• BMW’s new M850i revives the 8 Series nameplate, last seen two decades ago
  • The “8” nomenclature denotes BMW's series topper
  • M850i coupe and convertible are on sale now
  • Priced from $112,895 for coupe, $122,395 for convertible, plus $995 delivery

BMW’s model lineup has seen a proliferation of virtually every niche-filling vehicle the Bavarian brand could muster, leading many to argue that the brand’s stream of SUV variants have strayed far from the brand’s ethos of building ultimate driving machines.

Though large and luxurious, the new 2019 BMW 8 Series coupe reflects a return of the brand’s core values that put the driver, not passengers or cargo capacity, at the forefront. The driver-centric focus comes not only because the rear seats are virtually unusable for all but the smallest of kids, but because a racecar version of the coupe, the M8 GTE, was released before the road car for the first time in BMW history.

Mean looks

One of the prime motivators in the rarified high-end coupe market is style, and the 2019 BMW M850i largely doesn’t disappoint in this area. Its low, purposeful stance hunkers down to the road with a husky presence. Though some have observed a similarity between the 850’s haunches and the Ford Mustang’s rear quarters, the BMW’s predominant look is potent, with the exception of some false vents behind the front wheels and extractors behind the rears. These non-functioning features are minor disappointments in an otherwise cohesive, compelling visual package. Perhaps more importantly, the new 8 Series offers refreshing counterpoint to the brand’s taller-profile crossover SUVs.

But the sacrifice of the sleek package comes mostly in the area of functionality, particularly in the rear seats. I’m 5’11” and manage to sit “behind myself” in the driver seat with my legs straight, but my head was tilted at an angle that would have made it all but impossible to sustain for any measure of time. At least the rear seats have a 50/50 split that enables the 14.8-cubic-foot trunk to open up to the cabin.

The cabin echoes the exterior, with a design language that feels typically BMW -- that is, purposeful and minimalist, though with a few more luxurious touches and high-quality materials than you’ll find in lesser Bimmers. Multiple multimedia menu layers are managed via a 10.25-inch touch screen, which can also be negotiated via BMW’s much-improved iDrive system. Choose available features options like the Swarovski crystal shifter or Individual Composition (which opens up a palette of interior trims like black ash wood and iridescent exterior paint colors), and the 8 Series takes on a slightly more ornate persona.

Modern mechanical motivation from V8 power

The BMW M850i is powered by a twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 that produces a considerable 523 horsepower and 553 lb-ft of torque. Married to an 8-speed automatic transmission, the powerplant can punch the coupe to 60 mph in only 3.6 seconds. Much of that remarkable time comes from the fact that the 2019 BMW 8 Series, like other high-performance German offerings such as Mercedes-Benz’s AMG and Audi’s Audi Sport division, bundles the powerplant with an all-wheel-drive arrangement that launches the 4,478-pound car forward with surefooted grip. The system favors a predominately rear-wheel-drive bias, helping avoid the dreaded understeer tendency that plagues most all-wheel drive performance cars.

Also aiding handling is active roll stabilization that changes the position and stiffness of the rollbars, and 4-wheel steering, which turns the rear wheels against the direction of the front wheels in order to help rotate the car at speeds below 45 mph. The rear wheels turn in tandem with the fronts above 45 mph to maximize high-speed stability.

Also: Get your first look at the new and redesigned cars of 2019

Better (performance) living through electronics

Though sports car purists might scoff at the BMW 8 Series' large footprint and considerable 2-plus-ton curb weight, enthusiasts might be surprised to find that the big Bimmer coupe comports itself rather efficiently and effectively at speed. Lapping sessions at the Estoril circuit in Portugal revealed a surprising ability to devour corners, thanks in part to the sophisticated active suspension, 4-wheel steering, and electronic differentials which route power to the appropriate wheels in order to maximize grip and acceleration. Though it might not be able to keep up in corners with smaller, lighter performance benchmarks like the Porsche 911 or Aston Martin V8 Vantage -- some of which are a staggering 1,000 pounds or so lighter -- the M850i counterpunches with active electronics which help it fight the laws of physics, a rock-solid chassis, and copious power which, along with a smooth-shifting transmission, help it cover large expanses of tarmac quite quickly.

On the road, the M850i rides with relative smoothness and quiet, coming across as an adaptable, comfortable high-speed cruiser. The expected technological bells and whistles are available, including an optional Driving Assistant Professional package which can use adaptive cruise control that monitors traffic ahead, bringing the car to a full stop for up to 30 seconds before automatically accelerating again.

But wait, there's more! Check out the 2020 BMW M8!


Top-down motoring

Even though the 8 Series has existed (on and off) since 1989, the 2019 model is the first that’s available as a convertible. Opting for the soft-top version of the 2019 BMW M850i xDrive convertible takes away very little from the 8 Series’ performance. The convertible weighs only about 275 pounds more than the coupe, as the convertible has a stiff structure and added underbody bracing. There are also special safety features in the cabin, such as a different type of steel in the A-pillars and rollover bars behind the rear seats, which would extend by a pyrotechnic charge in case of an accident. 

Zero-to-60 times drop only 0.3 second from those in the coupe, or 3.9 seconds to 60 mph in the convertible as opposed to the coupe’s 3.6. This BMW is not lightweight by any means, but it’s quite fast and a pleasure to drive. The convertible’s stance is low and wide, like that of its hardtop sibling, and the M850i xDrive is confident and grippy on curving roads. Straight-line drives are smooth, the suspension offering a good balance between compliance and response. The growling 523-horsepower twin-turbo V8 engine’s response is quick and mighty, and the 8-speed automatic transmission does a terrific job of managing the engine’s power.

Convertible cabin comfort

With the convertible, a wind deflector comes standard and optional neck warmers, designed into the front head restraints, are optional. The interior of the 4-passenger convertible benefits from the same level of luxury as the coupe, with features like Merino leather, digital displays, Harman Kardon audio, and driving modes ranging from comfort to sport. A Bowers & Wilkins Diamond 3D surround sound system is optional. 

The power seats are heated and cooled, and offer excellent support when cornering, yet that doesn’t detract from highway comfort. Rear-seat legroom isn’t as generous as it is up front, but passengers can sit there without much issue. When there are only two people aboard, the rear seats have a 50/50 split, making it easier to stow larger cargo. With the top up, you can carry almost 12.4 cubic feet of gear, compared to the coupe’s 14.8 cubic-foot trunk.

If you are willing to get to speed a hair slower, the payoff is that tactile bliss of feeling more connected to your surroundings, and it only takes 15 seconds for the push-button operated power top to come down and stow away under a stitched, textured cover. And, the 8 Series convertible looks good whether the top is up or down.

Living in an unlikely niche

For all of its enticing premium qualities, the new BMW 8 Series enters a curiously low-volume niche in the market. While nimbler, more agile sports cars deliver performance that’s more unrelenting (like Mercedes-Benz AMG GT and the aforementioned Porsche 911), pricier competitors from Aston Martin and Bentley offer flashier, plusher luxury. The Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe is closer in terms of its big coupe layout, though it offers more upscale interior appointments and a more seamless and insulated driving experience.

2019 Car Reviews: First takes on new models

Starting at $112,895 and $122,395 plus $995 respectively for the coupe and convertible, the 2019 BMW 8 Series upholds the brand’s recent return to a driver-focused approach that prioritizes handling, responsiveness and power. On those merits alone, the M850i and the upcoming, more aggressively tuned M8, should attract an enthusiastic base of loyalists.

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