I must admit, prior to my time at BMW’s Test Fest, I had yet to actually drive the new M850i. It was the one BMW that kept eluding me. Yet as I walked onto The Thermal Club’s South Track, a Barcelona Blue BMW M850i was there for the taking. Yum.
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Prior to driving it, I’d heard quite a bit about it from colleagues, fellow journalists and even people inside BMW. Some felt it was a great sports car but there were a lot that felt it was more of a comfy GT and lacked the goods to be a proper driver’s car. Due to conflicting reports, I didn’t know what to expect before I set off on the track. Which might have been for the best, if I’m honest. Not knowing what to expect allowed me to drive it with an open mind.
So I got in, set up my seat and took in the gorgeously trimmed cabin. The 8er’s interior has taken some flak in the media for not being the prettiest or most exciting interior in the segment, especially at its price point. However, it looks good and it feels great, with superb materials throughout and rock-solid build quality. While it’s not as flashy inside as something like a Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe, I’d reckon its quality is right up there with it, if not better. It’s a lovely place to spend time. It’s also very driver-oriented, which was encouraging from the get-go.
After getting acquainted with the interior of the BMW M850i, I pressed the starter button and fired up its 4.4 liter twin-turbo V8. It starts with a bark and settles into a deep burble. Despite its grand-touring nature, the BMW M850i sounds like a sports car. It’s deep and raspy, giving it a more aggressive sound than its looks would suggest. So far so good.
The instructor ahead of me signaled it was time to head out onto the track, so I followed behind and we waited at the back straight for another convoy of cars to pass and put some distance between us. I was a bit nervous, it must be said, as it was the first time I was driving the BMW M850i. It was also my first run of the day, so it was my first time at Thermal in a year and I still needed to be reacquainted with the track.
When the instructor took off, though, my apprehension was thrown to the wind and it was time to put the hammer down. And the BMW M850i can move.
The M850i makes a hefty 523 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque, far more than enough to make you forget the desire for an M8. The shove is immediate and not like that of a car that weighs over two tons. It’s supercar quick, nailing 0-60 mph in a claimed 3.6 seconds. The thrust is relentless, as the ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic clicks off gear changes with almost dual-clutch speed, allowing the engine to ride a seemingly endless wave of torque. All with the blaring V8 soundtrack in the background. Fake as the noise might be, it sounds good so who cares.
While the V8 in the M850i might not be a proper M Division engine, it’s fantastic. It pulls hard in any gear at any rpm, makes a great noise and is silky smooth, as if it’s running on double cream. The real-deal BMW M8 will make more power and likely be more charismatic but there aren’t any complaints about this one, just a brilliant motor.
It’s no hot-rod, though. While there are a lot of enthusiasts that feel the M850i is just a comfy straight-line bruiser, I’d disagree. It may not be a proper M Division product but it certainly relishes a corner. Or ten. Turn in is sharp, much sharper than I’d anticipated. The front end has incredible grip and feels very accurate.
While the steering isn’t the last word in feel or feedback, its weighting is excellent and it feels very progressive. On-center feel is stable at high speed, with enough of a dead spot to stop it from feeling twitchy while cruising at triple-digits on the Autobahn, but not so much to make it feel sloppy. As you add steering lock, though, the ratio speeds up and it becomes much sharper and the progression is linear and confidence-inspiring. So while it’s just a sporty grand tourer, it’s much better on track than people might think and my confidence grew in it lap after lap, allowing me to lean on the car more and more. By the last one or two laps, I was having a blast and really enjoying the M850i.
Chassis feel is superb as well. It’s balanced and neutral, with just a whiff of oversteer from its rear-biased all-wheel drive system and little to no understeer. Despite being all-wheel drive, it’s throttle-adjustable in MDM mode, as the xDrive system will allow for a bit of oversteer before reeling it back in. But through corners, it feels balanced and rear-driven. There’s a bit of body roll — it is more of a GT car after all — but it’s not bad and it feels appropriate in such a car. While I didn’t get the chance to drive it on the road, it’s easy to see that its suspension is set up to be comfortable on the road, as well as fast on a track. We’ll have to do a proper road test with it to find out what it’s like on the road.
Just from a few laps on track, it was immediately clear that the BMW M850i is a superb car. My time was admittedly limited but it was enough to learn that the M850i is a great driver’s car. While it’s not the sharpest of track tools, it’s very fun when pushed to its (my) limits, yet it’s also comfortable on the road, packed with tech, extremely luxurious and bite-the-back-of-your-hand good looking. As a sporty grand touring car, the sort of car you want to cross continents in, I can’t think of another car without a Bentley or Aston Martin badge I’d rather drive more.
The best part? This isn’t even the BMW M8 yet. This is just the M-lite version, the slightly watered down version. If the diet version is already this good, I can only imagine what the full-flavor M8 will be like. It won’t be as comfortable but, if the new M5 is anything to go by, it will be more than comfortable enough. Plus, it looks even better. Wink, wink.