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2020 BMW M850i xDrive Test Drive: Automobile All-Stars Contender

Is this one of 2020’s Ultimate Driving Machines?

Todd LassaWriterWilliam WalkerPhotographer

Automobile's All-Stars awards are back, and this year we have one of the best fields of cars we've ever evaluated. In total, we invited 21 of our favorite new or significantly revised cars to find out which are the very best of the best. We've split them into Contenders and Winners, but let us make it clear: Every car invited to our All-Stars event is one of the most special cars on sale for 2020. Each day between March 8 and March 10, we'll bring you a new batch of Contenders, and on Wednesday, March 11, we'll announce our 2020 Automobile All-Stars Winners.

We're nostalgic for the days when BMW truly earned its advertising slogan as The Ultimate Driving Machine. After all, BMW practically invented the sport sedan, yet in recent years it has compared unfavorably as a driver's car to its German rivals, and even to such resurgent brands as Jaguar and Cadillac.

With its 4.4-liter turbo V-8 putting out 523 horses and 553 lb-ft, the sleek two-door coupe—a real coupe—should be nothing but fun. Of course, it's putting down all that power and torque through all four wheels, and like all big Bimmers it tends to push its weight, all 5,280 pounds, around.

"Lots of thunder and lightning" on the track, "but when pushed too hard into the first corner, it understeered without much in the way of feedback," Aaron Gold said.

To pro racer and guest judge Andy Pilgrim, it's more a big, powerful luxury car than a sports coupe. "Eclipsed by the Mercedes-AMG 63 GT in performance, but as a superb, very well-appointed, and comfortable mile muncher, hard to beat," he said. "Fast for sure in a straight line, but the nannies intruded way too much on the track, even in track settings."

Painted a shimmery Sunset Orange metallic, the M850i xDrive garnered as much public attention as anything in our All-Stars fleet outside the C8 Corvette, Shelby Mustang 500 GT, or Ferrari F8 Tributo, and its interior is as coddling and luxurious as anything south of the Bentley Continental GT in price. To the old-school Bimmerphiles who have been around since the 2002 days, though, the number 8 conjures up an image of a car that looks better than it drives. Think 1990 E31. Many critics are nostalgic for 20th century BMW, but to some of us, the big Bimmers have never been as sharp as the smaller ones.

"Yes, it's potent," Art St. Antoine allowed. "Yes, it's loaded with kit. But it drives so big (not in a good way) and presents the driver with cockpit interfaces that confound more than engage. Not that they compete with each other, but if I were taking a long road trip, I'd opt for an Audi Sportback over this any day."

Gold, who didn't like the M850i much on the track, was more charitable about its public road test drive manners, however.

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"Out here, you can appreciate the space and comfort and the fantastic V-8 muscle car noises," he said. "Big as it is, it feels surprisingly tidy on really narrow, sharp, curvy roads. On the track, it was blinded by a lack of feedback as the tires broke lose, but out here on regular roads, you can position it with precision."

The takeaway is that the BMW M850i xDrive has everything it needs to be a great car on track and on road. It has the powerful turbo V-8, the driver-oriented yet luxurious interior, a suspension tuned to handle big 20-inch wheels and the weight of the AWD, and of course the Roundel. It just doesn't quite add up to an Automobile All-Star.

"Sometimes a car seems so great on paper that it's too good to be true," contributor Basem Wasef said. "In the case of the 850i, BMW has built a grand touring coupe that ticks all the boxes—speed, comfort, and handling—but somehow manages to lack the crucial ingredient of personality to set it apart from the competition."

2020 BMW M850i xDrive Coupe Specifications
PRICE $112,895 (base)/$119,295 (as tested) 
ENGINES 4.4L DOHC 48-valve turbocharged V-8/; 523 hp @5,500-6,000 rpm, 553 ft-lb @1,800-4,600 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 2-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD coupe
EPA MILEAGE 18/25 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 191.2 x 74.9 x 53.0 in
WHEELBASE 111.1 in
WEIGHT 5,280 lbs

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