BMW 840i: They sold Ace’s snot nosed brats the wrong car

By William Kelly

You know you are getting jaded by politics when…

You have two powerful BMWs in your hands within days of each other. And the over-riding thought going through your mind is that Ace should have put his foot down and insisted his kids buy something a little less flashy from BMW than an R2.7M X-Whatchamcallit or whatever they ended up with that I contributed towards. Instead, they should have bought this one.

Having just had the X4M (Competition) for a day or two, which I thought was unbelievably powerful along comes the 840. It has 335 horse powers, so somewhat less from presumably the same straight 6 3.0 litre motor which has been configured differently, but it’s still an awful lot of horses and good for a claimed 0-100km/h in around 5.1 seconds. Even more happily it is more than enough to see off an annoying ‘measly’ RSQ3 from the competition in a most satisfying manner.

We’ll get back to the power thing in a bit but firstly I want to talk about first impressions.

The 840 is a big car in size – just over 5m in fact. Everything about the 840 is big, but the fact that it sits low throws you off a little. Perhaps I am just alone in this, but it doesn’t look as big as it feels when you’re in it. From the outside it sits lower than a Golf. Yet inside you feel as if you could fit a Golf.

To give you an idea, the boot which you can power open and closed from inside the car (useful for having worker minions load your shopping in a Covid hostile environment) is more than sufficient for a couple of bodies. Or a month’s groceries. The rear seats are exceptionally generous (for two only) and given that the sort of person carried about in a car like this may well not be the driver thereof (to their eternal and great loss) there will be no debates over lack of seat space. Certainly not on the school trip between siblings. And neither from politicians on the ‘poor’ end of the gravy train that can’t afford a 7 series on their taxpayer sponsored sojourn of ‘civil servantism’.

Happily few such sordid characters are ever likely to buy this car. It’s simply not flash enough. The 840 is understated and as opposed to the X4M that turned heads somewhat and from those that knew what they were looking at, nods of appreciation, the 840 is ‘just’ another saloon, I mean, coupe. The paint colour attracted more attention than the car itself I am sure. And I really liked that about the car. It’s not an imposing screamer. It is borderline fantastically subtle (given that it’s an 8 series) – with the only deference to its sporty aspirations being the exhaust pipes and possibly the nod at a rear splitter. Yet, the more you look at it, the more there is to see and the solidity starts to become real.

This particular car came in a grey blue paint. It too, is understated and subtle. It is gorgeous. You want to eat it. I fell in love with it so much that I want to paint my very rare and soon to be restored MGA in it. I can’t of course, I have to stick to the original offerings by MG at the time (which was as many as 6, all rubbish). But back then cars were cars and you got what you got and you didn’t complain…

Still, from here on out should I ever be buying a new car this is a colour that is going to be on the shortlist. The paint is offset with the optional extra 20″ Multi-spoke style 729M Bicolour rims (R18,900 options – not terrible actually) which are well suited to the car. BMW’s styling with wheels I think has always been good and this continues – a good job and well done to the rim spec’er for this car.

The tyres are enormous – with ‘only’ 20 inches low profile and substantial at 275/30’s at the rear (245/35’s at the front), all run flat of course. As the 840 is rear wheel drive the grip required is quite a lot because whilst 250kW these days sounds trifling in the league of super saloons (sorry coupe) it is still a boat load of power that that rubber needs to deal with. When you plant the loud pedal in Sport Plus mode you’ll be very happy with the grip because even with all of this the 840 can get twitchy and let you know that there is a lot of power there no matter which way you slice it. If you belt it around a corner and get the power on at the wrong time the car’s electronics will be working pretty hard to save you from your stupid self.

If I may be allowed to get something off my chest? How many drivers these days under the age of 30 even know what it is to drive a car without electronic guidance and supervision? It should be mandatory, mandatory (!) that before you drive one with a nanny that you experience why the traction control, stability control, etc are being built into cars to begin with. Perhaps then some of you will start to learn to drive properly, you know, by keeping left on the highway. Hogging the second to fast lane on a 4 lane road and forcing undertaking is not driving considerately!

If it weren’t for the likes of the 840 where undertaking is as easy as overtaking some moron doing 80 in Lane Three, I could get quite upset. But there is a certain sense of satisfaction that comes with the 840 experience in that somehow this car is just so much better than, well just about anything, that calm prevails and relaxes you. It is hard to get worked up in a car that actually cools your backside actively and with the power on hand the rest of the world around fades into insignificance.

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Speaking of AI the 840’s intelligent driver mode – or as I like to call it, hands free so that I can WhatsApp Important Messages to Important People “Honey, please pick up some bread and milk on your way home – PS I am texting this whilst driving” isn’t quite at this level yet. If you let the car steer and maintain distances for you it does so but if you take your hands off the wheel it shouts at you. And if you do so for long enough, it will actually go into a proper sulk and stop the car.

I like that. The attitude is great – a car that gives it back to you, some feistiness. But… I agree with it – because despite the vast quantities of taxes that motorists pay out at every single twist and turn, the BMW system, as good as it is, sometimes cannot make out where the road markings aren’t. Given that even I can’t work it out more often than not the machine makes a point.

But for traffic in the mornings as for the high powered exec/tenderpreneur cashing in on some of those taxes, this autonomous driving thing at slow speed is going to be a proper treat. I barely used it (my time was short) but I loved it. Good proper usable tech this is.

So let us discuss the power thing. Sending it all to the rear wheels makes a difference. A big difference when compared to a BMW with X-Drive all wheel drive. Immediately the 840 feels more as if it is on the ragged edge and you can feel those tyres at the back dealing with having to plonk all the power onto the tarmac by themselves. Whereas the bruising X4M (Competition) belts off in whichever direction the steering is pointed the 840 relies on the traction control to keep matters from falling into the wrong hands.

It thus has a far deeper level of engagement with the squishy meat matter behind the steering wheel. If only you could turn the traction control off completely (I am sure you can but wasn’t bothered to find out how) this car has more than enough power to become a true tenderpreneur killer of note.

The 840 is a drivers car. It asks for your attention and if you choose to give it the car will respond to you with vigour. For the size the surprising thing is how much fun you can have with it and without a shouty exhaust button. The 3l turbo charged motor goes like a bomb and the management system keeps the gearbox in check without letting it change up at annoying times. Good job there BMW!

The gearbox is pretty much the same as the XM4 but it’s not quite as crisp. The shifting is still faster than Vettel on a good day and you can shift up and down with the box without hesitation or so much as a ruffle. In Sport Plus mode (I skipped past “Sport” mode) it gives you a good old fashioned heel and toe down blip which is satisfying to those of us that can still do it. But leaving the box to do its own thing finds is surprisingly often in the right gear at the right time. You can of course assume total control of the box (within engine limits of course) but to be honest until you are quintessentially in your own personal beast mode its not necessary. The 840 has it all under control for you.

Driving the car hard is not difficult – find a road, plant it, turn and follow the curves. Point the wheels and off you go. Do make sure you have the lane keep assist system turned off – it crops up at the worst times when in a corner driving fast. It is incredibly annoying to the point of almost dangerous if you forget. I want to stress that this is not the fault of the car – that it is all driver. If you want to hooligan about then prepare properly or take the consequences.

Perhaps that is the ultimate admonishment to behave yourself until such stage as AI takes over completely and such ‘behaviour’ will never be allowed again. I am truly glad to be able to still drive quickly but responsibly before these fast coming days descend upon us and the Google car becomes the normal means of transport for the mindless automatons we will all become post our mandatory state sponsored frontal lobotomies.

For now, the 840 sticks its middle finger up at such idiocy. You can have all the safety stuff on when you want it. But, and this is the key, you can turn it all off for when you don’t. Back to the days before the wizardry was needed to make you a better driver – to the days of fewer cars perhaps – but with greater care needed to be a better driver. Back to the days when power of 250kW was a dream reserved only for race cars and perhaps a fast car back then would have just over half the horses.

And also back to the days of rubbish air con, awful road noise, crap stereo systems and zero cup holders. Who needs that in their lives? Not I! I mean, 10 seconds with the Harman Kardon system on hand via my Pixel will sort anyone out of their mis-adversions as to the glory of the good old days of motoring. In this car the outside world is dead, gone, silenced into nothingness. From this the ‘stereo’ gives a performance about as good as any I have heard in a car. The old trick of setting the treble and bass way up for the next car journo to figure out was solved pretty quick and the 840 truly delivers a believable sound stage. In a car! Some of the best I have heard in a car in a very long time.

Admittedly I discovered afterwards (yippee, my ears still work) that this model had the extra R17,400 Harman Kardon surround sound option added to it, which from a surround sound point of view is money wasted but from a sound quality point of view is worth every cent three times over. The levels of detail are truly exceptional, and it speaks to the build quality of the car that the silent auditorium in which the system is allowed to operate contributes meaningfully to the overall presence of the music. It brings back Audio Video memories. Tonally I have to say that I found the system neutral (this is a good thing folks) with some of the tautest bass and crispest mid ranges that had me dealing with swellings in uncomfortable areas.

Speaking of extras, I still have no idea what the Glass application ‘Crafted Clarity’ for interior elements at a mere R9,400.00 actually is. Sadly the car was already gone before I had the spec sheet but you know what? Whatever it is, I will probably have liked it. Unless it was the gear knob. Which was a disappointment: minus one point to the gear knob spec’er person. It’s this faceted cut looks like a large Swarokvski crystal thing that just doesn’t work except perhaps in a Russian underground vodka advert shot at night with fur coats, cigars, loud disco music and oligarchs being oligarchy.

Happily you never have to look at it and really, there was so little that I didn’t like about the car to be honest. I was in it to see how close the dreadful 2 series diesel thing could get to the 840: and here’s the obvious hint. It isn’t even close. Work harder, sacrifice more and get an 840. I can understand that. But going the other way around? No. Get a Kia.

This is so much car. It has even confirmed for me that Head Up Displays (HUD) are now a thing (as if they weren’t to begin with). If it is ever just an option on a car, any car, dear reader, you need to take it. Tick the box. Pay the money. It should never be an option. It should always be standard equipment now and for all time. If the HUD was a Corona Virus Vaccine BMW should do the right thing and give it away for free to everyone (they can brand it and display annoying marketing ads on it for all I care) because it is a wonderful, wonderful, brilliant thing to have.

The other superb thing is the speed limiter the slows you to whatever you set it at. It is yes, a miserable attempt at limiting speeding fines. I say miserable because if you floor it the car will ignore the limiter entirely. Plus, when you do floor it you’re hitting excess speed (insert any number you care to here) by the time you’ve finished reading this sentence. Yet, when driven normally it is a surprisingly simple and nice to have feature that I used quite a bit.

Two sun rooves, ambient scenes that can be selected at the press of a few buttons and/or some knob twirls and clicks, a sat nav system that understands what you are saying and works with you instead of against you. The first I have had to actually adopt the Correct Way to Work as opposed to finding some hopelessly in appropriate back routes shows that BMW is mastering technology and making it work.

The key fob is an intelligent thing too. You can precondition the car before you get to it – which means the car will cool itself. You can set this to a daily exercise at appropriate times – and from the key itself you can see what your remaining range is. It needs to learn to go to the garage and fill itself up. We cannot be far away from that scenario.

Of course being a top line BMW there are all sorts of annoying settings for a great many things and the levels of customisation are still completely insane but I suppose in the defense of such it has to be said that once you have everything in the car set ‘just so’, it doesn’t need to be done all over again. I wonder what happens when the battery is taken out and whether the brain suddenly forgets it all. I have to admit there is a small part of me that hopes so, because it would mean having to relearn the car every now and then, and that, in a car like this, can be no bad thing.

A comprehensively competent yet understated executive saloon, I mean coupe, there is little to fault on the car. The 840 is a car that you can get to grips with as a driver and it will give you levels of skill you don’t really possess. But it will do so in such a way that you won’t mind (or notice) and there is so much more that it continues to surprise you with that really, unless you’re particularly focused on badge names or appearance the cold hard truth is that it is going to be hard to top in this market segment.

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