2020 BMW M850i Coupe review: A blunt object with smooth edges
Earlier this year, I took the BMW M8 Competition for a spin, and while I was impressed with its corner-carving prowess, I found it entirely too much car for most situations, and it sacrificed many of its grand-touring credentials in favor of outright performance. Now, after a week with the still-plenty-potent 2020 M850i, it's clear that BMW's big-body coupe can be a proper GT, even if some parts of the experience aren't fully realized.
Like a reverse Tardis
While the 8 Series is considered BMW's flagship coupe, its exterior design is surprisingly restrained. Sure, my tester gussies things up with an utterly perfect $5,500 Wildberry Metallic paint job and a $4,100 M Carbon Exterior Package that adds useless carbon fiber to various corners, but the overall aesthetics are on the sedate side, with just a few sharp edges fore and aft and a whole bunch of smoothness between those points. It's a good look that won't leave you talking about the car to every passerby -- unless, of course, you get yours in techno-purple.
I said this of the M8 Competition, and I'll say it again: The 8 Series is big. This coupe does a great job of swallowing up every available inch of asphalt between the yellow lines. While that's good in the sense that it feels like you get your money's worth of car, there are some obvious downsides. Even with 360 degrees of parking sensors, the leading edge is mighty susceptible to parking berms, and parallel parking attempts leave me wondering if I've lost the ability to judge what cars can fit in what spaces. If someone on the highway errs too close to the dashed lines, I find myself sweating a bit more than usual.
The interior, by comparison, feels much smaller than the car to which it's attached. When I slide into the driver's seat -- and I do mean slide, since the M850i is somewhat low -- things are a little cramped. The center tunnel creeps pretty high, and the beltline isn't ideal for arm-out-the-window jaunts either, leading to a slight sense of claustrophobia. That feeling is magnified in the back, which possesses seats and headroom in name only; unless your third passenger is a dog, a baby or a grocery bag, you may want to spring for the four-door Gran Coupe if more than two people have somewhere to go.
While it might feel constricted, BMW's interior design is great. Extended Merino leather is standard, so nearly every single touch point is smooth and well cushioned, and the seats provide both ample comfort and support on longer trips. The climate control and radio buttons are prominent and easy to reach without distraction, but the wireless charging pad is tucked away behind the cup holders, which can be tricky if you bring drinks. Storage is… fine, I guess, with a sizable trunk but diminutive door pockets and an equally tight center armrest cubby. Just throw your old receipts onto the back seats; at least they'll be useful for something then.
Both cruiser and cruise missile
The BMW M850i does a good job of splitting the difference between the outright GT nature of the 840i and the bonkers capability of the M8 Competition. The standard adaptive suspension provides actual comfort in sizable doses, soaking up most every bit of road nastiness and replacing it with steady cruising. Road noise is far lower than the M8, lending to a more serene experience on long hauls. The Michelin Pilot Sport 3 run-flat tires (245/35 front, 275/30 rear) that wrap around 20-inch wheels are thin, but they don't confer much harshness, nor do they generate the utter cacophony that the stickier rubber on the M8 Competition does, yet they are still plenty grippy when the going gets lateral.
Make no mistake, there is still plenty of power on tap. The M850i packs a 4.4-liter, twin-turbocharged V8 that makes 523 horsepower and 553 pound-feet of torque. That torque feels like it's available as often as an EV's twist, with nearly every press of the pedal eliciting a hefty push forward with few, if any, required gear changes. If I need to shoot a gap on the highway? By the time I think about it, it's already over -- and I'm already over the speed limit, to boot. Like the M8, the M850i's powerplant gives me more motive force than I can reliably use in 99% of real-life situations, which makes the aurally pleasing exhaust note a problem, as listening to it for too long will end up with Smokey blazing a path to my back bumper.
The M850i's modes are a bit more complex than the M8, which offers up a single screen letting me customize key parts of the driving experience piecemeal. On the middle child here, there are default modes like Comfort and Sport, with an Individual mode letting me use any base setting as a platform for a slightly more tailored experience. Honestly, leaving everything in Comfort still makes for a thrilling back-road blaster, with a bit more room for minute throttle adjustments, and it's my preferred way to drive the M850i, but Sport will sharpen things sufficiently for those who prefer a touchier gas pedal. No matter the mode, the electromechanical steering has a permanent dose of Novocain in its system, its numbness detracting from the driving experience. It's still agile, but I don't receive the feeling that I want compared with, say, a 911.
Fuel economy, if you care about it at this price, isn't great, but it's better than the M8 Competition. The EPA estimates 18 miles per gallon city and 25 mpg highway, improvements of about 4 a pop over the sharper-edged car, and those numbers are thankfully easy enough to achieve -- provided you can ignore the siren song of constant low-end torque.
All in the family
Anyone familiar with the in-car technology in most other modern BMWs won't find anything out of the ordinary on the M850i. The 10.2-inch touchscreen on the dashboard runs the latest iteration of BMW's iDrive system, which is responsive and can be worked via the touchscreen or the physical dial on the center console. A home screen offers quick glances at the most important bits, but you can override that with Apple CarPlay and, pending an over-the-air software update, Android Auto (finally). It's not perfect by any stretch; some options are hidden several menus deep, and not all of them are located sensibly, but in time iDrive becomes muscle memory. The M850i also packs BMW's gesture control, which is a distracting gimmick that usually results in unwanted song skips or volume changes if you're a hand-talker. In addition to the wireless charger ahead of the cup holders, there's also a USB-A port up there, with a USB-C port in the center armrest cubby for faster juicing.
In addition to the iDrive screen, there's also a 12.3-inch display acting as a gauge cluster. It looks sufficiently futuristic, but it's not my favorite. The permanent map is only truly usable when turn-by-turn navigation is enabled, because it doesn't display street names, and the right half of the cluster offers up just a few different pieces of information to display, so it's not as feature-dense as it might appear.
Safety systems abound, provided there's coin to go around. Automatic emergency braking is standard, but the good stuff like BMW's Active Driving Assistant Pro, which will let you enjoy limited amount of hands-off time during low-speed (sub-37-mph) commutes in traffic, is hidden behind options: $1,100 adds parking assist, a surround-view camera, lane-departure warning and active blind-spot monitoring, while the full shebang also requires an $1,700 package on top of that. It's a great system at any speed, holding the lane without unwanted movement, and the LED lights in the steering wheel make it very obvious when a driver's full attention is warranted.
How I'd spec it
My tester's $112,895 starting price balloons to $131,995 after a few options, but I don't want pointless frippery like carbon fiber trim inside and out. My ideal M850i rocks the same $5,500 paint job, but I'd swap to a no-charge wood trim inside while skipping over other aesthetic doodads like my tester's $3,000 carbon roof. Adding the $3,400 Bowers & Wilkins premium sound system would be my sole splurge, halting the window sticker at a more palatable $121,795.
Down to brass tacks
The 2020 BMW M850i is smack-dab in the middle of a ton of competition. If you want something a bit more lithe, the Porsche 911 is the default go-to, and the Mercedes-AMG GT offers decent comfort in an even more constricting wrapper. The Mercedes S-Class Coupe errs more on the luxurious side, as does the Lexus LC , which is more like a rolling art exhibit than anything else. You could opt for the Maserati GranTurismo, I suppose, if you want a drop-dead gorgeous car that's otherwise utterly outclassed by every other name mentioned.
There's nothing wrong with wanting the best of both worlds, which is what the BMW M850i embodies. It's not as insane as the M8 Competition, but it's not as focused on serenity as the 840i. The result is a capable sports coupe that has no problem stretching its legs and getting comfortable for long road trips.