Test Drives

BMW M850i Review 2019: Graceful 8



BMW’s elegant M850i has aggro glamour, major muscle and tremendous traction, and gives the brand a GT coupe it can finally be proud of

SINGAPORE

This is the new BMW 8 Series, and it’s quite an eagerly awaited coupe because not only does it revive the 8 Series name, it also aims to banish the doubts that existed of its predecessor.

No, not the old, first-gen 8 Series. This car replaces the 6 Series as the large luxurious 2+2 coupe in BMW’s lineup, and this is the second time this has happened. The ‘sharknose’ E31 8 Series replaced the E24 6 Series in 1990, as faster, more exciting, and more expensive grand touring coupe.

30 years on, the new second-gen 8 Series (dubbed G15) does exactly the same thing again. It’s a replacement for the F12 6 Series Coupe, with the 6 Series name continuing only in the five-seat, five-door luxo hatch, the 6 Series GT.

BMW’s official word contradicts this, it merely says the two and four-door coupe 6ers have ‘ceased production’ just as, in total serendipity, the 8er’s own production has begun.

Of course to live up to the 8er name, the new cars has to be speedier, sexier, and more spendy than the 6 Series. That’s certainly true here in Singapore where the sole variant on sale for now is the semi-hot M850i xDrive.

But can a new-fangled, electronic-gremlin filled all-wheel drive demon really be better than the older, rear-wheel drive, and less heavy model it replaces? Jonathan ‘RWD or Bust’ Lim brings that idea up in his saliva-laden review of the BMW M2 Competition on CarBuyer.com.sg.

For a start, the new 8 Series is quite the looker. Put the old 6er and the new 8er side by side, and there’s no doubt which car excels at the egregious business of cockle-warming.

At 4.8-metres long, 1.9-metres wide, and 1.34-metres tall for the M850i,  the two are almost the same size, though the 8er has the edge being roughly 30mm shorter (both in length and wheelbase), but also lower and wider. The 8er looks much more convincing, it has that instant ready-to-pounce grace a coupe should.

There’s still a hint of the 6er’s bulbous nose that doesn’t translate well in photos, but the rest is pure enjoyment for the eyes, especially the rear end with its aero vents, the flatter round-the-corners taillights, the one-line plunge of the roofline.

Inside, the driver’s position quietly, but firmly suggests ‘monoposto’ with the dashboard’s diagonal slash, the brown leather providing a classy – and classic-inspired – counterpoint to the M850i’s moody grey paintwork.  

As seen on the X3, X5, M5, as well as the new 3 Series, BMW goes from iDrive to BMW OS 7.0, with a digital instrument display and 10.25-inch infotainment system controlled via touch or rotary controller and limited hand gestures.

OS 7.0 takes a little getting used to, as it now adopts a drag-n-drop home screen with tiles, smartphone style, but we’re very glad for the continued presence of the rotary controller, which is where BMW pips Audi and Porsche who’ve moved to fiddly touchscreen-only interfaces.

Still, the M850i’s cabin, with its glass gearknob and shiny surfaces, attracts almost as many fingerprints, even if it does look appropriately bling. If you wear brown driving gloves, like David Khoo does, at least it’ll match the leather.

Transition from a crossover to the 8er’s cabin and you’ll immediately feel as if you’re going to kerb the fetching 20-inch M-styled wheels into expensive aluminium dust. That’s good, because it means you’re driving a Real Coupe™ not some half-assed in-betweener, and better yet the M850i has the firepower to back up that claim.

Compared to the last big 6er Singapore had, the 2015 facelifted 650i , the M850i has an improved version of the 4.4-litre twin-turbo-in-the-vee V8 engine, but it has 80hp more.

Thanks to that, and all-wheel drive, it’s almost second quicker in the 0-100km/h sprint, and the biturbo V8 is an absolute howl to let off the leash. Sport Plus mode gives you maximum access to the 530hp and lift-off fireworks.

Gun it, and there’s a short pause as the turbos spool up, all four wheels distribute the peak 750Nm of torque between them, and the M850i fires forward with an angry bellow.

With that sort of muscle, you’ll run out of road very quickly in Singapore, but the M850i has another trick up its sleeve. Where the old 650i sometimes ran out of cornering prowess in awkward places, the 8er also has all-wheel steering and a rear M Differential to exploit – and to make more of – its stupendous grip.

The result is that the M850i is hilariously quick in almost all circumstances, but like all big GT coupes, it feels best on wide, sweeping roads and highways with visible horizons. We’d guess it’s not much slower in the real world than the frighteningly-rapid current BMW M5 with 600hp, and it gives just as much joy with less terror, since the 850i feels far more stiff and seaworthy than the comparatively remote 650i ever did.

That is partly down to the use of lightweight materials, ‘Carbon Core’ on the door sill indicates the use of composites in the body, like the 7 Series, but it’s minor rather than major: The roof, doors, bonnet are aluminium, the cockpit brace magnesium. Only the driveshaft tunnel is carbonfibre, though you can option a carbonfibre roof.

But despite all that, and perhaps because of the all-wheel everything, the M850i is a hefty 95kg heavier than the 650i, at 1,890kg without a driver, and the weight of the 8er is something even all-wheel steering and 530hp can’t hide all the time.

We’re glad for its techno handling tricks though, as the old rear-wheel drive 6er cabriolet did have the potential to get a little waggy during high speed cornering, as Ju-Len finds, the 8 Series cabrio isn’t like that at all.

Accordingly, as a big, wide, and low two-door, the M850i coupe doesn’t feel as good crawling around town. Yet there’s a big enough reservoir of flexibility in the car for most situations, the adaptive suspension is sporty but not spiteful, switch to Eco Pro the V8 stops backfiring and instead tiptoes as quietly as it can.

In the transition from 6 to 8, the M850i delivers more of what it should (everything) to deserve the name, but there’s also been an according (and rather Chinese) premium to pay if you want the big 8.

Back in 2015, the 650i cost just $450k with COE, and that’s in an era where a Cat B COE cost $60k, and and keep in mind that the increased ARF brackets already happened in 2014. So yes, the M850i is quite spendy.

Even if you assume no relation to the old 650i, that’s still $600k. At the same time it gives us an idea of what BMW is aiming for, and it means the M850i has rivals on all sides.

It’s a wide segment that goes from $500k to $800k and beyond, so it includes almost the entire Porsche 911 range, the Bentley Continental GT, and Mercedes-Benz S-Class coupe, maybe even quite obliquely the sportier Aston Martin Vantage.

But the M850i’s chief rival in our eyes is the very special Lexus LC 500 whose soul-lifting engine is enough to make anyone stop looking at EVs permanently.  

Quite obviously, if you’re looking at a car like this, you won’t be hung up on price. Like the BMW M2 Competition, the M850i captures some of the lightning-in-a-jar spirit of the ‘old BMW’, but at the opposite end of the scale, a big Beemer GT coupe that at last has the prowess to match the badge.

BMW M850i xDrive

Engine 4,395cc, V8, twin-turbo
Power 530hp at 5500-6000rpm
Torque 750Nm at 1800-4600rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
0-100km/h 3.7 seconds
Top Speed 250km/h
Efficiency 10.4L/100km
VES Band / CO2 C2 / 238g/km
Agent Performance Munich Automobiles
Price $595,800 with COE
Availability Now

 

about the author

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Derryn Wong
Has a keen interest in all things mechanical, technological, animal and mineral. Is particularly fascinated by eco-cars and cars which make no logical sense. An avid motorcyclist and photographer, he also enjoys cats.