This M850i is more than enough car.
1999. That was the last year you could go out and buy a brand-new BMW 8 Series. BMW fans have been clamoring for the car's return ever since its 10-year, 30,621-car run ended 20 years ago but in our modern era of dying sports cars and SUV onslaught, we didn't think we'd ever see the 8 Series again. But after a two-decade hiatus, the 8 Series has returned to sit atop BMW's range. You can think of the new luxury coupe as a replacement to the 6 Series, which now only exists as an odd GT model - sort of a cross between an SUV and a sedan.
BMW flew us out to Thermal Club in Palm Springs, California to test out a wide variety of its new models and we wanted to find out whether or not the 8 Series was deserving to be called the ultimate Ultimate Driving Machine.
BMW hasn't always built beautiful cars but this new 8 Series is pretty easy on the eyes. We were handed the keys to a Barcelona Blue Metalic car, which was also the launch color. There are other cool colors available, including Sonic Speed Blue (pictured below), Sunset Orange, and a BMW Individual color called Aventurin Red Metallic. We think this is one of those rare cars that looks good no matter what car you paint it.
The 8 Series boasts time-tested, classic Grand Touring coupe body lines, which never go out of style. If we had one complaint, the styling is slightly more mundane than we'd want from our six-figure luxury coupe and the overall shape is slightly derivative. Looking at the car in its side profile, we can see elements from countless other coupes including the Ford Mustang and Honda Accord Coupe. If not for the kidney grilles up front, it wouldn't immediately stand out as a BMW. We wish the 8 Series had been more of a jaw-dropper, a complaint which should be remedied by the upcoming Gran Coupe body style.
At the car's launch, the 8 Series will only be available in one trim - the M850i xDrive. Let us stress that this is not the full M version, but rather the latest in BMW's line of semi M-ified models. There will be a full-on M8 and M8 Competition later down the line with over 600 horsepower but after seeing what this semi-M version can do, even M purists won't be disappointed.
Under the hood of the M850i sits a highly tuned version of the BMW's N63 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 pumping out a healthy 523 horsepower and 553 lb-ft of torque going out to xDrive all-wheel-drive through an eight-speed automatic transmission. The xDrive grip helps this 4,478-pound Grand Tourer rocket to 60 mph in just 3.6 seconds (although it feels even quicker from behind the wheel). Plop the 8 Series into its Eco Pro mode and the EPA says you can achieve up to 18 mpg in the city, 25 mpg on the highway, and 20 mpg combined.
As with the exterior styling, BMW has won back our affection with its latest interior design language. All of the trimmings feel like they belong in a six-figure car and certain elements are among our favorites in the segment. The glass controls, for instance, replace the plastic shifter and infotainment controls with Swarovski crystal. You'd be mad not to select this option for just $650, as it completely dresses up the interior and will dazzle your passengers. The rest of the interior doesn't look as visually spectacular, though this two-tone brown and black interior does add a lot of excitement to the mix.
We were more impressed by the interiors found in the Lexus LC500 and Mercedes-AMG S63 but the 8 Series certainly feels like it at least belongs in the same conversation. Where technology is concerned, BMW's iDrive system is in a different universe than the outdated Lexus system and Mercedes Comand isn't as simple to use. We could easily do without the gimmicky gesture controls but iDrive is among our favorite systems on the market today.
Our biggest complaint with the interior had to be the placement of the A-pillars. The car's sleek roofline facilities steeply-racked pillars, which seriously hinder forward visibility. We consistently found it difficult to keep an on eye the apex on a mountain road or the race track because there was always a pillar in the way. The steering wheel also felt like it wasn't sporty enough for a car with so many M badges plastered all over it. When we went to pull one of the car's paddle shifters, we were disappointed at how small it felt compared to other BMW cars we've driven.
Aside from these minor complaints, the 8 Series' cabin is surprisingly spacious for a two-door coupe and features plenty of storage bins in the center console and door pockets. We'd highly recommend opting for an interesting leather color to add a little flavor to the interior.
Two-door coupes, especially six-figure luxury GT cars like this one, are not known for their massive rear accommodations. Even though it's sold as a four-person ticket to a luxury getaway, the 8 Series can best be thought of as a 2+2 - and those second two should probably be children. We did our best to climb into the back seat, which does feel slightly larger than the Lexus LC or S-Class Coupe. If you need a genuine four-seater, you'd best wait for the four-door Gran Coupe or get the convertible to at least have some headroom.
While the rear seats aren't massive, the trunk is extremely impressive for the segment. The coupe offers 14.8 cubic feet of trunk space, which is nearly three times as much as the Lexus LC - this figure drops to 12.4 cubic feet in the Convertible, which shrinks even more with the roof stowed. Adding even more to the practicality, those rear seats can be folded to create a passthrough into the interior.
From the moment we placed the M850i into its sportiest setting and mashed the throttle, there was only one question on our minds - how crazy will the M version be? This car has the potential to silence all of the M brand purists in one fell swoop. Never at any moment on the road or on the track did we feel the need for more power from the twin-turbo V8. This engine acts silently during normal driving but wakes up to provide a hearty soundtrack on a spirited drive. Some of this noise is sadly artificial but from where we were sitting, it was hard to complain. Buyers who place a heavy emphasis on sound should check out the LC and S63, both of which have more aggressive soundtracks.
As for the experience of the drive, the 8 Series does a phenomenal job splitting the difference between those two competitors. It doesn't float like the Mercedes, nor does it dance delicately like the Lexus. This is far from the most "purist driver's car" BMW makes but it is capable of providing satisfaction on a back road.
On the road or on a race track, the M850i inspires confidence to the driver by gripping to the road like a boa constrictor wrapping its prey. Some will lament the lack of a rear-wheel-drive option but we were happy to trade off tailslides for grip. We were also pleasantly surprised by the car's ride comfort. BMW can tend to make its cars too stiff in the pursuit of lap times but the 8 Series rides beautifully. We hope BMW doesn't throw away ride comfort when it reveals the M8 because it was one of the M850i's most endearing features.
This is the type of car you be content to pilot on a six-hour drive over America's boring highway system or a blast up and down the Angeles Crest in Los Angeles. The steering, while not the most precise in the world, is perfectly suited for both types of driving. Any more steering feel and the 8 Series might not be comfortable enough on the highway, any less and the 8er may start to feel boring. For a GT car, the 8 Series strikes a lovely balance.
Sitting atop an automaker's lineup usually comes with a high price tag and the 8 Series is no exception. This M850i trim starts at $111,900 for the coupe and $121,400 for the convertible - you'll have to decide which body style you prefer because we didn't have a chance to drive the drop top. BMW has a habit of going mad with option packages but the car we tested was surprisingly restrained. The car was fitted with the Drivers Assistant Pro Package ($1,700), Comfort Seating Package ($900), Bowers & Wilkins premium audio ($3,400), M Carbon roof ($3,000), and glass controls ($650), bringing the as-test price to $122,545.
We recommend ignoring the added Drivers Assistant Pro Package, which only adds annoying, overly-assisted driver's aids, as well as the pricey carbon fiber roof. You'd be a fool not to add the glass controls for a measly $650 and the Bowers & Wilkins system is great if you love good audio. Our configuration will save you $4,700, bringing the price to $117,845.
Tucked away in a hidden room at Thermal, BMW allowed us to sit in the legendary M8 Prototype that was built back in the 1990s. This car featured a 6.1-liter V12 with 549 hp mated to a six-speed manual transmission. Such an idea was so wild at the time, BMW never put it into production. While this new M850i is nowhere near as extreme as the M8 Prototype, we can clearly see a lineage.
This new car may not have a screaming V12 engine but with the whopping power you can squeeze out of a V8, it hardly seems necessary. The whole point of having an 8 Series is to represent the ultimate expression of what a BMW can be. The M850i is not the first BMW you'd pick for tire-shredding laps around a race track, although it is certainly capable. No, this BMW is the best all-rounder for driving to the other side of the country, just because you prefer the racetrack on the opposite coast. For this reason, we think the new 8 Series is a noble successor and has been well worth the wait.