Pronounce it quickly, and you can easily confuse BMW with B&W. So there’s a certain synergy when BMW’s flagship M850i xDrive coupe is equipped with the Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Sound System, the flagship of the three car hi-fi systems on offer.
Car enthusiasts old enough to have a poster of the original 1990 E31 8 Series on their bedroom wall will remember that it was one of the first models BMW designed using computers, and this distinctive coupe with a shark nose and pop-up headlights still has cult appeal today.
The 850CSi was also the first road car with a V12 engine to be offered with a six-speed manual transmission, the first BMW to feature an electronically controlled drive-by-wire throttle, and the third BMW to be equipped with a multi-link rear suspension, which was first used in small-scale production on the Z1 roadster. In Europe, all 850CSi models were equipped as standard with a computer-controlled electrohydraulic all-wheel steering system called AHK (Active Rear Axle Kinematics).
Fewer cylinders, more power
In 2023, we had the opportunity to spend a few days with the current flagship M850i xDrive (G15), which features all-wheel drive, rear-wheel steering and 530 Bavarian horses fed and watered by a 4,395 cc twin-turbo V8.
On the one hand, it’s hard to imagine how BMW plans to improve sales of this big GT coupe and its sister G14 convertible and G16 four-door Gran Coupe models against the backdrop of a shrinking market that heralded the demise of both the 6 Series predecessor and the Mercedes S-Class coupe and convertible. On the other hand, BMW’s management has clearly devoted its resources to upgrading the second-generation 8 Series in terms of status and price, equipping it with even more high-tech gadgets than its 6 Series predecessor.
Sporty down to the smallest fiber
When you open the door, you’ll see “Carbon Core” lettering on the brushed stainless steel door sill plates. This is a subtle nod to the lightweight, high-strength steel, aluminum, magnesium and carbon-fiber-reinforced polymer body construction developed in collaboration with the BMW M8 GTE FIA endurance race car.
Our test car was equipped with the M Sport Styling Kit, which gives the elegant basic shape a more aggressive look. It is likely that a high percentage of buyers will tick this box, and there is no denying that this, along with the large 20-inch alloy wheels, gives the car a purposeful look.
The latest version of BMW’s N63 4.4-liter V8 engine is a further development of the engine used in the previous 6 Series and relies on the arrangement of the two turbochargers in the V-engine in the so-called “hot side inside” configuration. Better known as a “hot V,” this design not only shortens the intake path for better throttle response, but also brings the hottest components to the top to improve heat dissipation in the engine compartment.
With a bore and stroke of 89.0 x 88.3 mm, this nearly square 32-valve V8 is a free-revving beast that produces a whopping 530 hp at 5,500 rpm and offers a massive 750 Nm of torque that peaks at 1,800 hp.
The eight closely spaced gears of the sequential ZF automatic transmission transfer this power efficiently to all four wheels and do their job with great speed and smoothness. Unless you insist on pushing the right pedal to the carpet in Sport or Sport Plus mode. In this case, you’ll feel a dull thump with every gear change, while passing 100 km/h in just 3.7 seconds and reaching the electronically limited top speed of 250 km/h.
Weighing in at 1,984 kg, the BMW coupe is no lightweight, and whatever the marketing people may tout in their glossy brochures, in reality it’s more of a sporty GT than a sports car.
Protection of privacy
When you sit in the driver’s seat and close the heavy door, you get the impression that the car is solidly built. In an instant, the world outside seems to be hermetically sealed off, and you experience a quiet and private moment while while drinking in the leather-upholstered cabin before pressing the start button.
The front seats are very comfortable, and the steering wheel, adjustable in reach and tilt, makes it easy to find the perfect driving position. However, the rear seats are rather poor due to the lack of legroom and headroom, so while BMW bills it as a four-seater, it’s really a 2+2.
And now for a major brickbat. Once the paradigm for clean analog design in the auto industry, BMW’s instrument cluster design has evolved into a digital mishmash of coloured flashing lights and a speedometer and tachometer whose displays converge in a way that is counterintuitive to the human brain. Being a fully digital dashboard, it lacks the programmed versatility of the Audi or Mercedes equivalents to highlight different modes.
Stiff but supple
On the road, the experienced driver will immediately notice the impressive rigidity of the body. Good torsional stiffness is the cornerstone for good handling and ride. This then allows suspension engineers to tone down secondary handling in favour of comfort, while at the other end of the spectrum they achieve better control of the body at high speeds.
The drive mode selector on the large center display allows the driver to decouple the engine and transmission from active damping in Sport mode, so you can benefit from crisper throttle response while still maintaining an unyieldingly stiff ride. After some experimentation, this was the combination I entered into the individual settings for the rest of my test drive.
The M850i xDrive coupe is a sporty car, but not a sports car and by no means offers a sedan ride. But despite the 8.0J x 20-inch wheels with 245/35ZR20 low-profile rubber, its behavior on mixed roads is always comfortable, well-controlled and appropriate for a car that can easily cover 1,000 highway miles in a day.
Sportiness with style
On more demanding, winding country roads, it becomes apparent that the rear-axle steering wonderfully supports the agility of this large coupe and lets it glide through the curves like a smaller car. Plenty of power, close-ratio gear ratios and an abundance of horsepower and torque also help, and once you get into a rhythm, you can set a blistering pace off-road.
Mechanical grip is impressive and on a dry road you will run out of nerve before you run out of purchase on the tarmac. On the downside, the electric power steering is artificially weighted to be heavier in Sport and Sport Plus modes, and always feels rather synthetic.
The bi-turbo V8 has two sides to its character. There is plenty of torque on tap to waft along when you are not in a hurry, which is the relaxing side of the deal. When you want to get a real move on and push the throttle to the carpet in Sport mode the two turbos rapidly spool up and throw you down the road with determination, accompanied by the deep, throaty NASCAR grade growl that only a V8 engine can generate.
From B&O to B&W
And so to the other sound generating device on board. BMW has come a very long way since the days of the expensive but uninspiring Bang & Olufsen audio option on their flagship models. There was a clear problem with the DIRAC set-up by the Danish engineers since the similar systems in Audi and Mercedes models at the time had near identical issues in the same frequency bands!
The Harman Kardon system that followed in the next generation BMW was much better, and by that I mean more musical and less hi-fi. The latest top-of-the-line Bowers & Wilkins model installed in my test car, the M850i xDrive Coupe, takes both sound quality and visual enjoyment to a whole new level.
It was already late in the evening when I picked up the test car at the BMW press garage in Garching. The moment I activated the car’s systems in the darkened pickup hall, a whole feast of interior lighting came to life, even behind the speaker grilles you can see in my photos in the report. It was unexpected, intriguing, and added to the aura of high-tech emanating from the advanced systems built into so many facets of this flagship coupe.
One of my pet peeves with the latest Volkswagen Group vehicles is the switch to USB-C inputs. The C jack is less robust than the old USB-A jack, it is not widely used on the computers from which most people download their music. And a USB port of any kind doesn’t take up too much space in a vehicle anyway.
Fortunately, BMW hasn’t succumbed to this annoying trend and the M850i offers you the choice of either USB type. After installing the USB-A test stick, I started the listening test and ran a wide range of music from pop to jazz to classical through the various acoustic settings.
The system is powered by a 16-channel power amplifier that delivers 1,375 watts to 16 speakers, including three Diamond Nautilus tweeters, four aluminum tweeters, seven Kevlar midrange drivers and two Rohacell subwoofers.
Because we can!
I often get the impression that engineers offer users unnecessary settings just for the sake of it. This “because we can” philosophy has resulted in the BMW’s menu being driven by QuantumLogic surround sound processing, allowing selection between studio, concert, onstage, cinema and lounge settings.
The studio setting sounded a bit too tight and artificial, while I quickly discarded the cinema and lounge settings, as the imaging seemed unnatural. The “Concert” and “On Stage” settings provide the most realistic and enjoyable music reproduction by lifting the image of the singer(s) and instruments above the dashboard and projecting them into the room in a holographic and lifelike 3D view. And so I stayed with the sound settings in this mode for the rest of my test.
Even in quieter passages, where subtlety and high resolution are important, the system is capable of subtle finesse. Both extremes are, of course, an expression of adequate amplifier power and the dynamic capabilities of the loudspeaker cones, as well as competent set-up and tuning by the system engineers.
In terms of subjective sound quality, this is a pretty good system. It’s not the last word in sound quality compared to a top aftermarket system. But it is tonally balanced, musical and has good dynamic contrast. The important thing is that once you have everything set, you can relax and enjoy the music.
So how do I rate this B&W flagship audio system overall? For starters, it’s significantly better than B&O’s old flagship in the BMW and Harman Kardon’s current mid-range systems, even if it still lags behind the best custom aftermarket installations in absolute numbers. On a scale of one to ten, it gets a solid 9 and is an absolute must for a musically satisfying system that you just have to tick off without worrying about the few extra euros in monthly repayments.
BMW clearly had a dilemma when it came to renaming its flagship coupe. The swap of the 6 Series, a name steeped in history in itself, for the 8 Series, which was more of a GT than a race car, probably means a lot more to BMW connoisseurs than it does to first-time buyers.
Perception is everything when it comes to the name, however, and in a deliberate step up, BMW can now charge more for a niche model aimed at a shrinking customer base. At least for now, the 8 Series sits unchallenged in the gap between the Porsche 911 and the Bentley Continental GT, its only real class rival being the imperfect but more charismatic Maserati Gran Turismo.
BMW 850i xDrive: Conclusion
The bottom line is that the M850i xDrive is a fast, refined, comfortable and very confident GT. Still, it’s efficient in a rather distant and sober way that doesn’t get to the heart like its charismatic predecessor, the 1987 E24 M6.
Is this really the price we have to pay for progress?
- Price BMW M850i xDrive : from approx. 137,900 euros
- Price Bowers & Wilkins Sound System: 4,450 euros
- Further information: bmw.com
STEREO GUIDE Verdict
+ A fine autobahn stormer and comfortable over distance
+ Strong turbocharged V8 married to a fine gearbox
+ User friendly and logical infotainment interface
+ Cabin illumination and backlit speaker system provides surprise and delight - New style instrument panel is a counter-intuitive design
Price/Performance sound system9.4