BMW M850i Coupé xdrive Step­tronic

BMW re­vives the iconic 8 Se­ries grand tourer and lauds it as a re­def­i­ni­tion of the sportscar. Can it be both?

Car (South Africa) - - CREDITS -

THERE are high ex­pec­ta­tions of the 8 Se­ries, not only thanks to its pur­pose­ful looks and BMW’S rich her­itage of pro­duc­ing large coupés, but also be­cause a lot has changed since the first 8 Se­ries (E31) of 1989. The com­pet­i­tive on­slaught has in­ten­si­fied from the likes of Mercedes-benz, Porsche and As­ton Martin, and cus­tomers’ de­mands with it. Cars have to be many things to many peo­ple; seg­ment lines once clear are now blurred, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for a brand to dis­tin­guish it­self and tick the right boxes.

Mar­ket shenani­gans aside, BMW’S own claim of the 8 be­ing a true sportscar (trapped in a two-plus-two GT body) adds a fur­ther com­pli­ca­tion. Is this plu­ral­ism some­thing on which the new 8 can de­liver? Will the mar­ket re­spond pos­i­tively to it? Which boxes does it tick?

Im­por­tant ques­tions yet, at full tilt on Por­tu­gal’s iconic Es­to­ril Cir­cuit, I don’t care much about boxes. I’m too busy try­ing to keep up with BMW Mo­tor­sport works driver An­tónio Félix da Costa. I’m fail­ing but hav­ing fun.

The M850i Coupé is quick. Out of sight bur­bles the fa­mil­iar N63 4,4-litre, twin-turbo V8 found in other large BMWS, but here it’s been ex­ten­sively re­worked with a clock­wise from far left Trape­zoidal-shaped ex­hausts bark loudly; 19-inch M Sport brak­ing sys­tem ef­fec­tive on and off the track; cutout in the roof echoes “dou­ble-bub­ble” de­signs of clas­sic sportscars.

stiffer crank­shaft, revised cylin­der heads and larger tur­bos. This en­gi­neer­ing fet­tling means the 8 packs a mean punch, de­liv­er­ing 390 kw and an M5-ri­val­ing 750 N.m. Yet, it’s not a sledge­ham­mer. The power de­liv­ery is smooth and pro­gres­sive. It is more a slap in the face than a kick up the rear.

It em­ploys a rear-bi­ased xdrive sys­tem and, through the Parabol­ica Ayr­ton Senna (an ex­tremely long right-han­der), al­lows for care­ful mod­er­a­tion with the rear danc­ing a merry jig but never get­ting out of shape. A harder step of the right foot on to the main straight also lets loose an ad­dic­tive howl from the ex­hausts. Shifts from the eight­speed Step­tronic trans­mis­sion are quick and smooth.

Es­to­ril is tight and tech­ni­cal, with short straights and, hav­ing been re­cently resur­faced, a lit­tle slip­pery. Trac­tion on tight ex­its is very good and the car does well to dis­guise its weight. At nearly two tonnes, the M850i weighs more than the de­funct 6 Se­ries two-door (de­spite be­ing shorter), so re­quires a bit of ef­fort to rein in, but re­mains bal­anced un­der ac­cel­er­a­tion, prop­erly fast on the straights and well-be­haved un­der hard brak­ing.

It man­ages to hug apexes well, mak­ing full use of the In­te­gral Ac­tive Steer­ing with rear-wheel steer­ing. How­ever, on tighter turn-ins, the nose strains to get in line as slight un­der­steer creeps in. The steer­ing also feels some­what numb. Even in sport and sport+ modes, I want a weight­ier feel and greater feed­back through the col­umn, par­tic­u­larly from the front-end. Other than that, the 8 is well be­haved through cor­ners and clearly has dy­namism to spare. In terms of sporti­ness, it is pos­si­bly pipped by the DB11 V8 and 911 GTS, but that is what the M8 will be for, and the M850i is cer­tainly more re­fined than both.

That said, the M850i is more at home off the track. While at times crash­ing into pot­holes

which dot the back roads of Por­tu­gal, it re­mains mostly re­fined at both low and high speeds. It is not as cos­set­ing as an S-class Coupé but cer­tainly more dy­namic and re­ward­ing. It was obe­di­ent even through bumpier cor­ners and pleas­ingly scathed from one cor­ner to the next, let­ting off loud bangs on over­ride.

The cabin is un­der­stated and at­trac­tive, adorned with stitched leather and meshed stain­less steel (the op­tional glass treat­ment may split opin­ion). The front seats are com­fort­able and of­fer good sup­port, but the rear cabin is cer­tainly only for oc­ca­sional use.

The dash fea­tures ana­logue but­tons (which are taste­fully fin­ished) and a 10,25-inch screen run­ning the new idrive 7.0 sys­tem. More in­tu­itive than be­fore, all main menu items are on a side­bar, free­ing up space for con­fig­urable tiles on the main screen. In front of the driver is the Live Cock­pit in­stru­ment clus­ter in a hexag­o­nal de­sign. While con­tain­ing a plethora of in­tu­itive driv­ing info, I do miss the sim­plic­ity and beauty of the tra­di­tional BMW round di­als.

Yet, what is nos­tal­gia but a se­duc­tive liar. I have a feel­ing BMW did not want nos­tal­gia to cloud the purpose of the new 8 Se­ries. It does not harken back to the past but rather de­fines BMW’S fu­ture in the lux­ury seg­ment.

It may be easy to think the all-new M850i has an iden­tity cri­sis. Does it tick the right boxes? This re­mains to be seen; while it may not of­fer the fully im­mer­sive driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence you can ex­pect from a purist sportscar such as a 911 or DB11, it is per­fectly re­fined on the road and man­ages to ex­cel at enough fac­ul­ties to im­press with a broad spread of tal­ents. In a crowded mar­ket, the new 8 Se­ries has ac­tu­ally man­aged to bur­ble it­self into a tidy niche.

clock­wise from be­low Leather-clad cabin both com­fort­able and driver-ori­ented; M leather steer­ing wheel fea­tures mul­ti­func­tion but­tons and shift pad­dles; dash fea­tures a 10,25-inch dis­play as well as new Live Cock­pit Pro­fes­sional dig­i­tal in­stru­ment panel; rear seats for oc­ca­sional use only; glass ap­pli­ca­tion for gear se­lec­tor and other con­trols.

from above M rear spoiler and raked hor­i­zon­tal lines make for an un­apolo­get­i­cally sporty look; the front is dom­i­nated by a large, sin­gle­piece kid­ney grille; 20-inch wheels and wide tyres en­sure loads of grip.

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