• Now That the BMW 8 Series Lineup is Here, Is Bimmer’s Flagship Worth the Wait?

You better believe it

Twenty years ago, BMW decided to discontinue the 8 Series because it couldn’t sell enough of them. It seems like a silly reason now considering how popular the super luxury market has become, but that was the lay of the land back then. It took the equivalent of almost two decades before BMW finally felt that it could return to that market. And so, after a 19-year absence, the BMW 8 Series has returned. Mind you; we’re not just talking about a single version of the 8 Series here. We’re talking about a full-blown lineup that includes a coupe, a convertible, an M8, and now, a Gran Coupe. It’s worth noting that BMW isn’t wasting any time fleshing out the whole 8 Series lineup. The 8 Series Coupe and 8 Series Convertible arrived just last year. Barely a few months later, the M8 followed and, a few weeks after its debut, the 8 Series Gran Coupe is now here. This is BMW at its most aggressive form, and if you didn’t know it then, you sure do now. Bavaria’s not wasting any time reminding us that the 8 Series nameplate once sat at the top of its model lineup, even if it took almost 20 years for us to be reminded of that. Was it worth the wait? Let’s find out.

Was the Wait for the 2020 BMW 8 Series Actually Worth it?

Now That the BMW 8 Series Lineup is Here, Is Bimmer's Flagship Worth the Wait? Exterior
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The BMW 8 Series is probably one of the most unique models in the German automaker’s history Among Bimmer’s existing lineup of models, the 8 Series hardly gets mentioned as a fan favorite.

Some people don’t even know about it, at least by those who don’t recall the first-generation 8er. That’s the thing with the 8 Series; expect for a decade-long run in the 1990s, the 8 Series didn’t exist. Not before the ’90s and certainly not after, too. It is, in many ways, BMW’s unicorn, the model we only get to see once in a lifetime. The 8 Series first entered our lives in 1990 when BMW introduced the E31 8 Series as a two-door coupe with a choice of naturally aspirated V-8 or V-12 engines. The E31 8 Series arrived just as production of the E24 generation 6 Series ended, and while the 8er wasn’t considered a direct successor to the departing 6er, BMW made no bones about what it wanted the 8 Series to be.

1989 - 1999 BMW 8-series
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The E31 8 Series was large, powerful, and ostentatious. It also came with many firsts.

It was the first road car to feature a V-12 engine mated to a six-speed manual transmission. It was one of the first vehicles to receive an electronic drive-by-wire throttle. Heck, it was also one of the first BMW road cars to muse a multi-link rear axle. The E31 8 Series was, for all intents and purposes, a low-slung, leather-lined two-door coupé that was so technologically advanced for its time, we often ignore how important it was in shaping BMW’s future. All told, the E31 8 Series lasted a full decade — 1989 to 1999 — in the market. It was only sold in the U.S. from 1991 to 1997, and of the 30,621 until BMW produced in its lifetime, around 8,000 of them became available in the U.S. It’s a modest total for a market as big as America, but if you ask people now, it’s unclear how many of the original E31 8 Series models are still around. Whatever the number is, what’s clear is that the E31 8 Series has become an iconic model in its own right. The 850CSi, in particular, is in its own stratosphere of importance. Less than 1,600 units of the 850CSi were built, and these models are the ones that command the highest price in the used-car market. If the 8 Series was a unicorn, the 850CSi, with its 375-horsepower, 5.6-liter V-12 engine, was Pegasus.

Unfortunately, BMW decided to kill the 8 Series in 1999, in part due to sagging sales and a shift in consumer priorities.

Big, powerful, and flashy cars gave way to more conservative people movers, so BMW shelved its undisputed flagship, leaving it to collect dust for the next two decades. Generations of car enthusiasts who grew up in the late ’90s and early 2000s only saw and heard the 8 Series in magazines and stories from those who were around to see them hit the roads of the world. In some ways, the E31 8 Series did become a mythical car, and it still is even with the arrival of the second-generation BMW 8 Series.

The 20-year gap between the first- and second-generation 8 Series is the longest such gap between succeeding generations of any model in BMW’s history. You can point to a number of reasons why it took BMW two decades to roll out the second-generation 8 Series. Part of it could be attributed to the costs of making one. Part of it could be attributed to the automaker’s experience with the first-generation 8 Series, which quickly lost steam in the sales department after a few years of popularity. Then there was the market trend, particularly in the 2000s when a lot of customers shied away from expensive luxury car splurges. But the biggest reason, at least in my mind, was need.

Now That the BMW 8 Series Lineup is Here, Is Bimmer's Flagship Worth the Wait?
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BMW didn’t need the 8 Series to serve as its flagship model. Both the 6 Series and 7 Series models wore those hats, often simultaneously.

A flagship look-at-me model didn’t jive with the German automaker’s position as an industry leader in its segment. Flagship models, at their core, are more like cherries on top of a sundae.

They look great and have a purpose if you’re trying to sell a sundae. But if the sundae already sells itself without doing anything, there’s no point in having a cherry on top of it. BMW didn’t need the 8 Series because it was too busy kicking ass with all of its other models. Throw in the growing popularity of crossovers and SUVs, and you can see why the 8 Series became less of a priority, or maybe not even one.

Now That the BMW 8 Series Lineup is Here, Is Bimmer's Flagship Worth the Wait? Exterior
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But the auto industry can be a weird place. Just when you thought an automaker was set in its priorities, a series of events flips the script on said priorities. It’s unclear when BMW’s powers-that-be decided to bring back the 8 Series, but it is known that the decision to bring back the 8er was tied to another important move BMW had to make. At the time of its announcement, many people, myself included, thought that the returning 8 Series would become a bigger version of the 6 Series. What we didn’t expect was BMW announcing that the 8 Series would actually replace the 6 Series. BMW head of Product and Brand Communications Eckhard Wannieck was on hand for the debut of the BMW Concept M8 Gran Coupe at the 2018 Geneva Motor Show and said that the decision to bring back the 8 Series was influenced by a number of factors. “The decision was mainly driven by customer demand, and it is part of our luxury offensive,” Wannieck told Carscoops. “It was a strategic decision made by Harald Krüger to increase our footprint in the luxury segment. The key milestone of this strategic initiative is the positioning of the 8-Series as a true luxury car and to enter the luxury segment too with the [8-Series] coupé.”

Now That the BMW 8 Series Lineup is Here, Is Bimmer's Flagship Worth the Wait? Exterior
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Remember that part about the auto industry being a weird place? The same reasons that led to the demise of the first-generation E31 8 Series are the same reasons that spurred the return of the nameplate for a second generation. Funny how that worked out, right?

As expected, the return of the 8 Series was met with considerable hype, specifically from those who have waited 20 years for BMW to bring back what has become an iconic nameplate.

Knowing full well the opportunity that it was facing, Bavaria went to work developing the second-generation 8 Series, and after a few years in the lab, the 2019 BMW 8 Series G15 arrived in July 2018, followed by the 2019 8 Series Convertible G14 in December 2018. Six months later, the 2019 BMW M8 joined the family, followed two weeks later by the 8 Series Gran Coupe.

Now That the BMW 8 Series Lineup is Here, Is Bimmer's Flagship Worth the Wait?
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In a span of a year, BMW didn’t just bring the 8 Series back. It brought an entire family of 8 Series models that cover just above every spectrum of the luxury performance car segment. This wasn’t so much a flex as it was a statement to the Aston Martins, Bentleys, and Mercedes-Maybachs of the world. BMW vacated this specific segment a long time ago, but now that it’s back, it’s come to play.

For now, it’s too early to tell if the all-new 8 Series carries the same chops as its predecessor. But the early returns are promising. The 8 Series Coupe and Convertible models, in particular, have been lauded as much for their design as their performance chops and driving dynamics. Both models are not without their faults, but for the most, the pros have outweighed the cons rather significantly. The M8 and the 8 Series Gran Coupe are the two new kids in the block, and they’re actually the specialized versions of the 8 Series. The M8, specifically, is expected to redefine what we’ve come to know as the “M driving pleasure.” And as for the 8 Series Gran Coupe, it’s what the 8 Series is all about when BMW first thought of replacing the 6 Series.

Now That the BMW 8 Series Lineup is Here, Is Bimmer's Flagship Worth the Wait? Exterior
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Whether the second-generation 8 Series can live up to the legacy of the OG is a question that won’t be answered for a long time. Part of what makes the E31 8 Series so iconic is its short — shorter than most, at least — lifespan. It came, it conquered, and it left. The all-new 8 Series has enormous shoes to fill, though, at this point, we should let the new model take its time before it tries those shoes on.

After all, it only took 20 years for this moment to arrive.

Further reading

2019 BMW M8 Exterior
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Read our full review on the 2020 BMW M8 Coupe.

2020 BMW M8 Convertible
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Read our full review on the 2020 BMW M8 Convertible.

Now That the BMW 8 Series Lineup is Here, Is Bimmer's Flagship Worth the Wait?
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2020 BMW 8 Series Gran Coupe Quirks and Features

2020 BMW 8 Series Convertible Exterior
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Read our full review on the 2020 BMW 8 Series Convertible.

2019 BMW 8 Series Exterior Wallpaper quality
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Read our full review on the 2019 BMW 8 Series.

Kirby Garlitos
Kirby Garlitos
Automotive Aftermarket Expert - kirby@topspeed.com
Kirby’s first exposure into the world of automobiles happened when he caught Knight Rider on television as a five-year old boy. David Hasselhoff didn’t leave much of an impression on him (that happened later on in Baywatch), but KITT certainly did. To this day, Kirby remains convinced that he will one day own a car with the same ‘spirit’ as the original KITT (not the 2008 monstrosity). He doesn't know when that will be, but until then, he’s committed to expressing his love for KITT, and all cars for that matter, here at TopSpeed.  Read full bio
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