The Car Connection BMW 8-Series Overview
Built from 1989-1999 worldwide, and sold during 1990-1997 model years in the U.S., the BMW 8-Series represented the height of style, luxury, and performance for BMW. As the brand's flagship grand tourer during its run, the 8-Series exemplified sleek, sporty looks and fierce power, and remains a sought-after example of the German brand's engineering today.
Ahead of its time in many ways, the 8-Series, or E31 as it was designated internally, was positioned above the less expensive, less powerful 6-Series, and as a result, saw relatively low production numbers despite its good looks and impressive powertrains. A total of just over 30,000 8-Series were built worldwide, with about 7,000 of those sent to North America.
Over the 8-Series' model run, a sequence of V-8 and V-12 engines were offered. At launch in the U.S., a 4.0-liter M60 V-8 was standard in the 840Ci, rated at 282 horsepower. Later in the model run, the 840Ci was updated to a new 4.4-liter M62 V-8 rated at the same 282 horsepower figure.
The V-12-powered 850i and 850Ci started with a 5.0-liter M70, rated at 296 horsepower, eventually upgrading (in 850Ci form) to the 322-horsepower 5.4-liter M73 V-12. The 850CSi offered from 1993-1995 used a 372-horsepower 5.6-liter S70 V-12. the 8-Series offered a range of 4- and 5-speed automatics and a six-speed manual transmission over its model run. It was also one of the first cars to be fitted with a "fly-by-wire" electronic throttle.
Despite the obvious focus on powertrains, the 8-Series was also about luxurious touring capabilities, rather than outright performance. Electronically controlled dampers, leather upholstery, heated electric-adjust seats, wood trim, a range of in-car phones (it was the '90s), and a range of M Division upgrades were available.
Since the early 2000s, the 8-Series has risen in collectibility, in part due to its low volume, but also due to its unique style and impressive (particularly in 850Csi V-12 form) engines and performance.
A modern analogue of the 8-Series has returned to the BMW range in the form of the BMW i8. With an equal emphasis on performance and luxury, but a new-found focus on ecological sanity, the i8 uses a plug-in hybrid drivetrain. With style that echoes, but doesn't directly draw from, the 8-Series, the new i8 promises to fill a similar niche, updated for modern mentalities. The i8's hybrid drivetrain promises quick sports car performance with gas mileage well above the 50 mpg mark when it arrives on the market in 2014.