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New BMW 8-series spotted testing at the Nurburgring

Will Beaumont
27 Jul 2017

Our clearest look yet at the production model of BMW's new flagship coupe comes during track testing at the Nurburgring

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The Nurburgring is an industry favourite for testing new cars, which makes it the ideal location to spot them before they go on public sale. The latest car to be seen testing at the iconic German track is the reborn BMW 8-series - set to be launched in 2018 as a new flagship in BMW's range.

Though the car being tested is still under heavy disguise, it's our best look yet of the coupe in production form. A slightly altered front end seems to lose some of the sleekness promised by the concept model, and the slim headlights also appear to have grown somewhat. But it could be that this disguised model is intentionally hiding its front end from spy snappers - we'll have to wait and see. Elsewhere, things are much as expected, with a sharply raked roofline, subtle ducktail spoiler and trapezoidal exhaust openings.  

BMW 8-series studio

A photographic studio could possibly be the worst place to get an impression of a new car. Unnatural light pointing in all manner of angles often exaggerates a vehicle’s features and can make them look obscure. Then also, with nothing really familiar give an accurate idea of the scale they often look huge. 

Still, even though I’m prepared for the BMW 8-series concept to look vast, when I arrive at the rented studio to interview the car’s designer, John Buckingham, I can’t help but be surprised at just how big it seems. Pleasingly, though, it’s still pretty under the studio lights. In fact, much better looking than it is in pictures. 

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Not long after I arrive the photographers get busy setting up, and for a moment the entire lower half of the car is obscured. With just a view of the bonnet and roofline, you wouldn’t recognise the new 8-series as a BMW at all.

‘BMWs are typically made up of a three-box shape profile; this is more of a two-box with a single line stretching from the roof right to the back of the boot,’ explains Buckingham. Despite this, as soon as the whole car is visible again, it couldn’t be anything but one of Munich’s finest.

That’s partly thanks to the car’s finer features. ‘Some of the BMW details have been exaggerated, like the kidney grille. The simple profile gives you more freedom to be abstract with the details.’

But that isn’t the whole story; much of the BMW look comes from an approach to design rather than specific aesthetic styles, and it’s not something that’s easy to define. ‘It’s about feel. You can make something look new, but feel BMW. Or the way you treat surfaces so they feel very BMW.’

> BMW M6 review

This 8-series concept really does have to look like a BMW, because not only does it preview a new product, which will be the 8-series, it’s our first look at a new design language that will dictate what the next generation of BMWs will look like.

As the 8-series will be the flagship of the range, other BMWs won’t look quite so luxurious. This concept is finished with high-value features and materials that are typical of a luxury car, including carbonfibre as well as polished and brushed aluminium. But its high-end manner doesn’t just come from its details, ‘the surfaces and silhouette had to reflect that, too.’ 

The philosophy behind the new 8-series was about creating a gentleman’s racer, a luxury GT car and that means there has to be an obvious performance attitude to the way it looks as well as feeling very premium. Much of its sportiness comes from its prominent rear hips; the body swells out around the rear wheels making it look very rear-wheel drive.

How the swollen rear hips integrate with the rest of the car is one of things that Buckingham is most proud of. As he shows me the section above the rear wheels it’s clear that he’s worked very hard on this area. The result is that the enlarged arches intersect with the rounded shoulder line as well the creases down the flanks without creating any awkward sections or angles. That sounds easy when you say it, but Buckingham assures me it took a lot of perfecting.

Different elements combining together give Buckingham the opportunity to design in the way he enjoys the most. ‘I like playing with reflection and surfaces […] Using full and integrated surfaces with precise creases.’ This attitude is clearly visible in the flowing, sculpted sides – that direct air right from the front of the vehicle to around the rear wheel – and the fine, subtle creases on the lower sill and one that stretches from the bonnet, up the a-pillar and then along the roof. Each element creates a succession of highlights and shadows that run horizontal across the car. 

With such an obsession about light and shadow, the paint and colour was critical to Buckingham. Particularly important was the metallic property of the finish, ‘it gives it depth, which accentuates and supports the shape.’ He describes the colour as ‘serious’, it’s very grown-up and sophisticated and suits the image of a luxury GT car. Its cool finish perfectly accompanies the brushed aluminium brightwork, too.

The 8-series isn’t all about balanced, complementary elements though; the softer, flowing, more elegant lines of the body that manage the air flowing over the car are contrasted by the aspects relating to the engine and performance. The elements linked to the car’s mechanics – like the dark geometric mesh vents, carbonfibre ducts and trapezoidal exhausts – are all found on the lower half of the car and have been kept purposefully industrial looking.

Another aspect that Buckingham is very proud of are the car’s wheels. He admits he’s not really a wheel designer, but looking at the 8-series concepts wheels you’d never guess. They’re typically concept car huge in diameter but much of the drama comes from their deep centres that give them real shape. Get closer and you notice extra black elements  woven through the spokes that Buckingham explains is to emphasize the impression of air passing through the wheels.

There’s a close relationship between the new 8-series’ interior and exterior. Peering through the rear screen you see the shape of the glass is matched by the rear stitching and speaker surrounds on the parcel shelf. The luxury GT theme is even stronger on the inside thanks to brown suede, quilted leather and a special carbonfibre with an aluminium thread woven into it. 

Best of all, though, is the suede rimmed deeply dished steering wheel with brushed aluminium spokes and red gearshift paddles. It’s reminiscent of the extremely dished wheels found in wedgey concept cars in the late sixties and early seventies, but modern enough to look perfectly at home in the 8-series.

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