Automobiles

[REVIEW] 2019 BMW M850i Coupe

“An amount in the low three-digit million euro range”, reads the BMW press release.

That’s how much money the company has invested into BMW Group Plant Dingolfing in preparation for the 8 Series. As the plant already builds the company’s 7 Series flagship, it’s astounding to hear the amount of extra money that has spent in order to accommodate the company’s newest model.

The new 8 Series Coupe is designed to be the sports car launches BMW’s model offensive in the luxury segment. It’s no wonder that the company is investing a tremendous amount in order to consolidate its position in Lower Bavaria as the centre of competence for the luxury class.

What is it?

Is it a sports car, a grand tourer, or something in between? BMW has had a fine tradition of big BMW Coupes stretching back decades, but arguably, its flagships have somewhat lacked the deftness of dynamics to really appeal to the driving enthusiast.

Have they been ridiculously powerful? Yes. Stunning to look at? Certainly. But exciting and the sharpest to drive? Perhaps less so, as effective as the 6 Series family may have been.

The number “8” has only been applied to models in BMW’s portfolio that are pricier, more luxurious, and more unique. Recall the original 8 Series Coupe of 1989-1996, the i8, and the Z8 and you get the picture. After a 20 year hiatus, the nameplate is back.

While the new 8 uses elements of the same structure as the 5 and 7 Series, it’s a new separate model in its own right, designed to be a sporting grand tourer versus a luxury car. It’s not a direct replacement either for the old 6 Series, as it’s higher upon the scale in terms of cost and capability.

BMW says that the directive for the all-new BMW 8 Series Coupe’s design was to provide a thrilling driving experience. Body, powertrain and suspension were honed to achieve the agility, precision and poise expected of a top-class luxury sports Coupe.

The model was actually developed in parallel to the BMW M8 GTE race car, which has since already proven its potential in the 2018 FIA World Endurance Championship long-distance races and in the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

The 8 Series is available in three body styles: a two-door 2+2 Coupe, a convertible, and now the four-door Gran Coupe. An M8 will be available in all three variants, but that’s still a few months away,

A new design featuring composite new materials

For the purpose of this review, we’ll be taking a closer look at the 2019 BMW M850i Coupe. The M prefix labels this model as an “M performance” car, rather than a full bore M Division-developed car as the M8 will be.

Happily, the 8 Series production model lives up to the expectations set forth by the BMW Concept 8 Series first unveiled at the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este in 2017. Its unique aura is the result of a new styling language focusing on modernity and emotional engagement.

This car is a looker with its low slung design, an elongated silhouette with slim window pillars, a long wheelbase with a wide track, and a roofline with distinctive “double-bubble” styling of classic racing cars.

For the first time in a series-production BMW model, the roof is also optionally available in carbon-fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) – which is also manufactured at the Dingolfing location in an innovative wet-pressing process.

In the spirit of intelligent lightweight construction, the supporting structures at the front and rear of the vehicle, other components, such as the roof, doors, hood, and the front firewall, are made of aluminium.

The BMW kidney grille showcases its increased proportions and features a hexagonal outline that widens towards the bottom and a single-piece surround that encompasses its various elements.

Full LED headlights with BMW LaserLight technology are now standard equipment. Incidentally, these are now the slimmest headlights of any BMW model to date.

The company’s signature “Angel eye” light tubes are used to generate the daytime driving lights as well as the low and high beam, thereby creating the signature brand look at all times.

The M850i Coupe’s greenhouse is sharply tapered at the rear, accentuating the muscular shoulder line. The elongated quarter windows terminate in a very tightly-angled version of the iconic Hofmeister kink “counter-swing”. The long, heavily raked rear window is a classic design feature of high performance luxury sports coupes of yesterday.

The car’s rear end is composed of sculptured, emotive surfaces that emphasize the car’s width and low center of gravity. The slender all-LED rear light clusters light up in a distinctive “L” shape, extending deep into the flanks to add to the effect.

Powertrain and Drivetrain

The launch of the M850i xDrive Coupe also marks the premiere of a new BMW TwinPower Turbo V8 engine. The latest generation of the 4.4-liter eight-cylinder engine has been radically revised with numerous detailed improvements.

Two twin-scroll turbochargers with charge air cooling located within the V-shaped space between the cylinder banks, High Precision Injection, VALVETRONIC fully variable valve control and Double-VANOS variable camshaft timing all form part of the M Performance TwinPower Turbo technology, whose extensive overhaul has given a substantial boost to maximum power, torque and efficiency.

Output is now rated at 523 hp between 5,500 rpms and 6,000 rpm, and 553 lb-ft of torque from 1,800 to 4,600 rpms.

Power is transferred to the wheels via the latest-generation eight-speed Steptronic Sport transmission that boasts a wider gear ratio spread. Even sportier gear shifts and can be operated by means of shift paddles on the steering wheel.Completing the all-round package for an engaging driving experience is the BMW xDrive intelligent all-wheel-drive system, which is fitted in a newly improved version that has been tuned for this specific model.

The rear-wheel bias of the xDrive system and the rear differential lock ensures maximum agility and precision when the car’s sporting capabilities are being put to the test.

Whether it’s the rainy streets of Vancouver or the snowy highways in Toronto, the addition of xDrive turns the M850i truly into an all-weather grand tourer built for Canadian winters. Just don’t forget the winter tires!

Driver-focused cockpit

As with other BMW coupes, the M850i’s interior has been designed to be very much driver oriented. The seating position is notably low and the car’s wide centre console rises up towards the instrument panel at the front, separating the driver and front passenger areas.

This centre space encompasses the audio control unit and its function buttons, the air conditioning control panel, and air vents as well as the freestanding and frameless Control Display gauge cluster, all arranged above each other in a clear, horizontally partitioned structure.

One of vehicle’s truly stunning options is called “Crafted Clarity,” which adds Swarovski glass detailing to the gearshift lever, volume knob, start/stop button. Even the slightly redesigned iDrive controller with active haptic feedback has been fitted with this treatment.

At night, the Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound System and the illuminated gearshift lever complement the luxurious interior ambience.

BMW says that due to the low seating position of both rear seats, it has been possible to design the head restraints as an integral part of the backrests.

However, as it is a 2+2, the rear seats are really designed only for flexibly short adults or children as rear legroom is rather modest.

Standard on the 8 Series Coupe is Adaptive M suspension with electronically controlled dampers. Both compression and rebound are adjusted continuously and independently. The electronically controlled dampers respond adaptively to road surface conditions and driving style in order to eliminate undesired vehicle movement.

Damping characteristics can be adjusted via the Driving Experience Control switch – SPORT and SPORT+ modes for maximum handling ability, and the requisite comfort-oriented damper setting for everyday driving in both in ECO Pro or COMFORT modes.

Infotainment Technology

As the M850i is one of BMW’s flagship models, it includes all of the company’s latest bells and whistles.

The latest iteration of gesture control, initially introduced on the 7 Series several years ago, is now available on the 8 Series. The improved system now supports custom gestures and feels more responsive than before.

There are now a plethora of connection options including a 12 volt outlet, aux-in, Bluetooth, and WiFi. BMW has also taken the unusual step of making almost all the ports USB-C only (except for one). It does modernize the interior but is also a bit inconvenient for Apple iPhone users who will need to invest in new cables.

There is a Qi-compatible wireless charger nestled far forward of the centre console deep into the dash that charges both phones and the BMW Display key.

The M850i is equipped with iDrive 7.0, the company’s latest iteration of their infotainment system. First making its debut in the latest G05 X5, the new system is being rolled out across all BMW models as you read this.

Apple’s fantastic wireless CarPlay’s integration is basically the same, save for the larger screen that makes every part of it visually stand out more. Strangely, most automakers supporting CarPlay still don’t offer it wirelessly but BMW has done so since first adopting CarPlay.

With the larger iDrive touchscreen, the icons are big and bright and can also be selected with the iDrive rotary dial. The latter is just a bit more cumbersome as using the dial means cycling through the menu via a lot of scrolling. I found it easier to use the touchscreen with Apple CarPlay. Android Auto is not supported at all.

Compared to the previous iDrive generation, iDrive 7.0 constantly adapts to the situation and is more orientated to the needs of the driver. The new information tiles are not only live, but can be added to a personalized home screen with up to four live tiles.

This all-new home screen presents an optimal use of the vehicle’s various displays that can be tweaked per driver.

There are also a number of small touches that showcase BMW’s attention to detail, such as the on-screen rendering of the car matches the paint colour on the actual car.

A brand new flat menu structure that enables fast access to most settings and functions. Previous BMW owners will need a bit of time to get used to the interface, but the menu structure is intuitive and there are handy tool tip bubbles that pop up at the top of the screen and the learning curve is not very steep.

A fundamental change in iDrive 7.0 is the integration with the car’s 12.3 inch all-digital Control Display gauge cluster as well. A navigation map can be displayed between the speedometer and tachometer displays and the whole cluster will change colour and type of presentation depending on the driving situation or model. It’s all seamless, uniform, and intuitive.

As expected in, there is also a built-in WiFi hotspot with a couple of plans being offered by BMW Canada. BMW’s ConnectedDrive system, which provides news, weather, navigational maps, and mobile phone app connectivity, is free for 12 months and then can be subscribed to for up to 20 years.

While much noise has been made around Tesla’s availability to push over-the-air updates for its cars’ systems, BMW now has the ability to do that as well with the iDrive operating system and navigation maps.

Additionally, by using the ConnectedDrive smartphone app, owners can connect to their vehicles to remotely start, lock/unlock the doors, flash the lights or sound the horn.

You can even pre-condition the climate control at a set-time, or send a destination from your smartphone to the in-car navigation system. While the system is not as instantaneous as a physical keyfob, but it’s still pretty neat nonetheless.

For me, perhaps the pièce de résistance is the ConnectedDrive app’s ability to remotely access the car’s Surround View cameras to see what is going on around your BMW.

This feature, called “Remote 3D view” gives the car’s owner a perspective around the vehicle at his/her pleasure. In an era where many of us have IoT smart security cameras at home or integrated to our door bells, Remote 3D view is a nice-to-have feature for peace of mind.

How does it drive?

The M850i is a GT car in character, so don’t expect M4 coupe levels of handling prowess. Don’t get me wrong though. You can chomp down a twisty and difficult road at a crazed rate without batting an eyelid even with the car in comfort mode.

Weighing 1.9 tonnes, there is a lot of clever chassis tuning and adaptive management going on to shepherd and marshal the car’s weight. However, the adaptive damping system, four-wheel-steering, active anti-roll bars are mostly transparent from the driver’s perspective. It is all very well disguised, well-sorted, and the M850i feels like it is a car a couple of hundred kilograms lighter than it actually is.

The massive brakes can be optionally spec’ed out as carbon ceramics, but the steel rotors are plenty powerful for road driving. Like the suspension, BMW’s engineers have done a remarkable job at making things feel natural despite a lot of technology happening behind the scenes.

xDrive keeps things protective and super-secure. Select Sport or Sport Plus mode for a bit more fun as even more power is shunted to the rear for you to be able to throw the car around a bit. The combination of xDrive and four-wheel-steering resulted in the big coupe constantly surprising me with its nimbleness, even on a tight and twisty track.

There is an initial softness to the car though, be it the steering, or handling, or the noise levels. No doubt the M8 will be sharper, so perhaps this slight isolation is deliberate given the clientele who is likely to buy the M850i over the M8.

As expected, the 8 Series can be fitted with BMW’s latest advanced driver aids including a semi-automonous adaptive cruise control system that even has an infrared and optical camera in the Control Display system to monitor your attentiveness.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to this latest boy’s toy, there are plenty of cars that can cover the M850i’s talents and price range. But arguably, there are few that can meet it on equal ground.

While the Lexus LC500 coupe is eye catching and has a great engine, its ride quality is disappointing. The Mercedes-AMG S63 S Coupe excels on luxury and refinement as well, but is considerably more expensive and is not as dynamic to drive.

As for the Porsche 911, it is far more of an outright sports car experience compared to the Sports Grand Tourer nature of the M850i.

Therefore, the M850i sits in a niche of its own, turning out exactly as BMW intended.

Andrew Ling
Andrew is a proud car and tech geek who has worked in Surrey for over the last 10 years. He comes from a communications/marketing background and has worked for automotive-related companies such as Edmunds.com, BenzWorld.org since 1999. From track driving, to rally driving to autocross, he has done it all! When he’s not reading about the latest automotive news, he can be found outdoors snapping pictures at various events around town.
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