Here’s how crazy things have gotten. The new M850i coupe punches out 523bhp, so much torque BMW should think about offering a fifth wheel for the trunk lid, and gets to 60mph in just 3.6sec. It would probably close in on 200mph if it wasn’t for its 155mph limiter and it’s fast enough at a circuit like Portugal’s Estoril to keep an M5 on its toes. But this is an M Performance car, not a fully-fledged M car. The real M8 is yet to come, arriving some time during 2019. Question is, do you need to wait? Another question is: can you afford to wait for an even more expensive version when this one already costs $111,000?
There’s a lot of rose-tinted excitement over this being the first 8-series coupe in 20 years. It is, but it doesn’t change two facts. First, name aside this is a new 6-series because it replaces that car. And second, whisper it, the old 8 wasn’t actually that special to drive. But that old 8, sold between 1990 and 1999, could boast of two features the new one can’t, and won’t ever be able to. Namely an available V12 engine and a pillarless hardtop body for that true high-end coupe aesthetic. As it is, the new 8-series looks pleasingly sporty, at least from the rear three-quarter angle, but being told your six-figure ride looks like a $26,000 Mustang Fastback is going to get old before the second time you hear it.
Built off the G30 5-series platform but riding on a six-inch shorter wheelbase, the M850i uses the M550i sedan’s mix of double wishbone front suspension and all-wheel drive. Europe gets two models, including a lower-priced 316hp straight-six diesel that’s still good for 4.9sec to 62mph. When U.S. deliveries start in 2019, the M850i will be the only option. That means a 4.4-liter V8 with a pair of twin-scroll turbochargers stuffed between the banks, and an engine note that’s ‘assisted’ by the audio speakers (yes, on a V8). Even with help it still sounds disappointingly muted if you were hoping for some AMG-style histrionics. The only concession to mischief is a comically over the top barrage of pops in Sport Plus mode.
Compared to the M5 sedan, which actually costs fractionally less than the M850i, and which will donate its running gear to next year’s M8, the 523hp M850i is down 77hp but makes exactly the same 553lb ft of torque. The difference is worth 0.4sec in the run to 60mph, but the big difference is how these cars feel.
BMW M famously avoids unnecessary tech on its full M cars, only recently capitulating to xDrive four-wheel drive when power figures grew beyond what good tires and average drivers could manage with just two driven wheels. And it’s the same story with four-wheel steering. The M5 goes without, but the M850i is fully down with the tech, using it to do the now-usual trick of turning the rear wheels in the opposite direction to the fronts at lower speeds (up to 45mph in Comfort mode; 55mph in Sport), then in parallel, with the speedo needle bent further around the new, rather ugly digital dial.
Unlike some systems, this one’s pretty subtle. On mountain roads you can feel it help twist that long nose into turns–and with a 4478lb curb weight you’ll take every bit of help you can get. But on the track at 120mph- speeds it makes the M850i feel a whole lot more locked down than the M5. That also means it’s less overtly playful, a characteristic reinforced by the stability control’s midway DTC setting, which is less liberal than on other BMWs.
Engineers say that’s a decision taken based on the likely driving abilities of the average owner, but don’t go thinking this is a blunt-edged cruiser. The way you can hustle the 850 is a real surprise. But the big shock is how well the brakes hold up to track abuse. We braked from over 150mph for the tight right-hander at the end of Estoril’s start-finish straight like the 100m board was a Bridge Out! sign five times before taking a cool-down lap and the cast-iron rotor setup never even flinched. But given almost no one will ever take one of these to the track, we’d trade some fade for better feel in creeping traffic. Blame BMW’s new brake by wire technology.
In almost every other respect the M850i gets it so right. It rides pretty well on its coil spring suspension, there’s nearly room for four bodies inside, the build quality appears excellent and there are just enough baubles, like the optional glass gear selector, to save it from looking too conservative. It also comes with enough standard equipment to help justify that $111,000 sticker price, though you can easily swell that buy adding a Bowers & Wilkins audio system or an exterior carbon package that clothes the roof, mirror caps and rear lip spoiler in composite (price TBD, guaranteed not cheap).
That price still sounds high, because it is. Remember, you can get an M5 for $104,000. But look at what else is available in the coupe segment and the M850i starts to appear as either the result of brilliant strategic planning, or is a colossal miscalculation. AMG’s E53 coupe isn’t here yet, and will be powered by a six, not an eight, the bigger S-class coupe starts at $124,500, and you’re looking at almost $200,000 for an Aston DB11. Only the Lexus LC500 shares the 850’s price point and performance focus. Porsche 911? It’s the default premium coupe, and undoubtedly more shporty, yah. But it’s also a whole lot less cultured than the BMW.
Time has been kind to the old 8-series, which has reinvented itself as a cult ’90s coupe, conveniently obscuring the reality that it’s far better to look at than to drive. We’ve got a long wait to find out if this M850i will be regarded so fondly by future generations, but given that it drives even better than it looks, it deserves to.