• BMW’s new M850i revives the 8 Series nameplate, last seen two decades ago
  • The “8” nomenclature denotes the Bavarian brand’s premium, sporty offerings
  • Expect convertible, Gran Coupe and M8 versions next year
  • The M850i coupe arrives in showrooms in Fall, 2018
  • Starting price is $112,895

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.

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.

Arriving later this year and starting at $112,895, 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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