s the first time I have looked at Car in ages. Simister reports that cheaper versions of the Focus have torsion beam rear axles. And “this is the best car Ford has ever built” says Ford. Simister thinks the Focus will look dated soon. While I disagree with that I think it will, like the current version look as ordinary in five years as it does today. That is what the market is asking for at the moment: contemporary vernacular design.

    1. I’d agree, with the following caveat: the Mustang looks better in profile, and its rear is far superior. The 8 seems to follow the Civic hatchback rear jet exhaust motif of twin fake rear outlets and other exotic fakery possible with plastic bumper covers.

      It’s fun to read of the supposed trials and tribulations within BMW styling. Considering that Mr Habib left BMW in January last year, and only began working with Infiniti this past July, perhaps we have only seen what he can do to a limited extent so far with the Q Inspiration concept. That concept came out at the Detroit auto show earlier this year, and barring the front is very nice.

      Otherwise, if the BMW vehicles attributed to him on his Wikipedia page are correctly listed, he may have to wear the crown for some of the more recent ground pounders BMW has inflicted upon us. Will the true story ever be told? Unlikely.

    2. For the record, I believe the current American Mustang is quite handsome and a decent product.
      Except the Yankee musclecar is not a premium product.
      The comparison set forth here by Herr Kubrick between the show car and the finished product is alarming.
      It shows a lack of self awareness that is unbecoming for a premium brand.
      By the way, the squinty taillights on the 8er are very reminiscent of the current Infiniti G37 Coupe.

  5. I would like to disagree with the hypothesis that BMWs are showing a lack of determination caused by bad leadership.
    There is determination at BMW, it’s just that for whatever inconceivable reason they are hell bent on creating the ugliest possible cars and this determination is visible already for quite a long time. Not preventing their designers from doing so clearly is bad leadership.
    They got away with their designs for years because their brand was so strong. Now they’re diluting the brand and maybe the boomerang they threw with the E65 slowly coming back.
    For me it’s simply a matter of the sh*t finally hitting the fan at BMW.

    1. You may obviously disagree, but I’d argue that, according to your thread of thought, the Bangle cars were a case of ‘misguided’, rather than ‘bad’ leadership.
      Like them or not, but the Bangle BMWs betrayed a clear vision. One might or might not share it, but there was nothing tentative about the designs of those days.

      Later on, BMW went one step backwards with the previous generation of cars (F01 Seven onwards), to significant commercial acclaim. Personally, I’m not the biggest enthusiast of these cars in general, although I like a few particular models, but their execution was miles ahead of the most recent Bavarian products. Those are at their heart still deeply conservative designs, albeit ‘spiced up’ with plenty of tropes currently en vogue, applied in shockingly careless fashion. They are, quite simply, the weakest designs BMW has ever come up with.

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