New 8 series tested – behind the wheel of the mighty M850i; boy, this car’s impressive! The new BMW 8 Series range kicks off with the mighty M850i xDrive Coupé, and Shane O’ Donoghue is incredibly impressed Photos: Uwe Fischer and Daniel Kraus.
What an entrance! The M850i G15 proved to be hugely capable on both road and track, massively stable under heavy braking and a lot of fun.
ON THE ROAD
BMW knows better than most car marques how to make a dramatic entrance, but even by its lofty standards, the arrival of the new 8 Series has been one to sit up and take notice of. Concept car aside, the first ready-to-drive 8 Series to launch was actually the spectacular BMW M8 GTE racer, arriving on the motorsport scene in 2017 and competing at the 2018 Le Mans, among others. Now, finally, it’s our turn to get behind the wheel of the 8 Series, and there’s no pussyfooting around with middling-powered examples; oh no, our first taste of the big GT will be in M850i xDrive guise, no less.
As the name suggests, this is an ‘M Performance Vehicle’ rather than the full-blooded M-car but, as we’ll see, buyers won’t find it wanting. BMW has already confirmed that there will be a showroom version of the M8 racer and, what’s more, it’ll be offered in three body styles. First up is the Coupé tested here, next will be the elegant 8 Series Convertible (see next page for full details of that new car) and later, in 2019, we’ll witness the unveiling of the 8 Series Gran Coupé; with four doors and a longer wheelbase than its siblings.
As a diesel alternative to the M8 and M850i xDrive, buyers of all body styles can instead go for the 840d xDrive at launch (vital stats: 320hp, 501lb ft, 0-62mph in 4.9 seconds, from £79,270 on-the-road), and it’s expected that there will be an entry-level petrol option badged ‘840i’– probably the only variant offered with rear-wheel-drive.
“Either side of the grille are what BMW describes as the slimmest headlights it’s ever made”
A BEAUTIFUL MACHINE
But back to the here and now, and our first look at the 8 Series in daylight. The first thing to say is that it’s a really beautifully-proportioned car, though its sporting stance isn’t always obvious in photographs. Up front there are intricately shaped vents that lend the car’s face real aggression, but the wide new design of grille sets the tone and was emphasised on our test cars with an optional black finish.
Either side of the grille are what BMW describes as the slimmest headlights it’s ever made. They use LED technology as standard, and can be upgraded to BMW Laserlight with Selective Beam. There are also 20in rims as standard (they don’t have to be black), which wear mixed-size tyres front and rear – Bridgestone Potenzas of a bespoke design for this car. Above them is a sharply-contoured and sculpted (and noticeably long) bonnet, leading to a raked windscreen. The flanks appear relatively simple though, of course, the surfacing has been carefully considered.
Speaking of surfacing, the roof of the 8 Series has a recessed centre section, giving it a unique look and, for the first time on a car that isn’t a pure M model, buyers may specify carbon fibre for the roof. In fact, our test vehicle also featured lacquered carbon door mirror caps, detailing in the front bumper, an impossibly small boot spoiler and, most impressively of all, a rear diff user insert made of the stuff , as part of the M Carbon exterior package (the M Carbon roof is a separate option). This really sets the tone for the rear view, from where you get an appreciation for the width of this car.
The huge exhaust outlets are positioned far apart, and they’re complemented by the gorgeous LED rear lights. These look highly distinctive when you see an 8 Series on the road, too, making it immediately obvious it’s a BMW, yet without it looking like every other car to wear the roundel.
No doubt the exterior design will hook buyers in, but the interior of the 8 Series needs to be just as impressive. The first thing that you’ll notice is how restrained the cabin design is. There’s nothing visually superfluous (except perhaps the optional ‘CraftedClarity’ glass gear selector, which I abhor!); just lots of clean edges, tidy shut-lines and gently curved bevels with real definition.
Notably, while some car manufacturers are attempting to reinvent the way we operate climate control, BMW has simply miniaturised the interface, cleaning up the appearance of the centre console no end, while also freeing up added storage space. The switches themselves may be small, but they’re easier to use than a touchscreen system while driving, and they are, as you’d hope, perfectly damped and a joy to operate. Indeed, the same can be said of all the controls, exuding a quietly confident quality that pervades the whole car. Start prodding and poking to test the materials out and you’ll soon find yourself caressing the mix of textures, and running your fingers over the raised stitching throughout. It’s all beautifully put together, yet it doesn’t shout about that fact at all.
PLENTY OF TECH
BMW hasn’t abandoned technology inside the 8 Series, of course. It’s the second new model to adopt the BMW Live Cockpit Professional layout as standard, after the G05 X5. As in that car, the 8 Series eschews traditional instruments in front of the driver for a 12.3in, high-resolution screen that renders the speedometer and rev counter in attractively crisp digital format.
The way the satnav map seamlessly appears intertwined with the other data presented is impressive, though it’s not always easy at a glance to work out where the instruments’ ‘needles’ are pointing. And, while the appearance changes moderately depending on driving mode, there’s very little customisation of the layout available to the driver, which seems a shame. Still, owners will probably like the fact that it starts up with a picture of an 8 Series in the correct specification and colour. Thankfully, the head-up display obviates the need to rely on the instruments for information, as it’s large, right in your line of sight and crystal-clear. While the 10.25in ‘Control Display’ in the middle of the car is a touchscreen system (running the snappy new BMW Operating System 7.0), I’m glad to hear that BMW has no intention of abandoning the rotary iDrive controller – it’s still the most effective way to navigate the seemingly endless menus and sub-menus. If you get on with voice control, BMW’s is one of the best. However, I still prefer the physical movement of the rotary. And the 8 Series has gesture control as standard, but I remain unconvinced about its real-world usefulness.
In terms of practicalities, there’s space in front of the gear lever, a large, closed bin behind that, and slim but long door pockets, plus the glovebox, of course. There’s a huge range of adjustment for the (lush) leather seats up front, and for the steering wheel (electrically adjustable as standard), so all shapes and sizes of driver will easily find a comfortable seating position.
But the news isn’t quite so good for rear seat occupants. An extravagantly raked roof and rear window mean seriously restricted headroom in the back. I’m about five-foot- nine and I couldn’t sit straight up, for example. The seat backs are uncomfortably upright, too, while knee room is tight, to say the least. Best then to regard the rear seats as extra luggage space. They do, in fairness, fold down flat to allow the carrying of longer items in the boot. That measures 420 litres, incidentally, and the opening is adequately dimensioned to make the loading of suitcases a stress-free task.
And yet, despite the fact that the 8 Series is patently a modern-day GT (in the crossing continents sense of the name), BMW is adamant that the M850i is also an exciting sports car when you want it to be. Before a wheel is turned, your hopes are raised by the mouth-watering technical specification. As standard in the M850i, there’s Integral Active Steer (four-wheel steering), M Sport brakes, Adaptive M suspension (electronically controlled damping) and an electronically-controlled M Sport differential at the back to complement the xDrive four-wheel drive. The xDrive sends all engine output to the rear wheels until more traction is needed, much like the system design pioneered by the current BMW M5. But it doesn’t come with as many manually selectable settings as in that car, although its characteristics change in line with the main driving modes to pleasing effect. Impressively, the 840d xDrive gets all this hardware too, other than the differential, which is optional.
What the 840d doesn’t get, however, is the M850i’s new twin-turbocharged V8 engine. It’s a 4.4-litre unit, which might lead you to think it’s carried over, but its components and design have been rethought from inlet to exhaust, and everything in between. I could fill these pages simply by listing what’s new but, in summary, it’s more efficient and capable of much further tuning in the future, thanks mostly to the new crankcase. In this installation, there’s 530hp and 553lb ft of torque; the latter produced from 1,800 to 4,600rpm, so it’s never, ever lacking in meaningful go.
The 0-62mph time of 3.7 seconds, eye-opening as it is, can’t convey how quickly the M850i piles on speed when already travelling apace. And the flap-controlled exhaust system makes it all too tempting to hear that V8 let rip, whenever there’s space to do so.
Sensibly, in Eco Pro and Comfort modes, the engine’s voice is relatively subdued, though always present at lower speeds, rumbling perhaps like a dangerous wild animal, caged in the middle distance so you can hear it, but never intruding on your senses.
The Sport setting is for everyday fun, ramping up the noise and immediacy of the whole car, but not to such an extent that you’ll upset the locals. Sport Plus, however, gives the car a new life; it’s seriously aggressive. Select this mode and the exhaust pops and flares ferociously on the overrun, the (recently upgraded) eight-speed Steptronic gearbox joins in with rapid-fire shifts and, when in fully automatic mode, it changes down more than feels necessary every time you back off the throttle or touch the brakes. It’s more satisfying to take control of the gear selection by using the paddles behind the steering wheel, if you’re on an interesting road or track.
While I don’t expect many buyers of the 8 Series to take their big GT on to a race circuit, no doubt some will be pleased to hear that it can more than hold its own in such surroundings. I did a handful of laps at Estoril, in Portugal, with an M5 ‘pace car’ ahead. The surface was damp (though drying) and our guide wasn’t hanging about. The M850i proved to be hugely capable in these conditions, massively stable under heavy braking and a lot of fun.
The variable ratio steering rack made it a joy to point into turns (though I do wish BMW would consider fitting thinner-rimmed steering wheels to its sporty cars) and, even with the sharper throttle response of Sport Plus mode, it was a cinch to mete out the power mid-corner and accelerate out cleanly. Even with the DSC stability control turned off, the car was balanced and secure, though this setting does allow a good deal more slip and slide, which felt more natural in this big two-door than you might expect.
Back on the road, the width of the 8 Series will be its only limitation to B-road blasts, as the chassis is a peach, mixing great bump absorption with fine control and balance. The rear-wheel-steering system is brilliantly judged to help make the car feel smaller than it is, a trick it pulls off in the tight confines of a multistorey car park as well as it does attacking hairpins on a challenging section of back road. After all, if you’re going to make a grand entrance, there’s no point having to make a three-point turn out of it, is there?
|MODEL:||840d xDrive||M850i xDrive|
|TOP SPEED (MPH):||155||155|
Either side of the grille are what BMW describes as the slimmest headlights it’s ever made. They use LED technology as standard, and can be upgraded to BMW Laserlight with Selective Beam.
Above: There’s nothing visually superfl uous in the 8 Series interior; just lots of clean edges, tidy shut-lines, gently-curved bevels and tactile surfaces. Below left: The extravagantly raked roof and rear window result in seriously restricted rear headroom. The seat backs are uncomfortably upright and knee-room is tight. It’s perhaps best to regard this as an extra luggage area. The huge exhaust outlets are positioned far apart, and they’re complemented by gorgeous LED rear lights.
The roof has a recessed centre section and, for the first time on a car that isn’t a pure M model, is available as a carbon fibre panel, as here.