The 2020 BMW M850i xDrive: Big, Fast, Good

Budget Bentley, anyone?

As waves of crossovers, electric hyper-SUVs, and $70,000 trucks crash around us, it\'s comforting to know the classic big-booty luxury coupe still has a place on dealer lots. While every conceivable vehicle segment scrambles to hybridize, electrify, and lop off as many cylinders as they can, the V-8 (and sometimes V-12) super-coupe still rules the top of the mainstream luxury food chain. These aren\'t antiquated, unchanged holdovers from a different era, either; a large contingent of high-end automakers actively support a rotating roster of big-body, big-engined grand tourers that, by all environmental and sociological standards, should no longer exist.

The 2020 BMW M850i I had for a spell is a prime example of the breed. In the same time frame when BMW announced the discontinuation of its three-cylinder hybrid i8 eco super-sports car, the German automaker doubles down on eight-cylinder power with six distinct V-8 variants of the big, thirsty 8 Series. That\'s not even including the ten other V-8 (and one V-12) trims distributed across the BMW family.

Don\'t mistake this observation as disapproval; I give any big, power-mad, tech-laden super-cruiser a hearty, gasoline-soaked thumbs-up. Cars like the M850i are what got me into this passion to begin with, and the brief weekend with the Bimmer reaffirmed my preference for the two doors, shouty soundtrack, and straight-line speed more common to juiced-up muscle cars.

Of the myriad grand tourers, personal luxury coupes (PLCs)—whatever you want to call them—clogging the streets of Miami and Newport Beach, the M850i is one of the better ways to slice $112,895-plus from your savings. Following BMW\'s longstanding model nomenclature, the 8 Series is conceptually the coupe version of the flagship 7 Series, though it\'s not much more related to the 7 than it is to the rest of the BMW lineup. With the exception of the FWD-based models, all sedans, coupes, and SUVs incorporate the automaker\'s CLAR modular architecture, so the 8 Series is at once part of the collective and an island unto itself.

As the numerical king of the hill, the M850i wields the full force of Munich's technological and design resources, and it shows. For all the brash, overwrought shapes on the BMW family tree, the 8 Series is surprisingly one of the subtler profiles, wearing elegant, flowing lines from stem to stern. Like all pricey PLCs worth their six figures, there's visual heft to the M850i, especially wearing my tester's arresting shade of Sunset Orange Metallic, though it's deceptively compact by segment standards. Compared to the recently discontinued 6 Series, the M850i is shorter both in overall length and in wheelbase, only outsizing the 6 Series in width.

If Mercedes' interiors are the most opulent of the three German titans, and Audi's the most modernist, BMW's cockpits are masterstrokes in applied material sciences. It's a cacophony of metal, leather, plastic, crystal, carbon fiber, and Alcantara all formed and fitted in a way you wouldn't think possible on a mass-produced vehicle. A textured aluminum trim with a pseudo-herringbone motif covers most of the center console, broken by glossy plastic buttons encapsulated by a thin sculptural frame hewn from frosted metal. In the center of all this, a small gear lever with a cut crystal topper stands next to a flat crystal start button, replete with a multifaceted interior cut that refracts the 'Start Engine Stop' script into a funhouse mirror effect. Elsewhere, thin strips of the aforementioned frosted aluminum and signature BMW soft-touch plastic meet at odd angles with needlepoint precision, while ultra-sharp infotainment display screens and digital gauges wear clean, cyber-hipster typeface and futuristic graphic designs that look like light painting. All at once, it's modern, busy, beautiful, and bizarre.

Clicking that crystal start button prods the 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8 to life with a snort. Despite playing third fiddle to the bad-boy M8 and the badder-boy M8 Competition, the N63 V-8 in the M850i still packs a whopping 523 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque—the same tire-sublimating torque figure possessed by both versions of the M8. The M850i can only be had with BMW's xDrive AWD system and ubiquitous eight-speed ZF-sourced automatic transmission, so off-the-line traction and acceleration is violent for something not considered a pureblooded M product. A full-throttle launch rewards a 0-60 mph scamper in 3.6 seconds, or so says BMW; forward thrust is so meaty, the limited 155-mph top speed feels obtainable on an entrance ramp. Probably not, but I struggle to think of another car with such a disparate power-to-Vmax ratio.

In the most aggressive drive settings, that V-8 is deliciously raucous, especially for a German. Most German V-8s emit an even, mechanical grumble sometimes lacking in character and tonality, but not the M850i's. It's a rich, staccato soundtrack, and it sounds like BMW took a few pointers from the Americans, especially at full throttle. Dynamically, I didn't do much more than roar around packed beach streets in Los Angeles, but it feels every iota like the effortless mile-muncher it's designed to be. Similar to our former Four Seasons BMW M550i, the steering is a bit overboosted and numb, but four-wheel steering makes for quick and very precise cornering—even if it's just around your neighborhood.

It's a booming, leather-lined cocoon purpose-built for crushing long distances and/or making a dramatic entrance at the ritziest brunch spot in town. As it should be, with a starting price tag of $112,895 that quickly climbs to the high $120,000s with just a handful of options. Here's some high praise: This is an excellent 'budget' alternative to the almighty Bentley Continental GT. The BMW doesn't have a fraction of the Bentley's panache, nor are Bentley customers often in the position to have to scrimp and save, but if I just had a bad quarter at the hedge fund and had to slide into the M850i, I don't think I'd be disappointed in the slightest.


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