Car reviews - BMW - 8 Series - range
Nimble handling, soaring performance, comfy and isolating ride, beautiful interior fittings, comparative spaciousness, handsome styling, AWD’s all-weather security
Room for improvement
Steep price, surprisingly dated dash design
The BMW M850i takes on the grand tourer set with poise and panache for lots of cash
10 May 2019
In M850i guise, BMW reckons the all-new 8 Series Coupe and Convertible is “the ultimate grand tourer”, and there’s no denying that 390kW of turbocharged V8, all-wheel drive, trick suspension and the finest leather and Alcantara the Bavarians could find go a long way towards achieving that goal.
But there’s more besides, given the level of painstaking detailing and technology that’s gone into the luxury performance flagship, offering plenty for the passengers as well as the driver.
Just on 30 years ago BMW launched the first 850i to appeal to buyers in the go-go ’80s and all its dazzling excesses, just as the recession-led sober ’90s spoiled the party.
There was no denying, though, that after the exquisite litheness of the E24 6 Series Coupe, its overweight and overpriced E31 successor was a car out of its time. Consider that $222,000 in 1990 equals to nearly $420K today, and the car’s struggle when new is obvious.
It wasn’t until years after the last one rolled off the Dingolfing production line in 1999 that the world really grasped the beauty of designer Klaus Kapitza’s daring vision. The 850i and 840Ci have never looked better than they do today.
With the uncertainty of a new decade again ushering in a BMW 8 Series, how does the sole model on offer (for now) – the M850i in 2+2-seater coupe and convertible layout – cut it?
Stylistically, there’s very scant evidence of the blocky and blistered-arched futurism of the original – save, perhaps for the ‘laser light’ LED headlights, which are BMW’s slimmest-ever and redolent of the E31’s infinitely cool pop-up items.
Yet there’s no denying that the design is an attention grabber, aided by a sleek silhouette and contemporary detailing.
Drill into the finer points of the cabin and you’re likely to be even more captivated. Large doors open up to an equally big and inviting interior, providing heaps of space up front and tolerable accommodation out back for most folk.
Check out the crystal-glass gear lever and (revamped) iDrive controller, leather-lined dash top, suede-like roof lining and sumptuous leather seats. Gorgeous surfacing, intricate finishes and solid quality are all in keeping with the M850i’s flagship status.
Aesthetically, however, questions are raised.
BMW says the centre console’s uprightness is a homage to the E31, and that’s kooky considering nobody covets the ’90s BMW coupe for its dash treatment. Conversely, the one area where an old 850i’s cabin is absolutely timeless is in its classic, dignified analogue instrumentation – yet the modern 8’s Honda Civic-esque hexagonal-themed digital cluster seems unnecessarily faddish, fussy and ultimately faceless.
Yes, they’re information galore and fancy multimedia cleverness almost to a fault, but where’s the elegance? Do car-makers understand that buyers must stare endlessly at ‘dials’ that are now arcade-game intricate and therefore distracting? More Hepburn, less Kardashian, please.
Never mind. The rest of the 8’s cabin is in keeping with its station in life, offering well-judged refined isolation, but with still enough brand muscle and burble evident from the powertrain ahead.
In some ways, the convertible is an even more impressive achievement, since the fabric roof and all the endless sky it unfurls doesn’t greatly impact on civility on the move or at speed, while conversation is possible with it folded snugly in the long and wide (but not very deep) boot.
And then there’s what happens when you give the M850i ‘the boot’.
With 390kW and 750Nm, the M5-derived detuned 4.4L V8 varies from pussycat docile in default comfort and fuel-saving eco pro modes, to contained eruption and then all-out walloping given its head.
There’s a beguiling baritone roar that’s of course best indulged with the roof down, but even the coupe ups the aural thrill with a searing soundtrack to accompany its continent-striding acceleration.
For something this long, wide and heavy (at two tonnes), the 8 Series is seductively speedy. That GT box is well and truly ticked.
What’s even more memorable, though, is how nimble the handling is, in no small way helped out by the active four-wheel steering that makes the helm feel only a little bit artificial but very manoeuvrable, active roll bars and an electronic LSD for roadholding that seems as if the M850i is laser-guided through tighter turns, and of course, the relentless grip of the AWD hardware that’s continuously shuffling torque from end to end as the software sees fit.
The BMW’s chassis gels together splendidly and oh-so securely, at least on the soaked rural central Victorian roads that greeted us over the two days we had with these urgent, agile starships.
We cannot really comment on how the active suspension and adaptive dampers would behave on the rough-and-tumble surfaces of inner-city streetscapes, but over rutted and undulating country B-roads, the peace and quiet scored an impressive A.
So, what we have here, then, is a very expensive, 7 Series-based four-seater coupe and convertible proposition that meets the standard in terms of interior presentation and execution for the most part, and exceeds the GT brief with sheer musical muscle as well as dynamic alacrity and athleticism, without assailing occupants with the wrong types of noise or feedback.
It isn’t perfect, but there’s a depth of character here that isn’t immediately obvious at first glance. The opposite, then, of what the E31 (and even earlier 6s of the ’70s and ’80s) now offers.
The M850i conveys an outstanding completeness that previous BMWs in this space have struggled to achieve. If you love the looks and can afford it in these challenging times, then do it.
Model release date: 1 May 2019
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