A look back at the original BMW 8 Series should make you appreciate the new one even more. Unveiled almost three decades ago, the first-gen 850i enamored us with gorgeous styling, impressive tech, and tanklike solidity at triple-digit speeds. And its big V-12 and six-speed manual gearbox? Very enticing. But overall the 850i failed “to elicit much in the way of a visceral reaction,” we noted. “Handsome but unfulfilling.”
The hard, cold numbers confirmed our feelings. It needed 6.7 seconds to reach 60 mph and 15.1 seconds to reach a quarter mile, trailing cheaper sports cars including a savage slew of Japanese imports like the Mitsubishi 3000GT VR4 and Nissan 300ZX Turbo. BMW’s M division eventually worked its magic with the quicker and more exciting 850CSi, but it came years later and was relatively rare.
So with that in mind, is the second-gen 8 another lethargic luxobarge like its predecessor? Absolutely not. And it didn’t take us long to reach that answer—just 3.5 seconds to be exact. That’s how quickly the M850i xDrive rocketed to 60 mph in our testing before crossing the quarter mile in 11.9 seconds at 116 mph. Impressive numbers considering its 4,365-pound curb weight.
To make its big car go fast, BMW has stuffed a 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8 under the hood, good for 523 horsepower and 553 lb-ft of torque. That’s hooked up to an eight-speed auto and xDrive system that divvies power to both rear and front wheels, resulting in explosive acceleration off the line with little to no wheelspin. Consistent, too, thanks to its launch control system, which is easy to activate.
Things got interesting on the figure-eight course, where we discovered that it’s quite easy to get the rear end loose—it may have all-wheel drive, but the system definitely favors the back wheels. The M850’s 24-second lap is good for a car of this size, but road test editor Chris Walton said it didn’t come easy.
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“Jeez, there’s a lot going on here,” Walton noted. “I was constantly sawing at the wheel on the skidpad to maintain a smooth line. It would understeer on entry, then go neutral, then transition into oversteer—all by itself.”
We suspect the rear-wheel steering system is the main culprit here. According to BMW, the back wheels turn opposite of the front wheels at low speeds. And at higher speeds, they’re pointed in the same direction as the fronts. This transition takes place at 45 mph, which just happens to be how fast the M850i is traveling during those crucial moments when it’s entering and exiting the skidpad. Walton also said brake feel could be better and that the Bridgestone Potenza S007 tires were grippy but heated up and lost traction just after a few laps.
OK, so the M850i wasn’t exactly tuned to master our figure-eight course. And although the rear steering system is a nuisance on the figure eight, it’s oddly fun at low speeds, where snaking through a crowded and tight parking lot can feel like a carnival teacup ride. The M850i also shines on twisty roads, as long as you stay within six- to seven-tenths of its limits. But perhaps most important to most buyers is how smooth and calm it is while cruising the boulevard and highway—ride quality is remarkably good considering its sporty suspension (with adjustable dampers) and 20-inch-wheel setup (245/35 up front and 275/30 at the rear). Yes, the sidewalls are extremely short for a car of this size and weight, so prepare to have a bad and expensive day if you encounter any potholes. If you live in a city that’s slow to patch roads, we’d recommend the 19-inch wheels with thicker rubbers, which should still pair well with the handsome sheetmetal.
And yes, the M850i looks good. Ignore any comments about the 8 Series being a simple carbon copy of the 4 Series. That might be true if you’re looking at a small image on the cracked screen of an iPhone 5, but in person, there’s no denying the 8’s commanding presence that the 4 Series simply can’t match (no knock on the 4, which is also attractive).
So right out of the gate BMW’s new flagship coupe is properly quickly. It might not be the Ultimate Drive Machine at the limit, but most buyers won’t care anyway. And it gives us more reason to eagerly await the upcoming M8.
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