2019 BMW 8 Series Coupe first drive review: Punching above its weight

Big M8 memes notwithstanding, you could certainly assume BMW's large-and-in-charge M850i Coupe might feel a little ponderous through the tight corners of Portugal's Circuito do Estoril. After all, BMW's new big boy is 16 feet long, 6 feet wide and, despite using a lightweight, aluminum- and carbon-fiber-intensive structure, tips the scales at 4,500 pounds.

Yet through the tight, uphill left-hander of Turn 9, and immediately thereafter at the hard right into Turn 10, Big M850i feels... nimble. It's balanced. It's flat. It turns in with immediacy, the grip of the front tires perfectly communicated through the steering wheel. This composure sets me up nicely for the esses of Turns 11 and 12, and then powering through the final -- and brilliantly named -- Parabolica Ayrton Senna, a roar of V8 thrust setting me up for incredible velocity down the super-long front straight.

For BMW, which hasn't exactly been living up to its whole "Ultimate Driving Machine" tagline in recent years, the new M850i Coupe is a return to form. It is a fantastic driver's car, packaged in a plush, plus-size GT wrapper.

Okay, it's not that big

The 2019 8 Series Coupe is technically the replacement for the outgoing, two-door 6 Series. And in fact, the M850i is slightly shorter in both length and height than the most recent 6 Series Coupe, though it's also a little heavier. Its design cues are also big -- the headlight housings, the enlarged kidney grille, wide hips and substantial rear diffuser. But I actually think the package is pretty elegant, especially in person. I love the low, wide stance, and the more I look at this car in profile, the more I find myself drooling over the rakish slope of the C pillar.

In the US, we'll only get the 8 Series in M850i xDrive Coupe guise for now, though Convertible, Gran Coupe and M8 variants are on the way. For the time being, every 'Murica-spec 8 Series will ride on 20-inch wheels, with staggered 245/35-series front and 275/30-series rear run-flat tires. If you want summer tires (you do), BMW will fit them to your M850i for no additional charge. The only other exterior options are dark-finish trim, which costs $350 and looks great, and a carbon fiber roof, which is cool, I guess, but adds $3,000 to your bottom line.

A number of single- and two-tone leather hues are available inside the cabin, paired with either woodgrain, metal, piano black or even fabric accents. Front-seat accommodations are plenty spacious for both driver and passenger, with ample head-, leg- and shoulder-room. The seats themselves are equal parts comfortable and supportive, and all the surrounding materials are some of BMW's best. The gear selector can be outfitted in crystal, dahling, for $650, and the buttons that surround it appear flat and flush on the console. All the controls have a satisfying action. You won't find any cheap plastics in here.

Fine leather, nice metal accents and big, bright screens highlight the 8 Series' luxurious cabin.

BMW

If the 8 Series' interior has one sore spot, it's that the rear seats are not only difficult to get in and out of, but dreadfully cramped once you're back there, even with my short-side-of-average, five-foot, seven-inch stature. The Mercedes S-Class Coupe does a lot better here -- mostly because it's several inches longer and its roofline isn't so steeply raked -- but then again, you probably didn't buy a two-door coupe counting on spacious back seats, did you?

No shortage of onboard tech

Infotainment duties are handled by BMW's latest iDrive 7 software, which feels both familiar and brand-new at the same time. The biggest visual change is that the layout is now reconfigurable, with three different pane options and a fixed row of shortcuts arranged vertically along the left side. You can touch the 10.25-inch iDrive display, but I still find myself using the rotary knob on the center console. You can also use BMW's gesture controls, though you'll look like a fancy wizard twirling your fingers and swiping your hands left and right. I find this tech to be a neat, gee-whiz trick exactly once -- after that, it all just feels silly.

After a short test of the new iDrive, I can't say it's markedly better or worse than the old interface. The high-resolution screen is colorful and bright, and the menu structure is easy to navigate. If you're coming from an iDrive 6-equipped BMW, after a day or two with iDrive 7, I imagine you'll feel right at home.

iDrive 7 offers many improvements over BMW's prior infotainment setups, though the gesture controls are still rather silly.

BMW

A robust suite of driver-assist tech is available, but most of it is bundled into the $1,700 Driving Assistance Plus package. Collision and pedestrian detection with emergency braking is the only bit of standard driver-aid tech; you have to check the aforementioned option box in order to get the stuff you'd really want, like adaptive cruise control, steering assist, lane-keeping assist, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring and BMW's Traffic Jam Assist (which is notthe new Extended version available on the 2019 X5).

Every 8 Series comes with a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, as well as a huge head-up display to project redundant (but important) information onto the windshield. The gauge display is easy to read and offers lots of configurability, though its bright red theme and edgy font choices border on being too overtly racy in appearance... though I suppose that's probably fine on a car like the M850i.

Goes like hell

After all, racy is what this car does best. Despite its heft, the M850i moves with serious chutzpah. BMW's 4.4-liter twin-turbocharged V8 provides more than enough motivation, with 523 horsepower and 553 pound-feet of torque routed to all four wheels through a super-slick, eight-speed automatic transmission. It's a combination that, according to BMW, will hustle the M850i xDrive to 60 miles per hour in just 3.6 seconds. For the record, that's half a second quicker than the most recent 552-horsepower M6 Coupe.

I did not expect the M850i to be this good while lapping Circuito do Estoril.

BMW

It's not just a straight-line assault weapon, either. The M850i makes quick work of corners, with solid communication delivered through both the steering and chassis. Yes, BMW's finally finding its steering mojo again. The 8's Sport and Sport Plus driving modes not only bringing more heft to the action of the wheel, but giving you a better sense of what's actually happening at tire level, too.

The M850i comes standard with rear-wheel steering, which really helps with its overall agility. At speeds below 45 mph, the rear wheels can turn 2.5 degrees in the opposite direction as the front wheels for improved low-speed maneuverability. But above the 45-mph threshold, the rear wheels turn the same direction, which not only helps with things like highway evasive maneuvers, but also keeps the M850i flat and stable as I toss it right for the fast Turn 5 kink at Estoril.

The xDrive all-wheel-drive system only sends power to the rear wheels under light cruising for better efficiency. But unlike the hardcore M5, the M850i doesn't have any sort of rear-wheel-only Drift Mode. (Wait for the M8.) Click the traction control once to turn it to its dynamic setting, however, and the coupe will loosen its collar enough to let you execute wonderfully controlled moments of four-wheel slide. When it's time to slow things down in a hurry, big, four-piston front brakes with aluminum calipers clamp on with impressive force, scrubbing off speed with a quickness. Carbon ceramic discs aren't available on the M850i, but again, wait for the M8.

Every M850i gets BMW's Adaptive M suspension, with electronically controlled dampers that constantly adjust compression and rebound rates at all four corners. Whether in the default Comfort setting, the adjust-as-you-go Adaptive mode, or the Sport profiles, the M850i offers a compliant and nicely controlled ride, though it tends to err on the stiffer side of things pretty much all the time. It's certainly not off-putting -- I personally really like it -- but luxury GT buyers looking for a more cosseting ride will likely prefer Mercedes' E- and S-Class Coupes.

If this is the shape of things to come from BMW, then consider my interest piqued.

BMW

Instant all-star

The 2019 BMW M850i Coupe pretty much comes to market without any direct competition. At $111,900, it's priced $12,400 below a Mercedes-Benz S560 Coupe, but again, the BMW is quite a bit smaller, and not nearly as plush. On the other hand, the E-Class Coupe, specifically the new Mercedes-AMG E53, offers a more size-appropriate comparison. But while the Benz starts at $74,695, it's significantly less powerful and, again, tuned with a more comfort-oriented approach.

Instead, the M850i's biggest threat is perhaps Porsche. After all, a 911 Carrera 4S starts at $112,000. No, it doesn't come with nearly the same level of standard equipment as the M850i (that's every Porsche, though), and it's both slower and less powerful. But there's definitely something to be said for the all-around excellent 911 package.

Nevertheless, that the 8 Series is this good is a boon for BMW in a number of ways. It's a far better sports coupe than the 6 Series ever was while offering enough luxury and tech to fulfill the mission of a proper grand tourer. Plus, it's a return to form for BMW, proving the German automaker still remembers how to build top-notch drivers' cars. Make more like this, BMW. And bring on the M8.


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