Luxury car brands have a hard time distinguishing themselves today. That’s because ordinary autos are growing more luxurious, acquiring more of the frills, finery and advanced technology that once set luxury cars above mass-market models – and helped justify their higher prices.
The latest response to luxury’s upward creep from the premier luxury brand BMW is to move so far up market with a new model that it can’t possibly be compared to more commonplace cars.
The 2019 M850i xDrive coupe, which reached BMW dealers at the tail end of 2018, stands above other cars in every category you can think of. The new model is the first arrival of a whole new line of 8 Series cars. They replace the auto maker’s 6 Series vehicles in the United States. Their number designation of “8” places the arriving family of BMWs at the top of the company’s passenger-car offerings – except for a few ultra-performance dream cars it sells in small numbers.
The 2019 M850i xDrive coupe, a two-door hardtop, was joined this spring by a convertible body style. Last week BMW announced that coupe and convertible racing variants are due in July. They will be badged the M8, and ride at the top of the Germany-based company’s M-brand of cars made to race. It will sell both street versions and, for a $13,000 mark-up, competition versions of the M8 coupe and convertible.
Auto-industry observers expect to eventually see other 8 Series variations, perhaps with smaller, less powerful engines and correspondingly scaled-down prices. But so far BMW hasn’t announced future plans.
Kicking it all off, the M850i xDrive coupe is a powerfully expressive, high-velocity, two-door grand-touring car, built in the tradition of autos meant to travel fast, coddle comfortably, and arrive with impeccable style. Appearance, performance, appointments, allure and panache advance so far in this new BMW that it vaults above every excessively dressed auto sold by work-a-day brands like Chevy, Ford, Honda, Hyundai and Toyota.
Of course, the new BMW’s abundances also include its price. The M850i xDrive coupe lists at an unmistakably elevated $112,895 before options. The convertible version adds $9,500. When they arrive in July, the M8 variations will range between $133,995 for a street-legal coupe, and $156,495 for a competition-tuned convertible.
Its price is an essential part of the new model’s message. Today some people are paying $75,000 for a Ford F-150 pickup truck in the Limited trim level with four-wheel drive with a bed liner and a box cover. With the M850i, BMW seems to be saying, if you think that’s luxurious, just have a look at this.
It takes only a look to discern the model’s elevated status. Low-slung, gracefully elongated, yet powerfully planted, the 8 Series coupe is shaped like an organic waveform, due especially to the long and longitudinally sweeping undulation of its cabin-top.
That cabin is a collection of top-grade materials like serious leather seat upholstery arrayed artfully in black and brown panels, accented by raised seams and contrasting stitching, alongside useful accessories like a wireless smartphone charging pad and Wi-Fi hub, amid abundant entertainment and information services delivered through a 16-speaker Harman Kardon audio setup operated by a big interactive center screen.
As the “xDrive” extension to their model names indicates, current versions of the 8 Series come with all-wheel drive. In addition, the new models feature four-wheel steering. They have computer controlled adaptive suspensions that respond automatically to road conditions to provide maximum comfort and enhanced control. Their specially designed high-speed tires ride on big, 20-inch lightweight aluminum wheels finished in a glossy metallic gray. The fast-acting disk brakes visible through wheel spokes have bright rotors the size of pizza platters. Naturally the new 8 Series contains all the advanced automatic driving aids so far created.
With BMW’s orientation toward engaged and energetic driving, power and performance are headline features of the M850i. Both coupe and convertible use a twin-turbocharged eight-cylinder engine and crisply shifting eight-speed automatic transmission. The engine’s 523 horsepower and 553 foot pounds of torque launch the M850i from zero to 60 miles per hour in 3.6 seconds, according to BMW’s figures. Independent testers have clocked its zero-to-60 time as 3.3 seconds, and timed a quarter-mile run at just over 11 seconds. The M850i’s top speed is electronically limited to 155 mpg.
Such capabilities present a problem if you happen to be evaluating one during the course of your ordinary driving, as I did. Where do you go to fully utilize the power that propels a car to 60 mph in the span of three heart beats?
I asked Oleg Satanovsky, a spokesperson for BMW USA, if owners of the 8 Series might also feel frustrated because they can’t use their car’s full capabilities in daily driving. He replied that many join the BMW Car Club of America (BMW CCA) as a remedy. Members participate in the group’s track days, driving schools, auto-cross challenges and similar events that enable them to operate their BMWs at extreme levels.
“They are actually celebrating their 50th anniversary this year,” Satanovsky noted. “Back in 1969 a few die-hard BMW owners decided to get together and start a support group. Fifty years later, the BMW CCA has over 70,000 members” across the country.
Even when you can’t fully utilize the car’s racing capabilities, the M850i still gives you heaps of luxury during everyday travel. It’s set up to be sufficiently useful, with fold-down rear seat backs that create an opening to the trunk, substantially expanding the auto’s cargo capacity. Passenger entry to the back seats is made easier by a motorized mechanism that automatically slides the front seats forward and somewhat out of the way.
Of course, when the front seats return to their driving position, leg room for the two riders in back ranges from miniscule to non-existent. Still, I found the back seat useful for the sort of in-a-pinch purpose that it’s intended. To drive two children home from school, I swung their tot seats into the back and was pleased to learn that the six- and eight-year-old had sufficient space.
They enjoyed high-style motoring in the M850i xDrive coupe as much as I did.
Jeffrey Zygmont is an author of fiction, non-fiction and poetry books, and a long-time auto writer. Contact him at www.jeffreyzygmont.com.
2019 BMW M850i xDrive
Vehicle type: 2-door, 4-passenger, all-wheel-drive luxury coupe and convertible
Starting price: $112,895
Engine: 4.4-liter twin turbocharged V8
Power: 523 horsepower at 5,500 rpm; 553 lb.-ft. torque at 1,800 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 18 mpg city; 25 mpg highway
Wheelbase: 111 inches
Length: 191 inches
Width: 75 inches
Height: 53 inches
Weight: 4,478 pounds
Turning Circle: 39.0 feet
Fuel capacity: 18.0 gallons