Over the course of 1 Week, 1,200 Miles, 3 States and with 523 hp under the hood, we became believers in the religion that is GT cars. No matter how big the SUV is or how comfortable a sedan can be, there is nothing that compares with a GT car when it comes to covering long distances. The idea is ancient in automotive terms of course. A large coupe with a equally large engine and suitable luggage capacity. It should have a level of refinement, luxury and performance that makes cross country travel effortless. There has never been a BMW that has better embodied this spirit than the 2019 BMW M850i.
At $117,400 you’d expect the something special. And from the foundation up you get it. The 8 Series is based on the current 7 Series and thus shares it’s carbon fiber chassis and sophisticated underpinnings. The “M” in the model name refers to M Division and while this isn’t the full-on M8 it is the highest performing non-M car BMW has ever made it has some M magic sprinkled throughout. The headliner is the twin turbo V8 which produces 523 hp and a staggering 553lb-ft @ rpm. But those figures don’t do the performance justice. With an M modified xDrive powering it, the M850i does 0-60 in a conservative 3.5 seconds 11.9 seconds at 116 mph. 20 years ago those would be hardly believed for a super car. And that’s performance that is repeatable, usable and ultimately refined. All very GT like.
Living with the BMW M850i – All 191″ of it
Driving an orange 523 hp BMW coupe in Chicago gets you noticed in a very specific way. It’s a car that isn’t subtle in design or (in sport mode) sound. And it looks fast at any speed. So no matter how docile you drive the M850i, you’re looked at suspiciously as someone who may have just done something illegal.
And that sound. In Sport + mode for throttle mapping there’s a veritable racket of pops, burbles and backfires coming from the twin-turbo V8 and the sport exhaust. It sounds purposeful and all very modern if not a bit contrived. It wasn’t long ago that M cars had the opposite approach to sound; refined and purposeful but never extroverted. The M850i announces it’s presence as it approaches with the classic sound of a V8’s rumble and then leaves you with echos of an exhaust barely able to contain itself. However being a GT car it all calms down to a barely audible rumble with the click of a button.
Despite offering just two doors, the 8 Series Coupe isn’t small. While thankfully 2″ shorter the the 6 Series it replaced, the 8 Series is still a large coupe and therefore not an ideal city companion. Parallel parking is made possible by a variety of cameras and parking aids (including assist back-up) but is still a bit of a chore. The upside to this length isn’t interior volume as you might expect. What you get out of that length is really low slung styling and a surprisingly enormous trunk.
Site-lines aren’t ideal with thick a-pillars and a high belt-line but such is all modern cars like the 8 Series. However on the open road the M850i is at home. I had the chance to drive the X7 and the M850i back to back over the course of 2,000 miles and it was the 8 Series that was surprisingly the better highway companion. While it lacked the Active Driving Assistant Pro that our X7 test car had, its seats and driving position was more comfortable for longer distances. Further the driving experience itself was less taxing and simply more enjoyable. In other words the whole experience felt far more effortless than the big SUV.
If You Could Only Have One Car…
I don’t know if the M850i is the answer to that question for me but after a week and a ton of miles, it’s definitely in the running. Squeezing the throttle and seeing triple digits in a couple seconds make the car big coupe an incredible weapon on the open road. But it’s the surprising comfort and amenities that made the big orange coupe such a relaxing cruiser. Such is its ability to pile on the miles that you almost forget about it’s sports car credentials.
The M850i has been thoroughly massaged by the M Division – more than any M Performance product before it. the result is the highest performing non-M BMW of all time. It starts with the suspension which has been evolved from the standard double wishbones up front and the multi-link in the rear. Interestingly BMW has opted not to offer the air suspension found on 6 and 7 Series but instead gone with standard steel units. On paper its an interesting choice but in practice what you get is a car that manages to excel in almost every situation without the complexity (and cost) of an air system. The downside is that there are moments when you sense the heft of the M850i (all 4,478 lbs) but if you’re reaching that limit you’re likely on a track (in which case we’d steer you towards the M8).
Another key feature is the ‘Integral Active Steering’ system that effectively shrinks the 8 Series at low speeds allowing for more maneuverability and more stability at high-speeds. It’s identical to systems on other BMWs and perhaps no where more apt than the large coupe.
Perhaps more impressive is how the big BMW puts that 523 hp down the ground. The combination of a modified xDrive, rear electronic differential, electronic roll stabilization, and individually applied brake intervention means that the M850i grips tenaciously extracting maximum performance in every scenario. The efficiency of power to speed is incredible if not as entertaining as say an M2 attempting the same thing.
A GT Car for a Muscle Car Enthusiast
All of this makes the M850i an incredible car but none of it imbues the big coupe with the type of delicacy in feel or reactions that you’d get from a full M car. Taking sheer speed off the table for a moment, the M850i feels decidedly more like a blunt instrument than the precision tool that most full M cars are.
But is this a bad thing? For most, a car like isn’t intended for track-days or high-speed drifts. It’s meant for executive level comfort coupled with race-car speed. And it doesn’t come with the normal M car downsides. Perhaps that’s a good thing as it both makes room for the M8 while offering high performance with little day to day downsides that M cars might have. There’s no bespoke engine to worry about or excessive suspension wear to be prepared for. And perhaps most impressive – the driving experience can be toned down to 7 Series levels of comfort and refinement. Yet when you turn up the wick, the M850i comes alive with a snarling soundtrack and brutal speed.
Cruising on the highway or thorough the city is one thing. But driving the the M850i through the gentle rolling hills and curves of the Kettle Moraine just south of Road America was particularly interesting. There are few cars that have been able to reach out and touch the horizon while delivering comfort and a level of confidence that the M850i did on those roads (M2, M4 and M6 included). It may not be the sideways, drift happy hooligan that an M2 or M4 can be but that’s not the brief here. What it does deliver is a different, more mature kind of thrill.
Our M850i was moderately equipped at $119,295. Performance, style and luxury isn’t cheap these days and the 8 Series isn’t alone in this six digit territory with the S Class Coupe starting $6k more. Then there are the Bentley’s and Aston’s of the world which cost substantially more for what you could argue is little if any difference in performance or luxury.
Ultimately this is a car that delivers far more than any standard BMW coupe ever has at every level. And in terms of outright performance it easily eclipses the previous M6. While the upcoming M8 will surpass it in both lap times and tactile qualities, we’re not so sure that it will surpass it in many of the qualities that make a great GT car.