The return of BMW’s 8 Series should have been seen as cause for celebration – a triumphant reimagining of the short-lived but fabled ‘8’ badge that adorned a series of coupes in the 1990s. That E31-generation 8 Series remains an icon despite its short shelf life, not least of all for the V12 engine crammed into flagship 850 variants.
Now, though, and reflecting changing tastes, the modern 8 Series, as well as offering a range of coupes, comes with four doors. Meet the 2020 BMW M850i xDrive Gran Coupe, a V8-powered grand tourer oozing with bling, performance and, for the most part, practicality.
It's certainly striking visually: its long, low, wide and sleek proportions cast an arresting vision, and disguise the fact this is one of the biggest cars in the greater BMW range. And much bigger than the two-door coupe it shares its platform and chromed badging with – 5082mm long, with a 3023mmm wheelbase, the Gran Coupe is 231mm longer, 61mm taller and 30mm wider than its two-door sibling. It is, in every respect, a big car.
And it comes with a big sticker price. How big? Try $272,900 plus on-road costs and before options. That places the M850i Gran Coupe in small company when cross-shopping rivals. Its nearest rival, certainly on price, comes from within its own ranks, with the M750i asking for an identical $272,900. But that more traditional approach to four-door design has nowhere near the street presence of this long, wide and low tourer.
There is Merc’s AMG GT four-door coupe, but the tip-in point is $256,600 and that ‘only’ gets you a 3.0-litre six cylinder. You’ll need to shell out $359,100 for AMG’s V8-powered four-door coupe. And Porsche’s Panamera commands a starting price of $367,100 for the most affordable V8 in the range before topping out at $467,200 for the 4.0-litre turbo hybrid. Makes the Bimmer seem quite cheap in comparison.
Unusually for BMW, our test car came with only minimal options – metallic Frozen Bluestone paint at $2600, piano black interior trim for $200, and the biggie, the $10,200 full Merino leather interior trim in Ivory White/Night Blue. As tested? $285,900 plus on-roads.
Slide inside the M850i and you’re immediately met by that sea of Ivory leather. Yes, it looks a million bucks (or at least $10,200), but despite being reasonably close to new, it was already starting to show signs of grubbiness. Sure, it’ll clean off with a good leather conditioner, but really, do you want to be doing that every few weeks just to keep your Ivory leather looking fresh as a merino?
The seats are low-slung and snug, quite unlike a sedan, and more akin to a sports car, which this fundamentally is. It’s roomy up there, too, the M850i’s wide stance on the road translating into the cabin where width is the order of the day. Save yourself two-hundred bucks and opt out of the piano back embellishments. They just get grubby very quickly.
Maybe they are there to take attention away from the crystal gear lever and rotary dialler that are just a bit, I dunno, tacky? Different tastes, I suppose.
The rotary dialler is one of the many and varied ways to input commands into BMW’s infotainment system. It’s a complex system, too, BMW’s OS 7.0 operating system, anchored around a 10.25-inch touchscreen. There’s the usual smattering of features: DAB+ radio, satellite navigation, Bluetooth connectivity as well as wireless Apple CarPlay; a pain to connect the first time (it took 10 minutes first time around), but then seamless and instant once set up.
The graphic display of the screen is as good as any we’ve seen, and OS 7.0 is a lovely interface to look at. But, the menu structure can be pretty daunting, with submenus and sub-submenus. I feel it’s ripe for a Dummies Guide (remember those)? Or maybe I’m the dummy.
Using voice commands mitigates the need to scroll or click or touch through submenus. When it works. Not always a given.
BMW has done away with its gorgeous signature analogue dials and replaced them with a 12.3-inch digital instrument display which, while looking slick, isn’t the most practical thing going. The tacho needle, for instance, sweeps counter-clockwise. You get used to it, of course, but it seems a strange thing to do for the sake of design.
Similarly, the map projection nestled between the two digital dials offers no information whatsoever, merely a network of grey lines that may or may not be the area you’re travelling in. Perhaps it can be changed, but we haven’t found that sub-sub-submenu yet. Luckily, the GPS display and mapping on the touchscreen are excellent.
There are plenty of creature comforts, as well as tech wizardry, to enjoy in the M850i. Those front seats are heated and ventilated, although the latter is very loud when in use. How loud? It sounds like a Dyson vacuum cleaner whirring away in the background.
Other standard equipment highlights include: 20-inch M light alloy wheels finished in bicolour Cerium Grey, soft-close doors, a full colour head-up display, 16-speaker Harman/Kardon sound, keyless entry, push-button start, a two-pane panoramic roof, ambient lighting, sun blinds for the rear windows, wireless charging for your smartphone and an electric boot.
The second row isn’t the last word in spaciousness. Head room is especially impacted thanks to that coupe-like roof line, while toe, knee and leg room are adequate. And realistically, there are only two seats back there, the rear centre console that houses climate controls, air vents and a pair of USB-C points eating into the available space. To be fair, BMW does market the Gran Coupe as a 4+1-seater, and it is. That middle pew is best reserved for emergencies only.
The good news is those outboard seats are plush and comfortable with plenty of support, more akin to sitting in bucket seats or a lounge chair than the rear of a car. You can luxuriate back there in relative comfort.
Those seatbacks don’t fold down to free up boot space, however, meaning the 440L BMW claims on the spec sheet is it. There is a ski port, though, for those longer skinny items. No spare tyre either, just a repair kit. And the shape of the – electric – bootlid is such that the aperture is on the narrow side. This is not a car to lug big boxes in.
No, this is a car to menace your neighbours in. Fire up that stonking 4.4-litre (4395cc) twin-turbo V8 under the M850i’s snout and there’s little doubt that this is a performance car. The sound at idle, a dull rumble that you can feel in your heart, is nothing short of glorious and speaks of an unending potential to crush autobahn kilometres.
Shame we don’t have any, then, because when its full 390kW (at 6000rpm) and 750Nm (at a user-friendly 1800–4600rpm) is unleashed, you’ll be nudging illegal speeds in just 3.9 seconds.
The eight-speed auto transmission plays its part nicely, an orchestra of razor-sharp shifts that keep the big Bimmer hurtling. Leave it in auto, and the accompanying shifts under hard acceleration snap you back into your seat, all while that glorious and sonorous V8 howls at the sky.
Switch to manual mode, and use the tactile paddle-shifters to chart your own destiny, and the M850i will happily run out to redline, eliciting further growls from under the bonnet and further smiles from the plonker behind the wheel. Change gears and there’s simply an intoxicating thunderclap – no pops and crackles here, this is pure heavy metal – as the next gear keeps the M850i surging along.
You run out of road and legal speeds before too long, and the need to be circumspect with your licence kicking in. Ease off the accelerator, flip it back to auto mode and enjoy the serenity. Yeah right, there is no serenity with this thing. It’s pure theatre. Loud theatre.
BMW claims the M850i will make do with 10.7 litres of 98RON per 100km. We saw an indicated 16.8L/100km, but that’s partly down to spending plenty of time in the urban grind and plenty more time just ravishing the howling V8 under the bonnet with some heavy-footed acceleration. Drive it like your grandpa, and you might get near the 10.7L mark. You won’t be able to, though.
Perhaps the M850i’s best party trick is just how much grip it has. That’s down to BMW’s all-wheel xDrive smarts that work away seamlessly to ensure the right corner has the right amount of traction at the right time. There’s also BMW’s Active Roll Stabilisation System at play, which works to keep the near two-tonne luxo tourer flat, even under hard cornering.
The steering feel is exemplary, too. A meaty and weighted feedback that telegraphs what’s happening under wheel on the road. It’s nicely responsive, too, reacting to even minor inputs with purpose and accuracy.
The ride errs on the firm side of comfort. In normal mode, there’s a plushness to the way the M850i tackles the suburban jungle. It’s firm-ish, but not to the point where you find yourself regretting your choice of car. Dial it up to Sport, however, and the adaptive dampers add some edginess and sharpness to proceedings. Firm? Yes. But uncomfortably harsh? Not really.
The biggest gripe about the suspension tune in any setting is the propensity for the big Bimmer to bottom out over larger obstacles, like speed humps and exiting driveways, for instance. Tackle such an obstacle, even at sedate speeds, and the M850i showed signs of porpoising, while the front splitter would scrape unceremoniously on the ground. To ensure it wasn’t just me experiencing this, I threw the keys to several other CA testers who all reported the same issue.
It spoils what is otherwise a decent experience behind the wheel. One that has been hewed from the stones of the grand-touring gods themselves. Certainly, the theatrics of its soundtrack married to the blingy plushness of its interior and its unashamed performance numbers speak of a grand tourer in the traditional sense.
In terms of safety, the BMW M850i Gran Coupe has you covered with an extensive array of advanced tech. There’s no ANCAP score, as it hasn’t been crash-tested, but adaptive cruise control with stop/go function, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, cross-traffic alert, both front and rear, blind-spot monitoring, and lane-keeping assist all come standard.
There’s also an impressive array of camera angles: from rear-view, forward view, and 360-degree view, the M850i’s cameras won’t leave you guessing. Additionally, BMW’s parking assistant can help you, yes, park the M850i, while the reversing assist remembers the last 50m you drove and will get you out of a tight spot by replicating that exact route.
BMW covers the M850i with its standard and skinny three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, while servicing is 'condition based', meaning the car will let you know when a trip to the workshop is required. As for how much? The basic BMW Service Inclusive plan asks for $2094 for three years or $2849 for five, covering all scheduled fluids and filters. Ramp that up with the Service Inclusive Plus pack and you’ll be looking at $4215 for three years and $6315 for five, with brake pads and rotors, and wiper blades, included.
The BMW M850i Gran Coupe is unquestionably a niche car that will tug at the heartstrings of only a few. It certainly cuts a dashing and menacing figure, its sheer scale dominating roads and driveways like few cars can.
And in a modern sea of homogenised SUVs, the fact that a car like this exists at all is reason to celebrate. Loud and unashamedly large, the M850i Gran Coupe is a genuine grand tourer with refinement, luxury and theatre oozing from its very core.