Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: April 19, 2019
The number 8 doesn’t appear very often in the BMW vocabulary. It’s a number that BMW only reserves for its most deserving, most rewarding, and most special of its cars. Entered into this iconic shrine is the legendary E31 8 Series with its V12 engine and pop-up lights, the Z8 that James Bond piloted in The World Is Not Enough, and the futuristic i8 that blew us away with its impressive hybrid technology, scissor doors, and stunning road presence. We look back and only see greatness associated with this number, but there’s now a newcomer to the blue roundel’s history books.
This is the BMW M850i xDrive, and it’s the range-topping replacement of the outgoing 6 Series. It is a two-door coupe that will eventually spawn a convertible, four-door coupe, and a performance-focused M8 with its own branch of two- and four-door variants in the near future. Yet, don’t expect the two-digit leap in badge to necessarily translate into a quantum leap in extravagance, performance, or luxury. Think of the M850i as more of a carefully revamped 6 Series. Even the fundamentals are similar despite the new 8 measuring a few millimetres shorter in length. It has put on a few pounds as well thanks to the massive injection of modern tech.
The M850i is clearly not lacking in the fashion department. Sporting classic grand tourer proportions, the silhouette is elongated, the hood is long, the track is wide, and the stance is low and aggressive. Undoubtedly a BMW with its signature (and adjustable) kidney grill slats, the M850i departs from the standard design language with sleek wrap-around taillights and a tapered front nose. It is the most visually imposing BMW of this decade. There’s charisma in the way it looks, and there’s brawn in the way it stands.
However, it would be best not to think of the M850i as a sports car that would compare against say, a Porsche 911 or Mercedes-AMG GT. Leave that for the sportier M8 that should be coming out later this year (we had a sneak peek of the near-production model and it looks to be something special). The M850i, even with its pseudo M badge, is more of a GT car with sporty intentions, and will fit the bill for most drivers wanting a comfortable, casual ride around town with periodic bursts of spirited driving. It’s more akin to the Lexus LC 500: not too serious, but a barrel of fun.
The M850i does a phenomenal job making drivers feel special behind the wheel. The 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 under the hood is a darling of an engine, providing its maximum 553 lb-ft of torque from as low as 1,800 rpm, and relentlessly charges up the needle before running out of breath at 6,000 rpm. There is no shortage of power here, and anything more is just excess and bragging rights material. This powertrain is technical perfection, and even though the engine fans constantly run on overdrive even after you shut off the vehicle, its face-tearing 0-100 km/h time of 3.7 seconds will allow you to keep up with some serious machinery from Porsche and AMG. But don’t expect it to tackle corners with same amount of finesse.
The adaptive dampers keep the ride in check and gracefully hovers over bumps and broken pavement but it’s notably more tapered and stiffer than your comparative Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe. Sprucing it up to full-beans Sport Plus mode makes it race car stiff, and lets you tackle corners without much lean but the weight is still there and you can feel every ounce of it. Despite weight saving measures like the carbon fibre roof and a heavy use of aluminum, I wouldn’t call the M850i agile, though it is undeniably quick and tidy in a straight line. One should not underestimate its uncanny ability to claw for traction either, as it effortlessly puts power down thanks to its nifty all-wheel drive system. Furthermore, standard rear axle steering allows the 8’s rear wheels to rotate up to 2.5 degrees, effectively shortening its wheelbase and helping it turn like a smaller 5 Series. This makes a clear night-and-day difference in rotation behaviour. Be that as it may, the M850i is no dancer and is far happier tapping its toes on public roads than it is charging around the track.
The previous BMW 650i and even the M6 were relatively quiet and tame compared to the exhaust soundtracks from AMG. The M850i finally receives a sport exhaust worthy of the M badge, and adds to the emotional appeal when behind the wheel. In Sport Plus mode, the M850i obnoxiously burbles on overrun, crackles on upshifts, and emits a satisfying growl when exploring the meaty parts of its powerband. The pops and bangs can become quite excessive, almost F-Type levels of auditory abrasiveness, but click Comfort Mode and the exhaust will close up and purr under its breath. A separate exhaust button would have been nice so that you can cruise around in Comfort settings but have a loud soundtrack like in the BMW M5, but I believe the engineers are saving that for the M8. Regardless, have a listen to our Exhaust Notes video above to hear the M850i for yourself.
The 8-speed ZF transmission is clearly the smoothest in its class, providing clean shifts whether its automatic or manually summoned via the paddles, and otherwise going unnoticed in the background. You won’t get those low speed jerks as you would in Mercedes’ 9-speed units, and you won’t find it constantly hunting for the top gear in search for maximum efficiency either. It really is the gold standard of transmissions, and it’s well mated and tuned with the M850i’s torque-filled V8.
Even with its impressive performance resumé, the M850i doesn’t beg you to drive fast. It does not instill the driver with the same sense of urgency as a Porsche 911 or Mercedes-AMG GT. Instead, the M850i clearly wants to take its time, enjoy the scenery, and roam about in style and beauty as bystanders oogle its seductive proportions from the sidewalk. Moreover, the interior is a sober, rather simplistic affair when compared to the bespoke and glimmering interiors from Mercedes. It lacks a bit of that special sauce in design, looking a little too familiar to BMWs from this decade but makes up for it with meticulous accoutrements like the glass gear shifter, which is also found in the X5 and X7, and plenty of digital real estate. I do wish the M850i received a unique steering wheel design and went back to analog dials instead of a full digital dash, but it’s dived deep into the bucket of the latest tech. Hell, even the Rolls-Royce Cullinan has rid itself of analog dials too. However, one cannot deny BMW’s excellence and refinement when it comes to media and interior functionality. The multitude of actual buttons, dials, and knobs, and their ergonomic positioning, deserves high praise.
The new 8 Series Coupe is not so much a dedicated performance car but more of a grand tourer with sporting intentions. That’s not a bad thing. How many people will buy an 8 Series for track use anyways? It fulfills the need of those who desire an exciting GT car to liven up their daily commutes and at the same time, want to be enshrouded by a haven of comfort, quiet, and refinement. It goes fast, it sounds good, it looks great, and undercuts its sportier rivals in price by quite some margin. In this regard, the halo coupe from BMW succeeds. Set your expectations correctly, and the M850i will not disappoint in the slightest.
Model: 2019 BMW M850i xDrive Coupe
Paint Type: Sunset Orange Metallic
Base Price: $123,500
Price as Tested: $130,800
Engine: 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8
Horsepower: 523 hp @ 5,500 - 6,000 rpm
Torque: 553 lb-ft @ 1,800 - 4,600 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 15.6