BMW has placed a hefty burden of responsibility on its revived 8 Series. Does it deliver? We test the M850i...
Penned by the brand’s most senior designer, the new 8 Series range faces a responsibility that goes beyond something as simple as paying homage to the magical E31 8 Series Coupé of the late 1980s. Significantly, its role is leading BMW’s renewed charge towards the premium end of executive mobility. Supplemented by global volume-hunting models like the X5 and X7 SUVs, the revived 8 is tasked with presenting a fresh design language (sharper lines with cleaner surfaces) for the brand, while highlighting the best of BMW in terms of internal combustion-powered driving pleasure. Quite the to-do list, then…
The pinnacle model in the new range remains the two-door Coupé available as a Convertible and, soon enough, a four-dour Gran Coupé; its elongated, low-slung profile is shaped to best represent a “gentleman’s racer”. Finished in no-cost optional Barcelona Blue Metallic, offset with standard chrome mirror housings and 20-inch alloy wheels, our test unit drew as much attention on the roads as the i8 hybrid with which it shares some cosmetic touches. That said, it’s disappointing to note many of the vents and ducts incorporated within the sheet metal of the road car are just for show. After all, it was conceived and developed alongside the brand’s M8 GTE FIA endurance racing car. One tester also mentioned those enlarged exhaust ports at the rear of the 8 are perhaps a tad too exaggerated considering the sight of the quad tailpipes hiding behind them.
As compelling as the revived 8’s swept shape is, from an appropriately low driving position, visibility out of the cabin – particularly with regard to locating the car’s nose – is compromised. It’s a good thing a full house of standard specification as well as the brand’s most comprehensive park-distance control systems are included in the asking price of the two M850i derivatives (Convertible and Coupé) currently available in our market.
Also featured within a relatively conservative (considering the exterior packaging) but impressively finished interior is BMW’s Live Cockpit Professional setup incorporating a crisp 10,25-inch touchscreen infotainment display and 12,3-inch digital instrument cluster. The segment-leading workings of the former screen are fully configurable through at least 10 themes and layouts. Call us old-fashioned, but we have our reservations about the advantages of the brand’s futuristic-looking digital instrumentation compared with a more traditional (simplistic and easily legible) analogue arrangement. However, the comprehensive head-up display is a welcome inclusion.
While most testers were able to find an optimal driving position behind the wheel of our test unit, some bemoaned having to make constant adjustments in search of ultimate comfort while covering longer distances. It’s a clear concession towards weekend outings as opposed to school runs; much of the rear packaging of the new 8 is shaped around a deep luggage compartment – extendable via standard 50:50-split rear backrests – while legroom in the two rear seats is disappointingly tight, although there are Isofix anchorage points.
Ahead of the arrival of the Competition-fettled M8 derivative, the M850i makes the best use of its N63-generation turbocharged V8 engine to provide a compelling opening act. The first eight-cylinder BMW engine to feature direct injection, this 390 kW unit delivers 750 N.m of torque – available from 1 800 r/min – to all four wheels via the brand’s impressive eight-speed Steptronic transmission and intuitive xDrive all-wheel-drive system. One of the best of its kind, this latter setup favours rear-wheel drive in most driving conditions before apportioning torque to the front wheels when required to maintain levels of grip.
Similar to the Mercedes-AMG CLS53 4Matic+ we recently tested (in fact, an interesting alternative to the new M850i), much of the appeal offered by derivatives at the periphery of full-fat performance upgrades is that they offer an enticing blend of real-world flexibility entwined with more than enough alacrity to get pulses racing when required. Both the CLS53 and our M850i Coupé (despite its standard-fitment carbon roof) test units topped our scales just shy of two tonnes and both managed impressive 0-100 km/h times on their respective test days. The BMW used its superior outputs to record an eye-watering time of 3,93 seconds.
The overall weight of the BMW was more noticeable in its tested braking times. Although decently impressive, they weren’t as sharp as the M-badging on its callipers suggested.
Ever aware of its dimensions, it’s to BMW’s credit there aren’t too many occasions where the M850i Coupé feels anything but lithe and focused. Rear-wheel steering and a variable-ratio steering setup help in this regard. It’s interesting to note 20-inch alloy wheels are the largest available at purchase. Working with the car’s steel-sprung suspension setup (with adaptive damping), it’s a combination that offers just about enough compliance to tick the boxes of a grand tourer capable of devouring long distances. That said, while sport and sport plus driving modes offer even more focus and balance (body control) when required, even in comfort mode there remains a firmness to the ride quality that can be unsettling over uneven or pot-marked surfaces.
If there’s a frustration about this otherwise impressively well-balanced V8-powered package, it’s that its exhaust note is a frustrating blend of genuine character and synthesised acoustics which do no justice to such a focused member of the M Performance family.
While a score of 81/100 suggests the majority of the CAR team enjoyed their time behind the wheel of the M850i Coupé, picking through the notes and observations revealed some inconsistencies. Some loved the styling while others thought it was too fussy in its detail; some loved the interior while others wished BMW had made it a little less generic; and some found no fault with the ride quality while others managed to catch out the suspension on familiar back roads. All loved the flexibility, responsiveness and overall performance of the drivetrain, yet all commented on the lack of authentic character in the soundtrack.
If the mandate of the revived 8 Series is to harness all that is good – past and present – about BMW, fans of the brand will love what the M850i Coupé represents (all while clamoring for their first look at what the pinnacle M8 Competition will deliver). The potential downside is that the M850i is not a model that’s likely to entice a new customer into the dealership. At this price point, there exists both faster and more agile packages (911), as well as arguably more sophisticated shapes (LC500). A glance at the pre-owned market reveals plenty of character, sharp focus and correspondingly enticing exhaust notes, too.
ROAD TEST SCORE
See Full BMW 8 Series Coupé price and specs here