The resurrection of a sports car, performance car or supercar nameplate will always stir the passions of enthusiasts, be it for good or bad. Such is the case with the 2019 BMW 8 Series range.
Evoking memories of impossibly low and lean coupes positioned as undeniable flagships for the brand in the 1990s, the new 8 Series has shunned heartwarming retro pastiche and arrives as an evolution of the nameplate.
Indeed, in the M850i xDrive Coupe seen here, the 850i part of the name isn’t new – in the original 8 it signified a 5.0-litre V12. In modern terms, you get a twin-turbo 4.4-litre V8 instead, and all-wheel drive into the mix in place of the purist’s choice of rear-wheel drive.
Times have changed, and so has the 8 Series.
Within the family, coupe, convertible and four-door Gran Coupe models are available. There’s an irresistible charm to the regular coupe, though, isn’t there?
BMW’s new grand-touring flagship asks for $275,900 in M850i form, though there’s a six-cylinder 840i on offer for around $73K less and fire-breathing M8 variants aren’t far away.
Under the bonnet, the 4.4-litre V8 lays claim to 390kW and 750Nm, lending it a 0–100km/h claim of 3.7 seconds.
The numbers are all well and good, competitive without being over the top, but the real joy comes from the physical experience. The strong rush of torque, the silken high-RPM balance, and one of the most aggressive engine notes of any BMW short of a full-line M model.
With the M850i positioned to be more of a continent-crossing grand tourer, there is a feeling of conservatism. As is the case with so many of the cars at the 8-Series’s pricepoint, there’s no enthusiast-appeal manual transmission, just BMW’s well-regarded eight-speed automatic supplied by ZF.
To get the prodigious torque down, a variable all-wheel-drive system maintains a rear-biased feel, but the front wheels are quick to assist in less than ideal conditions. And the handover is so seamless that aside from the high grip, there are no obvious clues as to how the xDrive system is apportioning traction.
It will do so not in an abrupt or alarming way, but with complete control. There’s no snap oversteer or twitchy on-limit handling. Steering, suspension and handling overall have a softened, predictable and cultured feel. You can tip the big coupe into corners with absolute confidence. There’s traction aplenty and a surfeit of stability.
Four-wheel ‘integral active’ steering is included, which is designed to shrink the turning circle at low speeds and offer more stability as things get faster. It takes some getting used to, and at speed doesn’t always feel entirely natural, but as you adjust it makes sense – it just lacks the natural clarity of a good two-wheel-steer set-up.
Certainly, inside there’s less outright sporting intent and more long-range comfort to soak into.
On one hand, it makes the 8 Series feel premium, but never hard-edged or razor-sharp. The suspension (adaptive and adjustable) won't rattle your fillings out, but maintains enough of a controlled firmness to prevent feeling ponderous.
With BMW’s newest modular interior design, you can pick the parts that are used across the range, with familiar components redeployed from cars like the X5 and X7, Z4 and even the (comparatively lowly) 3 Series.
More’s the shame, too. The 8 really deserves to look and feel special. Bespoke interiors are a cost more and more manufacturers shy away from now, but given the (admittedly older) 7 Series still manages to feel crafted and luxurious, it would have been nice for the 8 to deploy a few of those special touches.
Then there’s the Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe. Realistically, it isn’t a rival for the M850i, yet the comparison is inevitable. There’s more space for four in the Benz, and the interior feels far more premium, though less restrained – if that’s your thing.
But, if all the nearly $330,000 coupes on the market were the same, it would be a bit boring, wouldn’t it?
The downside (or maybe it’s an upside?) in the M850i’s case is that while front seat occupants are perfectly comfortable, with a laundry list of amenities at hand, the rear seats are little more than expanded luggage receptacles to expand upon the 420L boot.
Adults aren’t likely to fit, so your country club companions will have to bring their own GTs for wine country tours and coastal drives to secluded long lunches.
Within the interior, you’ll find a fit-out that incorporates BMW’s blingy crystal-glass starter button, iDrive controller and gear selector, along with keyless entry and start, BMW’s smartphone-esque display key, heated and cooled front seats, plus heating for the armrests and steering wheel, extended leather trim, wireless phone charging and soft-close doors.
The driver faces a fully digital instrument panel with a 12.3-inch display and a small handful of configurable options. Alongside that, iDrive shows up on a 10.25-inch screen and packs in ‘Hey, BMW’ conversational voice control, gesture control (a gimmick that’s fun to show off, more than an essential feature), inbuilt satellite navigation, surround-view camera, digital radio, wireless Apple CarPlay and 16-speaker Harman Kardon audio.
This time around, iDrive OS7.0 didn't misbehave during its time with CarAdvice, though connectivity issues seem to crop up in other models. Here's hoping BMW has things sorted, finally.
Typically, M styling touches abound with M bumpers and sills, 20-inch M light-alloy wheels, an M steering wheel, and M logos scattered throughout the cabin and around the exterior.
Then there’s BMW’s expensive safety-autonomy-convenience kit. Yes, there’s some overlap in features there.
There's cruise control with distance-keeping and traffic jam assist, lane-keeping and steering assist that allows for a few seconds of hands-off driving at a time, and a face-watching camera to monitor driver attentiveness. Also, the car can park you in and out of spaces, and ‘reverse assist’ can replay your last 50m of travel in reverse to help you get out of tight garages and laneways if needed.
Laserlight headlights cover a full range of auto activation and dimming, the ability to selectively highlight animals and pedestrians at night, and active cornering via GPS.
Throw that all together, and while the M850i xDrive has a substantial amount of driver aids and technology, much of the driving experience maintains an interference-free feel. Press on with intent and the big coupe feels a little like a (large and well behaved) muscle car.
If you’re less keen on exploring the limits, there’s a perfectly comfortable and accessible grand tourer, and the car can adapt to your mood quickly and easily. The added safety net of a handful of systems looking out for you, and keeping everything safe and upright on the freeway, only adds to the long-distance appeal.
Even the fuel consumption, for such a big car, isn’t terrible. BMW claims a rather optimistic 10.4 litres per 100km, but on test the reality wasn’t as bad as you might expect, running to 14.9L/100km across a mix of highway and urban driving. High in isolation, but not stratospheric for a 1.8-tonne V8.
From an after-sales perspective, BMW Service Inclusive packages allow you to prepay servicing with a basic package over five years or 80,000km priced at $2490 covering scheduled oil changes, oil, air and fuel filters, spark plugs and brake fluid changes. A $5307 plus package adds brake pads and discs plus wiper blades over the same term.
Rather convincingly, the BMW M850i xDrive isn’t the coupe you’ve always dreamt of. It’s more practical and less precious than a Porsche 911, more casual but less damaging to the hip-pocket than a Mercedes-Benz S560 Coupe.
It’s a more balanced all-rounder. It’ll cosset while trapped in traffic, pamper as you settle into freeway runs, awaken your senses when the heat is on, and it won’t attract undue attention to itself.
While those may not be the things that immediately spring to mind when you think of the ‘ultimate driving machine’, they are attributes the M850i xDrive possesses in spades. Attributes that will shine over the long term, long after the in-your-face glamour of more exotic coupes has faded and hard realities have set in.