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BMW launches not one, but three cars that live up to its great-driving past

BMW proves it still has the formula for making great driving machines.

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BMW i8 ROADSTER

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BMW M850i xDRIVE

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BMW Z4 M40i

Lisbon

AS car manufacturers try to reinvent themselves as "mobility providers", marketing slogans have changed to suit. BMW used "the Ultimate Driving Machine" tagline for nearly 50 years, for example, before swapping it for the amorphous "Joy".

But these three new models show that BMW still knows how to live up to its old slogan. If anything, each one plays up a specific word from the catchphrase that helped to define the brand to a generation of keen drivers.

BMW M850i xDrive

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The M850i xDrive is currently the ultimate indulgence in BMW's range. Only the second 8 Series in BMW history, this generation will spawn Convertible and Gran Coupe versions in addition to the Coupe seen here.

The Munich-based manufacturer is coy about whether, like the first time around, the new 8 Series replaces the 6 Series, but it seems safe to assume that the latter will live on in five-door Gran Turismo form to provide space, comfort and pace.

As for the M850i, it seems like a big car, but its 2,822mm wheelbase is shorter than that of the last 6 Series Coupe, even if both cars weigh roughly the same (that is, around 1.9 tonnes).

But when driving, it feels a lot smaller than you'd imagine even in tighter corners, especially with Integral Active Steering, BMW's active rear-steer system. That allows the rear wheels to steer in the opposite direction to the front wheels at up to 88km/h to virtually shorten the wheelbase, which makes it a surprisingly sprightly performer.

The M850i doesn't just look like a sportscar, it goes like one, too. So keen is BMW to prove that it isn't a big, soft coupe for old men that the press launch took in winding roads and hot laps around the Estoril Circuit, a former Formula One racing venue.

With a massive 750 Newton-metres of torque to play with from just 1,800rpm, the M850i acquits itself well, displaying the vigour of a car one-third its size. Its agility means it can even be manhandled like a hot hatch. That's something you couldn't say about the old 6 Series Coupe.

BMW Z4 M40i

It's out with the hard-top and in with a cloth roof for the new Z4, and as a consequence the fully-electric roof can be deployed in just 10 seconds at up to 50km/h.

That was a boon during the drive through the wonderfully winding and scenic Serra da Arrabida national park in Portugal, because the weather on the snaking N379-1 alternated between rain and shine, and the breather was welcome after an intense section of corners.

Besides, the softer silhouette of the soft-top is elegantly executed and works better with the classic roadster proportions than a hard-top, which tries to be all things to everybody. It also leaves room in the Z4 line-up for a Coupe model (and we don't mean the Toyota Supra, which shares its platform with this BMW).

The new Z4 reinterprets trademark BMW design cues; for instance, instead of the traditional vertical slats found within the double-kidney grille, the new grille combines a honeycomb pattern with a three-dimensional structure stacked in a vertical arrangement.

But for a bit of welcome tradition, the M40i version retains the brand's hallmark in-line six-cylinder engine, which is matched to an eight-speed auto and turbocharged to deliver 340 horsepower and 500Nm. It's no pushover, and the transmission's closely stacked ratios let the driver enjoy the engine's sweet-spot during fast driving, but also cruise sedately in peak hour traffic.

At around 1.5 tonnes, the new Z4 is roughly as heavy as its predecessor, but it's a far more entertaining personality. Dynamically, it's playfully agile and progressively tail-happy, thanks to the M Sport Differential.

The car is light on its feet and relishes low- to mid-speed corners, as well as quick direction changes, but it also feels planted on high-speed straights. It may be longer and wider than before, but the wheelbase has been shortened and the front/rear tracks widened to improve agility.

Above all, the Z4 is a welcome return to form for BMW, and a reminder that driving was at the core of what it felt its machines were made to deliver to drivers everywhere.

BMW i8 Roadster

Hybrid cars can seem like soulless machines, yet the avant garde i8 Roadster is anything but. It retains the i8 Coupe's Instagram-worthy dihedral doors and gets gorgeous flying buttresses, plus plenty of exotic tech, all for the price of a regular Porsche 911.

If anything, a two-seat roadster is a perfect form for the i8. The Coupe, a 2+2 seater, can feel claustrophobic, but ditching the tiny rear seats and roof means the Roadster still looks exotic but now has excellent interior cabin space for touring. With the sun out and roof down, it's true what they say about two being company.

Like a livewire, there's nothing slow about the i8 Roadster, because its quirky three-cylinder petrol engine's 231hp and 320Nm can be augmented by the electric motor's 143hp, and more importantly, a 250Nm slug o torque that is available like an "on" switch the moment you put your foot down.

If you run the i8 Roadster solely on battery power, it should be good for around 53km, and will hit 120km/h easily in seamless, sublime style. Like other plug-in hybrid cars, it has an engine for the open road (or highway), but can switch to electric drive for the last mile of motoring to keep the air clean in residential areas or the built-up confines of the business district.

The hybrid-specific all-wheel drive system offers ample grip, making it a cinch to drive the i8 briskly. It's no uncompromising sportscar, but it never pretends to be, because that would be missing the point of this eco roadster.

Instead, this BMW's ability to segue between posing, cruising and going fast demonstrates a quality that's rare in machines: soul.


BMW M850i xDRIVE
Engine
4,395cc, V8, twin-turbo
Power 530hp at 5500-6000rpm
Torque 750Nm at 1800-4600rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
Top Speed 250km/h
0-100km/h 3.7 seconds
Fuel efficiency 9.8-9.7L/100km
Price S$600,000 without COE (estimated)
Agent Performance Motors
Available Q1, 2019


BMW Z4 M40i
Engine
2,998cc, in-line 6, turbo
Power 340hp at 5000-6500rpm
Torque 500Nm at 1600-4500rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
Top Speed 250km/h
0-100km/h 4.6 seconds
Fuel efficiency 7.4-7.1L/100km
Price S$300,000 without COE (estimated)
Agent Performance Motors
Available To be announced


BMW i8 ROADSTER
Engine
1,499cc, in-line 3, turbo
System power 374hp
Battery 11.6kWh lithium-Ion
Gearbox 6-speed auto (rear); 2-speed auto (front)
Top Speed 250km/h
0-100km/h 4.6 seconds
Fuel efficiency 2L/100km
Price S$634,888 with COE
Agent Performance Motors
Available Now