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?
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.