Known internally as E31, the last 8-Series rolled off BMW’s Dingolfing production line in 1999. It marked the end of one of the best-looking BMWs ever made: wedge-shaped, low slung pillarless profile, pop-up headlights, and an available V12. Not counting the ultra-low-volume M1, it was the closest thing to a production supercar that Bayerische Motoren Werke made. The limousine 7-series resumed its post at the top of BMW's food chain. Now, exactly 20 years later, the 8 is back. And so is that low fastback profile.
It’s changed quite a bit since then. Growing larger and heavier wearing BMW’s latest design language comprised of oversized grilles and gaping bumper cutouts. But the M850i wears it best. Slim laser headlights with inner “light-tube” elements that border on sculptural art wrap around into the fenders while an optional carbon-fibre “double-bubble” roof harks back to sporting cars of yore. The hood is long and wide, the beltline high, and the greenhouse tiny with a short rear deck—classic GT proportions.
Some have pointed out many similarities to the current Mustang, and while in pictures I can see it, in person the M850i has oodles more presence. Confirmed by quickly craning heads and wide-eyed expressions of onlookers trying to figure out what new high-dollar machine they were witnessing pass them by.
And if they don’t see you, they’ll hear you—if you want them to. Thanks to a flap-controlled sport exhaust that can go from mild to snorting-wild when you switch over into the raciest Sport Plus driving mode. It’s not just the cracks and pops, which are crazy loud, but the baritone V8 rumble which springs to life, as if you were wearing earplugs and took them out. Some of that sound is synthetic, played through the speakers, but crack the window or listen from outside and the noise is epic. Way better than the M5
, and possibly the best I’ve heard from a BMW V8 in a long time.
The M850i’s bite lives up to its bark with 523 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque generated from an extensively updated 4.4-L twin-turbo V8. That’s more than the Aston Martin Vantage
and DB11 make from their Mercedes-AMG sourced eight-pots. It is also the only engine choice you get when you order the 8-Series in North America. And while a BMW doesn’t offer the gravitas or prestige that an Aston Badge does, the M850i will give you more performance and comfort for much less money.
That engine, though. It’s a beast. The M850i is shockingly fast. Getting to a hundred kph from rest takes just 3.7 seconds. The whole time you’re surfing a wave of torque with seemingly unlimited reserves. Need to pass slower moving traffic? Just steer ‘round and punch it. They'll become a mere blip in the rear-view mirror before you can blink once.
The shifts from the ZF 8-speed automatic are barely perceptible in Comfort mode but become more aggressive and satisfyingly quick in Sport and Sport Plus.
Traditional automatics have become so good that even the almighty dual-clutch feels slow and clunky in comparison. Porsche’s PDK remains the exception.
The slushbox routes the big V8’s power to a rear-biased xDrive all-wheel drive system that can bypass the front wheels completely when they aren’t required. Unlike the M5
—which can be manually forced into RWD mode—the M850i’s front tires will always chime in when necessary.
With so much power on hand, the AWD system is a necessary evil. Lest all that power end up in unskilled hands, which it will. A quick tap of the traction control button loosens up the driving nannies, but not as much as in a full out M-car
. An intentional move, as an 8-series attracts a totally different clientele. If you want more slidey-slidey, the 600+ hp M8 will be out soon and should satisfy that craving.
For such a big, heavy vehicle the M850i feels remarkably agile, especially at lower speeds. Credit here goes to the 4-wheel steering system that adds a level of unexpected nimbleness to this grand tourer.
Turn the steering wheel and the M850i leaps into corners, there’s a small amount of body movement, noticeable in quick transitions but once it takes a set, road adhesion was surprising, even on winter tires.
Steering starts of luxury-car light in comfort mode but you can dial in more heft by choosing a sportier driving mode. While there’s little feel through the rim, it’s pleasingly accurate and with the rear steering, the 8-Series feels sportier than you’d think. Much more so than its closest competitor: the Mercedes S-Class Coupe
With that big bellowing V8 this is a point and shoot car, a blunt instrument, that will leap out of a corner at warp speed making full use of its electronic locking differential. AWD keeps any tail-out histrionics to a minimum, and you just get forward thrust. Large brakes are brilliantly effective at hauling this big Bimmer down from triple-digit speeds repeatedly without any signs of fading away. Show this M850i a sinewy back road and it will carve it up like a Ginsu knife. Big speed is what this car excels at, however, a 14.5 L/100 km fuel economy average over the course of a week of, admittedly, spirited driving is the trade-off for this level of performance.
But a grand tourer’s true function is stylish cross-continental transport for one or two and this is where the M850i shines. It’s great on that back road but you can tell that it’s more at home on an open highway, where it will cruise for days keeping occupants coddled in those big comfortable buckets. No air-suspension means that you’ll hear more road noise and feel a few more bumps here than you would in a Bentley or Mercedes but that’s one of the reasons to choose this car over those more luxury-centric choices.
The dashboard is typical BMW, so that means driver-oriented and straightforward. It’s a nice, clean design if a little somber. Functionality, ergonomics, and material quality are top-notch and the new iDrive 7 infotainment system accessed through a 10.25-inch centre display is one of the best in the business. Zipping through screens is as fast as it is on the newest smartphones. A 12.3-inch display sits in front of the driver and takes the place of analog gauges.
Back seats are effectively parcel shelves, but they do fold and the trunk is enormous. The absence of armrests or even a rear dome light signals that BMW probably didn’t intend anyone to sit back there, however, I did manage to squeeze in a child-seat. And while I might be the only person to have ever done that in an M850i, now you know it’s possible. You can thank me later.
It’s no secret that the last 8-series wasn’t the best example of Munich’s ability to make a driver’s car. It had 12-cylinder power but it wasn’t that fast. It had exotic-car looks but fell short of being a canyon carver. It did turn heads, though, and it still does if you happen to see one on the roads today.
The 2019 M850i also turns heads but it backs up its sultry looks with mega performance and technical perfection. This is a driver’s grand tourer, and we’re happy to see the number 8 back in BMW’s stable.