Twenty years after BMW gave up on its slow-selling 8 Series touring coupe, a new version is back. This one is likely to stick around for a while.
The team at BMW has poured more technology into the design and driver experience of this new car than you can imagine. Not just in terms of gadgetry, but in how the tech is engineered and built. And the result redefines what it means to sit behind the wheel of a high-end touring car.
This is truly two cars in one. The first a comfortable, modern and refined luxury sedan that gently carries you down the motorway, saturated in the premium sounds drifting from its optional $4,900 Bowers and Wilkins audio system; the second a snarling, pugnacious beast that barks and burbles as it struts its stuff on a Formula 1 racing track like the one we tried it out on in Estoril, Portugal.
This, the company’s new signature vehicle, delivers prestige both on the street and on the track.
“The 8 Series is the best possible standard-bearer for BMW,” said Sarah Lessmann, product manager for the coupe.
The M850i comes with just one engine in Canada (Europe gets a six-cylinder turbo-diesel, too), a commanding twin-turbo V-8 gasoline motor that delivers brawny horsepower and torque – 523 hp and 553 pound-feet, respectively – through a quick-shifting eight-speed automatic. For the driver, it means you can jump from a standstill to 100 kilometres an hour in 3.7 seconds. Let’s just say merging into traffic will never be a problem again.
The ultrastiff chassis, matched with the company’s adaptive suspension system, integral active steering (which turns the rear wheels by up to 2.5 degrees to enhance cornering) and high-performance tires, carves through bends as if there’s a giant winch holding you where you’re supposed to be.
BMW likes rear-wheel drive, even in all-wheel-drive cars. Its xDrive all-wheel-drive system defaults to sending all power to the rear wheels under normal driving conditions. The front wheels only get involved when the car detects slip or is under a heavy load.
The engine itself is so heavily upgraded from an earlier version that it is being called all-new. Asking an engine to crank out massive amounts of power means it is under incredible stress, said Dietmar Kugler, head of the V-8’s development. So the engine has been given a beefier aluminum alloy crankcase, new polymer-coated hybrid bearings, new piston design and some sort of magical iron coating sprayed on the cylinder walls to make them tougher. You may not see these changes, but you should be glad they’re there.
Fuel pressure has also been increased to force more fuel into the cylinders and energy has been increased by 40 per cent to ensure there’s enough spark to light up this firecracker. Nerdy stuff, I know, but it’s what makes this car work.
The proof is in the pushing.
Testing the new M on the Estoril race track enabled me to push the car in a way you will never get a chance to on Canadian roads. That’s a shame, because getting the most of this car almost certainly means you’ll be breaking the law. (It may be cold comfort to learn that top speed is “limited” to 250 km/h.)
Go into Estoril’s corners hot and the car lets out a quiet howl from its tires, yet the electronics ensure the hefty car (about two metric tonnes) stays straight. You can, of course, switch off all that assistance, but you do so at your own peril. In sport mode, the engine revs stay high for instantaneous response and the automatic transmission almost anticipates which of the eight gears it should be in.
That’s its Mr. Hyde side. Back on the highways in “comfort” mode, the shifting pattern settles right down, the engine goes strangely quiet and you wonder – just for a moment – whether you’ve been transported into a different vehicle.
Although it is a remarkably handsome car, it looks little similar to BMWs of yore. From the rear profile, in fact, it bears a passing resemblance to a Mustang GT. If you want to be more distinctive, BMW invites you to dress it up with a $4,100 carbon fibre trim package and $3,000 carbon fibre roof. This is the first of a series of M cars – the next is a convertible in November, followed by a super-coupe and other iterations in 2019.
It’s great to have a car with a dual personality. With the 8 Series, you’re getting two cars for the price of, well, two cars. Tricked-out with all the options, this BMW boldly steers toward $150,000.
It’s true that there are some pretty nice cars for half the price. None of them, however, have everything this car has, including undeniable Euro flair. It’s the type of car that lets the world know you are of a certain means.
The 8 Series arrives in dealerships in early December.
- Base price/as tested: $123,500
- Engine: 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8
- Transmission/drive: 8 speed, AWD
- Fuel economy (litres/100km): N/A
- Alternatives: Lexus LC 500, Mercedes-Benz SL 550, Mercedes-Benz S 560 Coupe, Maserati GranTurismo
It is sleek, low, long and wide. If not for the classic twin-kidney front grille, you might not be able to recognize this as a BMW.
The premium-quality Merino leather is tastefully subtle. The iDrive infotainment and instrument display system is controlled from the broad centre console. Everything is slim and orderly.
Incredible acceleration is balanced with a suspension system that adapts to your mood. You can effortlessly switch from comfortable cruiser to track champ by flipping into sport-plus mode.
Has all the goodies you expect today in a high-end car: cruise control, heads-up display, active parking systems, a 12.3-inch instrument display and a 10.25-inch infotainment screen. It connects not only to smartphones, but also Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant smart devices.
The 420-litre trunk is certainly more than adequate for two people’s luggage, but this vehicle isn’t interested in being known as a hauler.
Shedding a few kilos would make it nearly perfect. In the hyper-competitive world of high-end car design, there may be something better next year. But right here, right now? This is as good as a touring car gets.
The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.