In the world of luxury automobiles, arguably the most important vehicle is a marque’s flagship product. Often priced out of reach from the masses, it serves as a vision. It establishes a company’s brand and what its products stand for.

So when BMW decided to resurrect the 8-Series nameplate, the automotive world went nuts. There’s a couple reasons for this.

BMW 8-Series Gran Coupe

Primarily, the first-generation 8-Series stopped arriving on U.S. shores in the late 1990s. Second, BMWphiles considered the 8-Series a great arbiter of innovation for the brand. Did a second-gen car mean that a new wave of innovation was ready to propel BMW forward?

Sadly, after driving the M850i coupe last year, I was less than impressed. Its cockpit was cramped, the rear seat was unusable unless your friends only had torsos and its driving dynamics were more oriented towards the luxury side of the spectrum. It just didn’t fit the modus operandi of a true BMW coupe. It was an acceptable product but not one that made my heart beat faster.

Fast forward a couple of months. As I was seeking a parking spot at a local mall, I ran across a manufacture-plated BMW that was unlike the others. That’s because it was a pre-production 8-Series Gran Coupe. This is actually quite common given that BMW North America’s corporate headquarters is in my neighborhood — as are several other automakers — and conducts research & development testing in the area. After doing a walk around, I knew right then I had to drive this vehicle to see if it was better than my experience in the coupe.

Boy, was it. Let me explain.

BMW 8-Series Gran Coupe

When you first see an M850i Gran Coupe, you’ll note its aggressive exterior design. For a six-figure, four-door vehicle it’s a more extreme look. It boasts an angry “face” with large vents and squinted headlights that appear to mimic Clint Eastwood after he draws his weapon on you.

With a fastback-like greenhouse that features a dramatically falling roofline, its posture is that of a sporty disposition. Compared to the 7-Series, which has become goofier with its obscenely huge front grille and more doughy body over the years, the 8-Series is like a slim and trim runway model.

Except, there’s one catch: It actually is practical. Where the coupe has a severely raked windshield, low roofline and an impossible back seat, the Gran Coupe modifies all three for utility. Take, for example, rear legroom that’s increased by more than seven inches. This meant I could bring my out-of-town family — four additional passengers — for a day trip to Manhattan in comfort and style.

Getting situated in the cockpit, it doesn’t take much to quickly realize that BMW wasn’t fooling around with the interior. While previous Bavarian creations were well known for interiors that were Spartan and not made from the best materials, the M850i definitely seeks to push boundaries and elevate luxury. As standard, leather covers the dashboard and the tops of the doors. My test vehicle featured a two-tone black and red combination that popped. Personally, I found it a bit too shouty but this color combination is en vogue. In addition, this specific M850i boasted the staggering Bowers & Wilkins sound system as well as optional glass controls. If you appreciate audio quality, you have to opt for the former even if it costs just over $3,000. The glass control idea is seemingly borrowed from another BMW brand, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, but I found it unnecessary and bordering on gaudy.

BMW 8-Series Gran Coupe

The good news is that BMW’s technology is the best it’s ever been. While I wish its 12-inch digital instrument panel could be more customized to visualize data differently, the 10-inch infotainment display should be something other automakers aim to achieve. The sharp, Retina-like display is one of the best in the business, and the iDrive controller and shortcut buttons make navigating around the software super simple. I am a fan. Gesture controls are possible but I just find it quicker and easier to click around.

Once you’re comfortable in the driver’s seat it won’t take a rocket scientist to notice the driving position is optimal. It feels more like an Aston Martin than a BMW. It’s snug but not cramped, and all of the controls are within reach. The steering wheel is closer to you than in other BMWs I’ve driven and there’s visibility in all directions. While it may have four doors, it definitely emanates a coupe vibe.

As with any BMW product though, what really matters is how it drives. Firing up the 4.4-liter, turbocharged V8 engine, you’re presented with a hell of a growl. While it’s not a fully fledged BMW M model, the M team definitely had its hands in the M850’s tuning. The omnipresent, bassy rumble makes this clear. Armed with 523 horsepower and 553 lb.-ft. of torque, this eight-cylinder is mated with an eight-speed automatic transmission.

While I am sure some enthusiasts will decry this decision and ask “Where’s the dual-clutch gearbox?” the reality is this is a more refined and cost-effective solution — you do not want a DCT repair bill. Even better, a standard automatic is smoother at low speeds and can be managed better by the driver to operate in a more compliant manner. Kudos to BMW for sticking to its guns here.

Between the combination of power, an excellent transmission and all-wheel drive to achieve maximum grip for launches, the M850i can seriously haul whether you’re around town, on country roads or shifting lanes at highway speed. There’s gobs of power at all rpms. Zero to 60 happen in a scant 3.7 seconds.

During my time with the vehicle, I chalked up around 17-18 mpg. Not good, not bad for 500-plus horsepower.

Where you’re likely to be impressed is taking the vehicle on curvy country roads. While my test car weighed north of 4,700 pounds, it hides its heft extremely well. That’s because the M850 is quite agile — thank you, rear-wheel steering — and its body is well controlled when pushed hard. I wouldn’t consider it a sports car but it definitely makes for some seriously entertaining grand touring. Predictably, its steering is numb and uncommunicative but this is normal in the world of electrically assisted steering racks. At least inputs are direct and now when Sport and Sport+ modes are engaged, the steering’s weight doesn’t feel artificial as in previous BMW vehicles.

BMW deserves some major props for delivering the 8-Series Gran Coupe with a lovely suspension set up. In Comfort it provides a cushy, luxurious ride. In Sport+ you feel the M850i hunker down. But, there’s one problem that spoils the party: The wheel/tire package is ultra low profile. This translates into choppy ride quality that can be quite jarring at times. When you’re essentially running rubber bands around your wheels, there’s only so much you can isolate a cabin from imperfect road surfaces. The end result is a bipolar experience: When the 8-Series rides great, it’s magnificent. When it’s bad, you wonder how long until you bend a wheel or wind up on the shoulder with a flat tire.

Please, BMW. Better equip the 8-Series with tires that have more sidewall. For the love of God. Until then, be prepared to be on the lookout for potholes. You almost feel as though you’re piloting the doomed Titanic as you’re driving through the New York tri-state’s pockmarked streets.

After spending a week with the M850i, I have to say I was bummed to relinquish the keys. And while I have the opportunity to drive many vehicles, I can’t say they all leave a lasting impression. That says something.

If it were my hard-earned dollars, I’d skip the 7-Series and go for the 8-Series. Stick to the 840i with its six-cylinder engine. If you need more juice to satisfy you, step up to the wilder and more in-your-face M8 Gran Coupe.

The Good:

- The 8-Series Gran Coupe is the best looking four-door BMW on sale right now
- Flexible settings allow you to tailor the M850i GC for speed or comfort
- Actually practical as you can travel with four adults in style

The Bad:

- The wheel and tire package is abysmal — Needs more sidewall, stat
- While the materials used inside the interior are gorgeous, the overall design is rather staid
- The M850i is actually not the 8-Series variant to have

The Lowdown:

If I am being honest, BMW has lost its way over the years. The things that once let the blue and white shine bright have faded. And that’s fine. Nothing gold can stay. While it may not be the same brand it once was, there’s something about the 8-Series Gran Coupe that has me keeping the faith. That’s because it blends an attitude with great driving dynamics. It’s not quirky or goofy in the way some BMWs can be — have you seen the all-new M3/M4? It’s serious and lacking a sense of humor. I like that in my BMWs. The smart money will dip its toes in with the 840i or go for broke with the M8 though. Don’t bother with the middle man.

BMW 8-Series Gran Coupe

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