Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: August 22, 2023
It’s hard to believe that the BMW 8 Series has been with us for five years already. A replacement for the 6 Series, this grand tourer blessed with V8 performance has spawned a coupe, convertible, four-door sedan, full M version, and even a GTE race car. Sadly, we think it’s a vehicle that will only be truly appreciated by enthusiasts once it’s been discontinued. Only then will people realize that 2+2 ballistic missiles are few and far between at this price point, especially ones that can coddle you across a province and also not embarrass themselves should there be a racetrack at the destination. Sure, Bentley has been perfecting this recipe for years and Mercedes had their shot with the S-Class Coupe, but the 8 Series is truly one of the greats.
Not much has changed since we first drove the M850i in 2018. There’s now a larger 12.3-inch central touchscreen that adds a bit more dimension and depth to the interior. The screen looks great and is high definition but it’s wild how BMW’s newer interfaces in the 3 and 7 Series make this unit look old and aged. It’s like comparing a 720p television to one that outputs 4k. Still, the screen remains neatly integrated into the dash instead of sticking out like a sore thumb. BMW has always nailed down this aesthetic, along with retaining the shortcut buttons that can be programmed to any function - it seems they are phasing this out though as it’s missing in the new i4 and iX models. The tried and true rotary dial is carried over and remains our preferred way of interacting with the system.
While it lacks the pizzazz and polish of a Mercedes S-Class, it looks the part of a six-figure German coupe. Top-shelf materials coat the steering wheel and switchgear, and supple leather graces nearly every reachable surface. The contrasting blue and white leather seats are supportive though they could use more lumbar cushioning and also lack the dual seatback adjustment from the 5 Series. Unlike BMW SUVs where the steering wheel can’t tilt down far enough to find a snug driving position, the 8 Series’ can. But the seats don’t lower very far, and the receding roofline means my six-foot figure finds it a bit vertically cramped. The back seats are more of a token gesture than viable means of transporting adults, but it’s still a useful space for storing bags and child seats. Of note, the instrument cluster remains fully digital and the nonlinear readouts and gauges still bother us to this day.
We prefer the appearance of the M850i over the shoutier and more ostentatious M8 Competition, the latter of which seems to be a confused road warrior that wants every piece of tarmac to hold an FIA Grade 1 license. The M850i isn’t trying to force sharp angles and flared fenders for the sake of a premium price tag. Instead, every line looks purposeful and refined, with a nicely balanced silhouette that breathes and vibes with grand touring duties. And Santorini Blue is the perfect match, a striking and bold colour that takes inspiration from the cerulean domes that litter the Santorini skyline.
The M850i houses an impressive bandwidth of capability thanks to its 4.4-litre twin-turbocharged V8 that provides 523 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque from as low as 1,800 rpm. There is no shortage of propulsion here, and its 0-100 km/h time of 3.7 seconds will allow you to keep up with some serious machinery from Porsche and AMG.
The adaptive dampers keep the ride in check and the M850i negotiates vertical oscillations better than a Porsche 911 Turbo S or Lexus LC 500. You tackle corners without much lean but we wouldn’t call it agile as there’s still a considerable amount of heft to manage. Still, the M850i grips well thanks to all-wheel drive, the nose is eager to change direction, and the suspension damping is well-judged with an underlying firmness. Sport Plus mode also brings a greater sense of connection and though stiffer and more alert, brings a more natural feel to the way it flows through a sequence of corners.
And then we get to the steering, the gateway to driver involvement. It’s the most critical point of contact between car and driver and we just can’t get into the groove with the M850i’s. That boils down to the new 4-wheel steering system which we normally find on large sedans or SUVs. It feels odd in this two-door sports car, and while it effectively shortens the wheelbase and allows for extra maneuverability at low speeds, it feels unnatural here and detracts from us feeling engaged with the machine. The way it rotates so quickly feels artificial, and rather than the steering being an extension of the arm, it feels like we’re operating it via a Playstation controller.
The BMW M850i xDrive Coupe is a V8-powered middle finger to those pesky orange-clad oil protestors, but it’s also a well-judged, balanced, and accessible grand touring sports car that breathes with more character than a Mercedes-Benz SL and more civility than a Lexus LC 500. While it doesn’t turn every journey into a special occasion, the M850i offers more opportunities to cut loose and simply have some fun with the car. And that’s what all grand touring coupes should be all about.
Model: 2023 BMW M850i xDrive Coupe
Paint Type: Santorini Blue
Base Price: $119,900
Price as Tested: $137,650
Engine: 4.4-litre twin-turbocharged V8
Horsepower: 523 hp @ 5,500 - 6,000 rpm
Torque: 553 lb-ft @ 1,800 - 4,600 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 11.2 (majority highway driving)
Tires: Goodyear Eagle F1; 275/30R20