Luxury touring car with serious power

by William Clavey . Mar 01 2019
William Clavey / LC Media

William Clavey / LC Media

By the end of the 1980s, BMW started winding down production of its grand sport coupe — the 6 Series — to make way for something even more opulent: the 8 Series.

With a much more modern look than its predecessor, this beast incorporated advanced technologies and mechanicals that weren’t typical at BMW. The 8 Series aimed to redefine the grand touring vehicle category but, alas, its exorbitant price and the inability to make its V-12 engine compliant with new emissions standards forced BMW to pull the 8 Series off the market in 1996.

Twenty-three years later, BMW is giving it another try, but with a less daring approach. Meet the 2019 BMW M850i.

BMW is hoping the new 8 Series will evolve into a complete lineup rather than a single, exclusive vehicle. They’ll begin with the M850i coupe, which will be followed in the spring by a convertible. There will be the Grand Coupe as well as M8 versions next year.

As in the past, the 8 Series is replacing several 6 Series models. This is a big sport coupe featuring the manufacturer’s new angular design first seen on the Z4, and then on the 3 Series.

However, in our opinion, the new styling comes together more coherently on the 8 Series. With a streamlined roof, bulging fenders and a grille that stretches backward, this speed demon is wide, long and pinned to the ground. The M850i has an imposing look that exudes sportiness and prestige.

As massive as it is, the 8 Series is actually 46 mm shorter than the 6 Series overall, and its wheelbase is 33 mm shorter. It is heavier though: despite the use of aluminum and carbon fibre, the 8 Series weighs a whopping 4,500 pounds (2,041 kg). In short, this is one big car.

For now, there’s just one available engine: BMW’s well-known twin-turbo, 4.4-litre V-8 generating 523 horsepower and a colossal 553 lb.-ft. of torque. There’s an eight-speed automatic gearbox and standard xDrive all-wheel drive. According to the automaker, this drivetrain can take the vehicle from 0-100 km/h in 3.7 seconds.

For several years now, BMW has been using its M moniker rather liberally, even stamping it on SUVs. Purists aren’t thrilled about this trend, but it makes sense financially for BMW, since M versions post truly remarkable sales numbers.

When you see a BMW with an M placed before the vehicle name, you know you’re getting a variant that is much more dynamic than the base version, without it being a bona fide M car. This strategy seems to have worked with the M240i, M550i and M760Li — all of which offer a good performance for price ratio.

Although a real M8 is on the way, the 8 Series, which weighs almost as much as a pickup truck, offers an M Performance version. Does it deserve this letter that normally goes hand in hand with agility and performance?

We drove it on the Thermal Club race track in California and then on the road. On the track, this vehicle is hindered by its size, which prevents it from being as dynamic as BMW’s other Motorsport cars. But as a grand touring car with sporty aspirations, it’s simply sublime.

The 8 Series’ best qualities are its refinement and smooth ride. The 7 Series possesses these same characteristics, but the M850i maximizes personal luxury by offering a highly soundproofed, ultra-comfortable and surprisingly luxurious cabin — provided you’re seated in front, that is. The back seats are practically non-existent. It’s a true luxury coupe.

The smooth ride is all the more evident when you apply light pressure on the accelerator. The V-8 rumbles like an athlete as it rises to maximum torque at 1,800 r.p.m., carrying the coupe effortlessly and with incomparable finesse.

Same thing at high speed. The hefty engine proves its fitness by keeping its noise level down, even at 1,800 r.p.m., so that you can enjoy the exquisite Harman/Kardon sound system.

Sick and tired of having a Porsche 911 riding your rear bumper on the Autobahn? No sweat. Set your M850i to Sport+ mode, put the pedal to the metal and watch it disappear in your rearview mirror. This car’s acceleration is not only ferocious, but it takes you to illegal speeds in a serene and worry-free environment.

While cornering, you’ll feel the effect of the car’s size, but its all-wheel drive and four-wheel steering system provide the M850i with extraordinary stability. No sudden movements upset this vehicle. Even when you unleash the powerful V-8 when exiting a corner, the tail end remains firmly anchored to the ground, sounding a few backfires in the process, and delivering fierce performance up to the electronically limited top speed of 250 km/h.

Had enough speed? No problem, simply press the brake pedal and let the four enormous steel discs bring the vehicle to a smooth stop.

That’s the art of the grand tourer: being able to go fast fearlessly. And the 2019 BMW M850i xDrive is the embodiment of that idea, with a hint of extravagance injected by the experts at M Division.

If you’re the nostalgic type who begrudges the fact that the new 8 Series doesn’t include the technical know-how of the original, we should remind you that the new version delivers almost double the power and reaches 100 km/h a lot faster. Sometimes, nostalgia is best left in the past.

— LC Media

William Clavey / LC MediaThe BMW’s interior maximizes personal luxury.

William Clavey / LC Media

The BMW’s interior maximizes personal luxury.

Daniel Kuras / the Associated Press filesThe 2019 BMW M850i xDrive, which returns after 20 years to replace the 6 Series coupe, is heavy but generates 523 horsepower.

Daniel Kuras / the Associated Press files

The 2019 BMW M850i xDrive, which returns after 20 years to replace the 6 Series coupe, is heavy but generates 523 horsepower.