FIRST DRIVE | 2018 BMW M850i
Mark Smyth takes Munich's new GT bruiser for a spin
The BMW 8 Series disappeared from the market in 1999 after a run of just nine years. Nearly 20 years later it is back and will go on sale in SA towards the end of the first quarter of 2019.
However, it will be a very different car to the last 8 Series.
I had a colleague in Cape Town who owned one, with the registration Bull-WP. The plate summed up the car as much as him because the 8 Series was indeed a bit of a bull, with a V8 or V12 engine under that enormous bonnet and a character that was less flagship BMW and more Olympic shot-putter.
The new one will, of course, give rise to additional models, according to Sarah Lessmann of the 8 Series project management team. This will include a Gran Coupe and a convertible later in 2019.
There will be high-performance M8 versions too.
A surprising piece of news is that BMW has decided that it is no longer size that counts. We were surprised to find that the wheelbase of the new 8 Series is a full 30mm shorter than that of the old 6 Series.
Lessmann insists that dynamically, the new M850i is the best BMW, with the exception of the actual M cars, that is.
The 30mm shorter wheelbase makes a big difference if you sit in the back, which you can’t really unless you are a child. The old 6 Series has more space but, of course, an 8 Series Gran Coupe is on the way and Lessmann points out that it will have a longer wheelbase.
It’s easy to explain the 8 Series away as a 2+2 then, but you will find more space in a rival like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class coupe. We asked if this leaves things open for a 9 Series then. BMW executives said they couldn’t possibly comment.
To assess Lessman’s claim that the M850i is the most dynamic non-M BMW, we put it through its paces on a drive around Lisbon in Portugal and on the famous Estoril racetrack.
Under the bonnet sits an M Performance TwinPower Turbo V8 engine generating 390kW between 5,500-6,000r/min and 750Nm of torque from 1,800-4,600r/min.
The company is promising a 0-100km/h time of 3.7 seconds, which is impressive given that the whole package weighs in at just under two tons. That’s with a whole load of carbon fibre included to reduce the weight.
Like the original, there’s plenty of brawn about the new 8. Obviously there’s the V8 lump under the bonnet, but there’s a level of presence about the styling too, although that varies depending on specification. There’s an active exhaust to make some noise and large rear tyres to get the power to the tarmac, although not run-flats because these are not as comfortable for a car that is both sports car and GT.
Testing the GT bit was relatively easy. It was a Saturday morning and the roads were full of tourists and cyclists. We had little chance to put test to any claims here, although the occasional piece of twisty tarmac did allow us to experience the active rear-wheel steering.
It’s basically the same system as on the 7 Series, allowing for up to three degrees of turn with the direction depending on your speed. It works very well on the tighter corners, making a car measuring in at 4,851mm feel a fair bit smaller. It was comfortable too, with a great driving position and the kind of equipment you expect. GT box ticked.
Talking of equipment, it gets the new BMW Connected Drive system including over the air updates and a 10.25-inch touchscreen with displays that you can personalise to show the information you really need.
It’s joined by a fully digital instrument cluster too. The display is a bit too 1980s arcade game. Maybe it’s just something different in a BMW. I’ll reserve judgement for now.
I’ll also reserve judgement on the optional glass gearstick and starter button. The button’s ok, but you can’t talk about how dynamic and sporty a model is and then have a sort of Swarovski crystal gearstick. You wouldn’t have seen that on the original. Each to their own on this one, I think.
All of which brings us to the track, the best place to test all 530 horses and switch everything into full sports mode.
Here things become clear. The M850i is a GT in the original sense, a car that can take you to the track in the morning, play all day and then you pull a sports jacket from the boot and drive to dinner in the evening.
The paddle shifters are annoyingly too far in for easy use but leave the gear changing up to the car and it instinctively knows what you want to do, leaving you to concentrate on placing the car correctly.
The new M850i is playful but controlled, raw but yet refined. I’m not convinced it’s the most dynamic non-M BMW though, nor the new flagship either.
The BMW M850i xDrive coupe will arrive in SA in the first quarter of next year, priced at R1,887,827.