BMW's second 8-series may not pack as big a wow factor as its predecessor, but it has near-supercar performance
Less show, more go: BMW's second 8-series The BMW M850i xDrive Coupe has a 4,395cc twinturbocharged V8 engine producing 530hp and 750Nm of torque. PHOTOS: BMW

The first BMW 8-series breathed its last in 1999. After almost a 20-year-long hiatus, the car is back, but not exactly in the same way as the last one.

The previous car was iconic in its design - it looked like no other BMW in its day - and was shod with a sumptuous 5-litre V12. It was a halo car.

Its successor looks like a bigger and more muscular 4-series, even if it is more streamlined and cuts a sleeker and sportier profile.

The front headlamps are the slimmest in the BMW family, flanking a reinterpreted kidney grille. Three imposing air intakes below the grille and headlamps gulp in cooler ambient air.

The car appears, and is indeed, more compact than the 6-series. It is 43mm shorter at 4,851mm, 19mm lower at 1,346mm and 8mm wider at 1,902mm.

The aggressive and busy styling is far removed from the squat and sleek profile of the previous 8er, which had more of a wow factor.

Inside, the new 8-series' fascia resembles what you see in the latest X5 and the soon-to-be-launched new 3-series. This is a shame, given that the 8-series is supposed to be a top grand tourer in the family.

The front and rear seats are clothed in BMW's premium Merino leather. The rear seat backrest splits 50:50 to expand luggage space from a sizeable 420 litres. (The 6 series coupe offers 460 litres.)

There are two relevant engine variants: an M850i xDrive Coupe and an M8 in the making.

The M850i has a 4,395cc twin-turbocharged V8 engine producing 530hp and 750Nm of torque. The engine sports a new crankcase as well as several revised parts.

It dispatches the car from zero to 100kmh in 3.7 seconds - merely 0.3 seconds slower than the M5.

Like the M5, the M850i xDrive is an all-wheel-drive.

Power is transmitted to the wheels via BMW's now ubiquitous eight-speed automatic, tweaked for improved spread.

The V8 roars to life with a characteristic rumble at the push of a Start button located next to the gear lever - a first for BMW.

In Sport+ mode, the V8 clears its baritone voice with pops and crackles as the gearbox automatically downshifts when braking from high speeds.

The car comes with rear-wheel steer. Steering feel is thankfully uniform and communicative from low speed to fast sweeps along snaking mountain roads. The 1,890kg coupe responds swiftly and nimbly to steering input - a trait which is even more evident on the demanding Estoril race track.

Despite its girth and weight, the grand tourer is a doddle to slalom within tight single-lane, dual-carriageways typical of suburban Europe. The car's adaptive suspension adjusts compression and rebound to maintain a precise line throughout.

On public roads, handling is on a par with what the Aston Martin DB11 is capable of. On the racing circuit, the 8er is better at the turns, losing out only to the Aston's more sonorous soundtrack.

Peeking from behind 20-inch wheels are bigger-than-dinner-plate 395mm brake discs. For the first time in a BMW, the rear discs are the same size as the front's.

Next year, a convertible and a four-door Gran Coupe will spawn, with an M version for each. Clearly, the 8-series is poised to be more of a commercial enterprise than the previous one.