Car reviews - BMW - 8 Series - M850i coupe
Strong sex appeal, thumping V8 engine, intoxicating exhaust note, stellar ZF transmission, relatively comfortable ride, surprisingly light steering
Room for improvement
Cabin’s material quality should be better, token rear seats, can’t shake its near two-tonne weight in the corners, does it feel as special as it should?
Seductive M850i Coupe signals a serious return to form for BMW – on many levels
13 Nov 2019
FOR a brand that loves to find niches and fill them, it’s surprising that it took BMW this long to resurrect the 8 Series, which was a one-hit wonder until now.
Granted, the 8 Series’ return comes at the cost of the 6 Series as we know it, which was a spiritual successor – and now predecessor – to the highest number in BMW’s model line-up.
Either way, the 8 Series is back and positioned where it belongs: at the pointy end of BMW’s range, right next to the 7 Series.
But can the 8 Series recapture the magic of the original and succeed where two generations of the 6 Series arguably didn’t? Read on to find out.
Well, just look at it. Isn’t it stunning? Seriously. After nearly two decades of uninspired BMW design, the 8 Series well and truly saves the day.
It looks particularly seductive in its M850i coupe form tested here. One of our favourite touches is the carbon-fibre roof panel that is usually reserved for full-fat M models. Yes, please.
Beauty, of course, is skin deep, so it’s good that it piles on the luxury inside, but maybe not to the degree that it should. Befitting its positioning at the very top of BMW’s range, the M850i is a lavish if not restrained affair.
Save for the door bins, all touchpoints are covered in supple Merino leather upholstery, while cut glass is used for the start-stop engine button, gear selector and volume knob. High end? You bet. Could it go a step further, though? We think so.
Perhaps one of the cabin’s most intriguing elements is our test vehicle’s open-weave trim. Its textured finish is both alluring and easy to clean, while suede headliners are always appreciated.
While the interior is certainly unique in design, avoiding the cookie-cutter approach that BMW tends to use, the technology scattered throughout it is very familiar. This, of course, is both good and bad as it goes some way in making the M850i feel less special.
The good includes the easy-to-use infotainment system which is unsurprisingly brilliant, with its array of features and crisp graphics sure to keep everyone happy.
Meanwhile, the bad is unfortunately headlined by a digital instrument cluster that is hamstrung in several regards, including its limited functionality and back-to-front tachometer.
But we suspect many won’t care because this is one seriously plush place to be. The front seats are superbly comfortable and supportive, while the two rear seats are serviceable for small children. Just don’t make anyone of size sit in them… they’re token at best.
It’s also worth noting that as keen as you may be to drive the M850i, you should watch your head when getting in. The telling combination of a low roofline and wide door sills make ingress and egress suitably difficult.
Once you’re in, though, it’s all about switching on the ignition and listening to the M850i’s 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 engine come to life.
Try these figures on for size: 390kW of power at 6000rpm and 750Nm of torque from 1800-4600rpm. No, this is not the M8, just the M850i. It wasn’t that long ago that such outputs were worthy of the M badge.
It goes without saying that the M850i is an absolute beast in a straight line. Let the eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission do its thing and engine speeds will tick over just above idle when cruising, but jump on the accelerator and hell is unleashed.
As soon as 1800rpm comes around, a swarm of Sir Isaac’s best attack and genuinely throw you into the back of your seats, with this sensation felt throughout the entire mid-range. Crikey.
From a standstill, 100km/h is clocked in a very brief 3.7 seconds, which is impressive for a near-two-tonne vehicle and partly helped by BMW’s prodigious xDrive all-wheel-drive system.
However, best supporting actor should go the ZF-sourced transmission, which is masterful in its execution, serving up smooth or neck-snapping gear changes depending on the current driving style.
Thankfully, no matter what drive mode is engaged, it will respond to heavy throttle inputs in an instant, dialling up the appropriate ratio to barrel ahead with.
That said, we can’t help but be taken with the M850i’s intoxicating bi-modal exhaust system, which frankly should only ever be used in its angriest setting.
Crackles and pops are easily replicated on the overrun, and if you’re doing really well, bystanders will think gunfire is raining down around them. Duck!
You’d expect that the M850i loves a drink and you’d be right. Over 285km of lead-footed driving, we averaged 15.3 litres per 100 kilometres. But did you really want to buy this grand tourer for its fuel efficiency? We didn’t think so.
What buyers are more likely to care about is how well the M850i mixes performance with comfort. Spoiler alert: really well.
Make no mistake, the 8 Series is more GT than sportscar, with its ride suitably luscious. Yes, BMW typically gives its high-performance offerings a firm suspension tune, but it’s dialled it down in this instance.
Even with the adaptive dampers set to Comfort, road imperfections are felt, but not punishingly so. Switch over to Sport and feedback is noticeably increased, but again, it’s relatively plush.
Even more surprising is how light the M850i’s steering is. BMW usually likes to require a bit of effort, but not here. The Sport drive mode does reintroduce some of this missing weight – and feedback – but certainly not to the degree that we’re used to.
In particular, parking is a cinch alongside other low-speed manoeuvres, no doubt helped by the M850i’s four-wheel steering. It does some taking getting used to, but once you wrap your head around it, it’s hard to not to appreciate how it shortens the long wheelbase.
That said, while the M850i certainly has straight-line performance in spades, it is no corner rascal. Don’t get us wrong, it’s definitely fun to punt around, but its 1846kg tare weight is constantly working against it, pulling away from corners as understeer interferes.
Driver confidence is also limited when weight is suddenly transferred from side to side, making for handling that is by no means darty. Simply put, the M850i just doesn’t feel as well-balanced as BMW’s pure sportscars do.
Warranty and servicing
As with all BMW models, the 8 Series is covered by a three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty and comes with three years of roadside assistance.
Service intervals are every year or 15,000km, whichever comes first.
Buyers in the $200,000-plus segment now have an even tougher decision to make. Most will covet a certain German model that is nothing short of legendary and a true sportscar, but the 8 Series provides another compelling option for those that want to be different.
This is particularly true for the M850i Coupe tested here. Its head-turning exterior styling is matched to gob-smacking straight-line performance, adding to a comfortable and easy-to-drive grand tourer that oozes charm.
But we’re just not sure how many buyers will give the M850i Coupe the time of day that it truly deserves. And did we mention this isn’t even the full-fat M8? Bring it on. BMW is back, baby.
Nissan GT-R Premium Luxury (from $199,800 plus on-road costs)
Some would say it’s a left-of-field rival for the M850i Coupe, but the GT-R can genuinely feel like a grand tourer to drive after its latest model-year update – and it’s much cheaper.
Porsche 911 Carrera 4S Coupe (from $280,700 plus on-road costs)
Understandably, most buyers in this segment will lust for the 911, which has long been the benchmark sportscar. But the M850i Coupe is worth test driving to. It’s a welcome surprise.
Mercedes-Benz S560 Coupe (from $320,140 plus on-road costs)
Considerably more expensive than the M850i Coupe, the S-Class adopts a similar formula and arguably offers more luxury, but it’s just not on the same level in a straight line.
Model release date: 1 May 2019
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