Classic, distinctive design; superior performance with BMW reliability
Having happily put 180 k miles on my 93 535i, I was looking for a distinctive replacement. When my daughter mentioned that the BMW 8 series was her all time favorite car; my decision was made, with the idea of passing the car onto her (she's currently in a college that does not allow cars on campus). A year's net research yielded a 1997 840ci with 55 k miles, purchased from a car designer, and I felt like a lotto winner getting the last model year with such low mileage.
The 8 series was perhaps the most technologically advanced production car when it was introduced. It's a true GT car originally designed for comfortable, very stable and high speed travel across Europe, which makes it a good match to the freeways of Southern California. It was a grand gesture and the last major new car by Claus Luthe, BMW's greatest car designer. He wanted to build a car with top end performance similar to high end Porsches and Italian exotics, but with traditional BMW handling, comfort, sophistication and build quality. He succeeded, producing a barely subsonic 300 kph/186 mph top speed, with traditional BMW virtues. Here's what I've learned through a year driving the car:
Looks - The car has a complex, streamlined, air-tunnel derived shape that is flowing, elegant, and distinctive. The car's looks and character are defined however by the long, low, slightly predacious front end derived from the legendary BMW Motorsport/Lamborghini designed M1 of the 1970's. A little of the Lambo brutality lurks under the suave BMW surface here. The contrast between the elegant lines and aggressive front end move the car from handsome to striking in appearance. Designers say the front end defines the car's personality and I think the 8 series front end is the most distinctive and beautiful of any BMW introduced in North America. It's always a pleasure to see it anew.
Exclusivity - The 8 series is very rare, with only about 6000 in North America, less than a year's Porsche 911 American sales. Even in Los Angeles I go months between 8 series sitings. It is much less common than a Maserati, Bentley, or Ferrari. It is a non-ostentatious super car versus these others. It gets admiring double takes, but doesn't come across as pretentious. Most drivers don't recognize it as a BMW until they see the logo; and know it's top of the line because of the 8 series designation. Many people never knew an 8 series was offered and ask if it is a new car; which speaks well to its timeless looks.
Performance - This is a big, wide car designed for high speed stability, with a relatively wide turning radius, all of which works well on highways, but it is not as nimble as smaller BMW's on city streets. Adhesion and lack of roll in turns is striking. It has a suspension that can be adjusted for sporty handling.
Acceleration is not blinding off the line, but if you're old enough to be interested in this car you shouldn't be trying to lay rubber anyway. From 40 to up over 100 mph the acceleration can push you back into your seat. It's the only car I've driven which seems to hunker down and become more stable as speed increases.
The interior is lushly finished even by BMW standards, very quiet with large, comfortable seats and every amenity you would expect in a car costing $100K new. The lack of a b pillar makes the car almost like a convertible with the sunroof and windows open.
Purists may differ, but I think the 840 4.4 8 cylinder engine offered the last 18 months of US sales is more practical than the sexier 12 cylinder power plant with which the 8 series was introduced. The 8 cylinder offers almost identical performance, slightly better handling because of a lighter front end, and the immense advantage that it was used in other BMW's (5 and 7 series) so parts are plentiful and mechanics know how to work on it. Ditto the auto/manual transmission and adjustable suspension that were offered the last several years of the model run.
Build quality and reliability are what you would expect from a flagship BMW model; standard repairs are reasonable in price. The later models include a 100K miles no service engine. Moreover, in a ten year old car, the reliability and repair costs are far superior to a comparably rare Bentley, Ferrari, or Maserati.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 10th February, 2009