I’ve never been a huge fan of BMW. There’s nothing particularly off-putting about the cars, it’s just that only a handful have ever really spoken to me, and only two or three of those “good” BMWs were built after 1999. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a BMW fan to love the all-new 2019 BMW 8 Series, especially so in M850i xDrive guise. You just have to enjoy great cars.
Built on the same basic formula that made the original 8 Series a cult hit (gorgeous looks, lots of power, and a big dash of dynamism), and despite the lack of a V-12, the new car is no pretender to the name—a fact made thrillingly clear the first time you fire the 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8 and unleash its 523 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque. Routed through an expertly tuned ZF 8-speed automatic and a strongly rear-biased xDrive all-wheel-drive system, that power launches the M850i toward the horizon, hitting 60 mph from a dead stop in just 3.6 seconds on to an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph.
The numbers don’t really do the M850i justice, however, as impressive as they are. Why? Because the 8 Series is about so much more than figures on a chart. There’s an attention to the qualitative side of driving enjoyment that has seemed absent from—or at the least at the very bottom of—the BMW development checklist in recent years. Whether you’re launching onto an on ramp, making a 50-mph pass on a B-road, or simply queuing your way through a city center, the spirit of BMW’s motorsport-bred prowess is engineered into every single part of the car, not just the abundant badging.
That shows on the first set of curves you hit in the M850i. Its four-wheel steering system, which steers the rear wheels opposite the front wheels at low speeds for agility and in tandem with the fronts at higher speeds for stability, is utterly transparent but also immediately noticeable, because the long, wide 8er shrinks around you, diving through corners like a car two-thirds its size and half its weight. But despite its impressive road-holding and flat, controlled cornering, the M850i also cruises in serenity, absorbing ill-maintained Portuguese asphalt in stride, rarely jostling occupants or droning out odd tones. The only gripe we had with the M850i on any level during the road drive was the grindingly slow, always-late navigation system. Hopefully that’s just an artifact of these being pre-production cars. That small beef aside, the new 8 Series is simply lovely on the road. And it’s absolutely mind-blowing on the track.
I say this, of course, not out of blind fancy, but after spending a day wheeling the M850i around the Portuguese countryside and onto the recently repaved surface of the historic Autódromo Fernanda Pires da Silva raceway, or Estoril, as it’s commonly known. That repaving, while I’m told was much-needed, managed to reduce grip to near-wet levels, even while warm and dry. Launching the 8 Series at Estoril was a brave move for BMW, as there would be no chance for the slightly portly (4,478 lb curb weight in U.S. trim) BMW to hide its dynamic missteps under layers of excessive mechanical grip.
Even after having driven the M850i prototype earlier this year at a secret location in Wales—on damp roads no grippier than the resurfaced Estoril—I was surprised, even shocked, at just how good the car is on track. Not even the brake-by-wire system can be criticized, delivering good and consistent pedal feel and stopping power. I was sure that would be a soft spot in the underbelly of the 8 Series. I was wrong.
In fact, there are no real soft spots, nor even an underbelly to speak of. Boot the throttle coming out of the long Ayrton Senna parabolica corner leading onto Estoril’s front straight and you’ll briefly encounter its 155 mph electronic limit before clamping the computer-controlled four-piston front calipers onto the steel discs. Turn in and the car barely rolls, quickly taking its set and arcing in toward the apex as you trail off the brake. A little greedy getting back on the gas? You’re rewarded with tail-out attitude and still-ample acceleration—even with the stability control half on in Traction mode—before the torque being sent to the front wheels helps pull you back into line and on toward the next brake zone. With its big power, strong brakes, and ample grip, the M850i is almost effortless to drive at a ludicrously brisk pace. Steering effort is never too high, the brake pedal never too stiff, and the seats do a masterful job of balancing daily comfort with track-worthy stability.
Is it a perfect track weapon? No, of course not. But that’s not the M850i’s job—BMW’s saving that work for the upcoming M8. But the M850i is already a far, far better track car than any 6 Series ever was, and better than a car so forgiving and enjoyable on the street has any right to be, much less one with so much computer-witchcraft happening behind the scenes.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, I lied to you just a bit at the beginning. While it’s true I’ve never been a huge fan of BMW, after driving the 2019 BMW M850i, I’m going to have to start saying, “I’ve never been a huge fan of BMW—until now.”
|2019 BMW M850i xDrive Specifications|
|ON SALE||December 8, 2018|
|ENGINE||4.4L turbocharged DOHC 32-valve V-8/523 hp @ 5,500-6,000 rpm, 553 lb-ft @ 1,800-4,600 rpm|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 2+2-passenger, front-engine AWD sedan|
|L x W x H||191.2 x 74.9 x 53.0 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.6 sec|
|TOP SPEED||155 mph|