2019 BMW 8 Series M850i xDrive review - price, specs and release date

After a 20-year absence, BMW has finally summoned up the courage to re-enter the super-luxury coupe market with this, the new 8 Series...

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Neil Winn
24 October 2018

BMW Beach Road

Priced from £100,045 | Release date November 2018

To kick-start the opening of the BMW 8 Series launch, a BMW executive stands up and gives us the usual marketing spiel about the car. He’s particularly keen to stress that the number ‘8’ in the model name affords the new luxury coupe a “high-ranking status within BMW’s product range; as it was in the past with the original 8 Series and Z8”.

It’s a strong statement of intent. Indeed, Munich hopes that the new 8 Series will move the BMW brand into the higher echelons of the luxury car market. But you do have to wonder if the higher ups at BMW are suffering from a little bit of historical amnesia. After all, the original 8 Series and Z8 were not exactly commercially successful – both cars struggling with an identity crisis: were they supposed to be grand tourers, sports cars or technological showcases? No one knew. Not even BMW.

However, after a 20-year absence, BMW has finally summoned up the courage to re-enter the super-luxury coupe market - this time taking special care to avoid repeating the mistakes that were made last time out. The mission brief was suitably ambitious yet straightforward: build a car with a broader breadth of abilities than any of its competitors by blending the comfort and luxury expected from a premium GT car with the high performance dynamics of a sports car.

Now, for most manufacturers this would look like quite a challenge, but BMW is not just any manufacturer – it already has decades of experience building ultra fast luxury cars in the form of the BMW M5 and M6. Therefore the 8 Series engineers had a bit of a head start when it came to development.

For example, the 8 Series benefits from BMW’s innovative ‘Cluster Architecture’ which is made up of high-strength steel, aluminium, magnesium and carbonfibre-reinforced plastic. It contributes to a kerbweight that is relatively svelte for a car of this type; the range-topping M850i being whole 100kg lighter than an equivalent Mercedes S-Class Coupe and a whopping 350kg lighter than a Bentley Continental GT.  

The ‘entry-level’ 840d also makes use of BMW’s tried and tested turbocharged 3.0-litre straight six with 316bhp, while the range-topping M850i gets a redeveloped version of the M5’s 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 with 523bhp and a whopping 553lb ft of torque. A cheaper six-cylinder turbo petrol 840i will be available next year, and after that the full-fat M8. All are expected to feature BMW’s impressive xDrive four-wheel drive system.

BMW 8 Series On Country Road Rear

2019 M850i xDrive on the road

The more astute amongst you will have noticed that despite the M850i having the same engine as the M5 saloon, it doesn’t have the same amount of power. That’s because it has effectively been detuned for this application. But if that comes as a disappointment, it shouldn’t. In this specification, the 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 feels immensely flexible and impressively refined, imbuing the 8 Series with a sense of duality that feels entirely befitting of a continent crushing GT.

It’s smooth, tractable and - for a turbocharged engine - quick to respond to any throttle inputs, which makes it effortless to drive around town. And yet, with xDrive all-wheel drive traction, you can deploy all 523bhp at any speed and in any gear with virtually no drama. In fact, in some respects it feels more like a Bavarian Nissan GT-R than it does a luxurious GT car in the way that it effortlessly dispatches large stretches of demanding country roads in the blink of an eye.

Indeed, our only complaint is that the engine remains relatively muted even in Sport Plus mode. BMW has added in the odd pop and crackle on downshifts to add some aural charisma, but even this, combined with the augmented engine note played the car’s stereo speakers, doesn’t have enough of an impact. In fact, it feels a little contrived.

 

What doesn’t feel contrived, however, is the way the M850i handles. Despite looking like a large GT from the outside, once you’re in the driver’s seat the M850i positively shrinks around you. With rear wheel steering and a standard-fit ‘eDiff’ on the rear axle to boost traction, this near two tonne car can be made to dance to your tune. Granted, the steering doesn’t transmit much usable information about what’s happening between the tyres and the road but, with such a dependable chassis, you can be incredibly accurate when placing the car.

And yet, like everything in life, it’s rare to get something for nothing and in the case of the M850i, its athletic ability comes at the cost of ride quality. You see, BMW made the brave decision to fit steel springs as opposed to air suspension – the latter used on everything from the Porsche Panamera to the S-Class Coupe – as springs are traditionally seen as the ‘sportier’ choice.

However, it would seem this was the wrong choice, as the M850i is simply too firm for a luxury GT car. Around town it thuds its way over sudden abrasions and even on the motorway it fails to settle down. It’s frustrating as Porsche and Mercedes have shown you can produce a sharp driver’s car that also rides well by using air.

2019 M850i xDrive interior

Interior wise, the M850i is a bit of a disappointment at first glance. After you’ve soaked in the sleek exterior with its flowing profile and taut surfaces you expect an equally impressive cabin. Instead, what you’re met with is an interior that feels like an upmarket 5-Series – indeed, in terms of outright visual panache it falls some way behind the Porsche Panamera or Mercedes S-Class Coupe.

That’s not to say buyers will be disappointed, however. BMW has always focused on restrained visual design, preferring to focus on outright build quality. And it’s here that the 8 Series scores back some points. From the stitching on the leather dashboard to the acres of brushed chrome trim pieces, everything is impeccably incorporated into the environment.

BMW 8 Series Driving Position

And the good news continues when it comes to the new infotainment system. BMW’s new-generation ‘iDrive 7.0’ touchscreen infotainment system (with more driver-customisable menu screens) and its Live Cockpit Professional 12.3in instrument display is without doubt one of best infotainment systems on the market. It’s responsive, intuitive to use, and easy to operate on the move thanks to BMW’s fantastic iDrive rotary control.

Space in the front is also very impressive, with plenty of head and legroom for a couple of tall adults. However, despite the massive wheelbase there’s very little legroom in the rear and that attractive sloping roofline has reduced headroom to the point where only children would be happy sitting in the back. In fact, we’d go so far to say that they’re better suited to a couple of weekend bags than they are people, making them seem rather redundant seeing that the 8 Series has one of the biggest boots in the class.

Next: 2019 M850i xDrive verdict