Review: BMW's M850i Gran Coupe Has Revived the Four-Door Sport Sedan
Your SUV can do a lot of things. But it can't do this.
Be it ever so humble in the face of the SUV onslaught, there’s still a market for big luxury cars. That said, the days of upper-management types filling country-club parking lots with imposing sedans and surveying the size of one another’s hood ornaments have largely dissipated. To own a sedan now conveys something different: namely, that its owner really, really likes to drive a big, sporty car, cargo space and utility be damned.
Enter the BMW 8 Series Gran Coupe. Rather than simply ape the up-and-down lines of the slow-selling 7 Series, the German brand’s traditional high-end offering seeks to stretch out the sleek shape of the two-door Coupe edition that bears the same name. The desired result is the amplification of interior room and practicality while preserving a form that stands as a more athletic alternative to traditional luxury fare.
It’s a path BMW has been down before, but after spending a significant amount of time behind the wheel of the all-new 2020 BMW M850i Gran Coupe, I came away convinced that this time the formula has finally been perfected.
6 + 2 = Success
While the 8 Series name ties in to BMW’s ’90s-era history (and a wedge-shaped, grand touring coupe that lasted but a single generation), the 2020 model is truly a continuation of a different integer: the 6 Series was the name given to the automaker’s most recent full-size two-door, and one that spawned a Gran Coupe model of its own.
Everything about the 8 Series has been vastly improved over its progenitor, and this is especially true of the Gran Coupe. For starters, it’s longer and wider, which combined with its more fluid styling language helps to give it a presence the older car was lacking. Inside, the stretch also transforms the car into a true four-passenger model, with a 2+2 seating arrangement bisected by a full-length center console. There’s 7.1 inches of extra legroom and 3.4 inches of headroom for those riding in the back as compared to the two-door 8 Series — a far cry from the 6 Series GC and its cramped rear quarters, which were barely more habitable than those of the traditional coupe cousin.
Passing [is] a split-second affair regardless of whether you’re dealing with law-abiding citizens or clueless left-lane bandits.
Then, of course, there’s everything else about the 8 Series platform that is representative of the cutting edge of BMW’s modern offerings. Hidden underneath the car’s sinuous skin are the mechanical bits of the 7 Series sedan, itself recently redesigned and of course packed to the gills the company’s best. For the M850i model, this includes a twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 putting down 523 horsepower and 553 lb-ft of torque, matched with an eight-speed automatic transmission and standard all-wheel drive.
The M850i also adds a little sauce to the 7’s underpinnings by shrinking its form factor somewhat. The seven-inch wheelbase gap between the two has the 8 Series feeling that much more nimble through corners and in traffic without sacrificing the planted highway demeanor endemic to a grand tourer.
Moving from the spec sheet to the real world, the M850i Gran Coupe doesn’t miss a beat. More than a thousand miles behind the wheel of the big BMW during a holiday driving season packed with bad weather and worse drivers had me appreciating a number of aspects of the Gran Coupe experience.
Not all of that time spent on the car occurred at speed. In heavy traffic, I was impressed with BMW’s adaptive cruise control system, which offers a self-driving mode at speeds under 40 mph that will follow the vehicle ahead of you. This proved useful during a brief road closure due to a downed power line where the Gran Coupe sat waiting, with no input at all from me, for 15 minutes, whereupon it began to move forward slowly once the cars around me resumed their own forward progress. It’s a completely hands-free system, too, giving me time to appreciate the fine details etched into the BMW’s leather upholstery on the dash and door panels, and luxuriate in the robotic ministrations of its massage-capable seats.
On an open road, the car’s 553 lb-ft of torque are available at a very low 1,800 rpm, which in concert with the ZF autobox makes passing a split-second affair regardless of whether you’re dealing with law-abiding citizens or clueless left-lane bandits. The Gran Coupe is startlingly quick for such a heavy (just over 4,700 lbs) vehicle, and while you feel that weight when Newtonian physics scolds you for entering a back road corner a little too quickly, few would expect such a large car to perform so gracefully. Throw in the exceptional grip and security that the M850i’s all-wheel drive system afforded during both a blizzard and and ice storm, and its year-round credentials are impeccable.
The Right Package
It’s hard to find fault with the BMW M850i Gran Coupe’s overall proposition. Starting at just over $108,000, it’s priced roughly $6,000 more than an all-wheel drive version of the 7 Series featuring the same engine. Add in a few options and you’re hovering around the mid-teens, which still feels like reasonable territory for such a comfortable, powerful and stylish ride.
If passenger and cargo room is your biggest priority — and you don’t might a somewhat conservative design — then the 750i is your first, best choice. If you’re more interested in standing apart from the full-size luxury pack without leaving anything crucial behind on the equipment list, then the M850i is a head-turner for a lot less money than a comparable Porsche Panamera, and with considerably more curb appeal than a Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class.