Review: The 2023 BMW M850i Coupe Is the Luxury Anti-SUV
Too big to be sporty, too small to be a sport-utility, the 8 Series carves its own path
What is automotive luxury if not the opportunity to escape the madding crowd? To retreat into a mobile reality distortion bubble that projects and protects your own sphere of personal space behind a pleasing boundary of sheet metal and glass? While so many of these modern man-made islands take the shape of hulking SUVs, whose monster proportions threaten to burst out from within their own zip codes, savvy shoppers can still avail themselves of more exclusive environs: the luxury coupe.
The field of luxury coupes seems to shrink with each passing year, and indeed at the upper echelons of size only a handful of examples continue to ply their wares to the well-heeled. Of these, the 2023 BMW M850i sits as perhaps the clearest distillation of sporting performance desire and pure grand touring. Not as rough-and-tumble as its full M8 sibling, nor as soft as its rivals under other badges, the two-door M850i occupies that rare intersection of muscle and mild, with a switch to flip from one extreme to the other sitting under your right foot.
Big Motor, Big Figure
The centerpiece of the BMW M850i coupe — and indeed, the focal point of many other M-badged models — is its 4.4-liter, twin-turbocharged V8 engine. Available in a wide range of tunes throughout the German automakers lineup, when installed under the acres-long hood of the M850i it generates an aspirational 523 horsepower and 553 lb-ft of torque. That’s a towering step up over the 335 horses offered by the base 840i’s turbocharged six-cylinder engine; and paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission and standard all-wheel drive, it’s enough to vault the vehicle’s full 4,400 pounds of curb weight to 60 mph in a rapid 3.6 seconds.
Despite not representing the performance capital of BMW’s big coupe country (that would be the M8 with its 617-horsepower version of the same engine), you can easily spend three times the M850i’s $102,500 starting price on a similarly-sized two-door from Bentley or Rolls-Royce and not better its straight-line sprint. What’s more, in contrast to the M8’s roided up ride, the M850i is much better suited at matching the on-road comportment of its ultra-luxury betters, dialing down the impact of each asphalt insult through an adaptive suspension system that eagerly trades claws-out cornering for coddling comfort.
So much the better, really. A touring car of this size tells on itself when asked to chortle its hefty proportions across an aggressive autokhana, although snowy winter tail slides are easily caught and contained by way of its responsive Sport mode steering. Better to explore the BMW’s seemingly endless torque on a long stretch of highway, where the horizon arrives in your lap seemingly seconds after throttle application.
First Class Cabin
Even more rewarding is simply taking the time to sample the BMW M850i’s considerable charms on a long drive where the destination pales to the drive itself. The car’s personal luxury bubble is best experienced with a single traveling companion, as its rear seats resemble the puny forearms of a pleading T-Rex, reaching out from the Cretaceous period like some extinct bellhop eager to accommodate your weekend luggage. Should your cargo overwhelm the in-cabin space, then the trunk’s cave-like capacity is a welcome complement.
While the back buckets might define vestigial, there’s nothing underdeveloped about the rest of the interior on this 8 Series. BMW continues to celebrate the marriage of future-facing tech (including a larger 12.3-inch infotainment screen this model year) with the pleasing tactility and practicality of analog controls, making its dashboard attractive to the eye even when the vehicle’s ignition is off. It’s an upscale environment buttressed by leather on nearly every surface, along with comfortable and supportive forward seating, and considerable storage space and charging ports for however many silicon tethers to the digital world you see fit to drag along with you.
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The drive itself is further aided and abetted by features such as laser headlights (effective even at cutting through dreary winter weather) and BMW’s lane-centering steering assistant, both highlights among a feature set that is as generous as any found in a similarly-priced four-door executive sedan. Truncated though its doors might be, the M850i coupe doesn’t shrink the luxury experience to match — rather, it form-fits it around the driver and massages the overall package with the kind of swooping, aero-aggressive lines befitting its grand touring mission statement.
It’s difficult to think of a direct analog to the BMW M850i in a competitor’s showroom. Larger and less athletic than either the Porsche 911 or the Jaguar F-Type, its shared bloodline is best represented by the Lexus LC 500, an outlier from that automaker’s typically staid offerings. Even here the Lexus comes across as a softer setup for covering great distances, as its uproarious, naturally-aspirated V8 engine is paired with a more conservative chassis that conceals bumps in the road that the BMW’s dampers are likely to amplify.
More important than what the M850i might resemble is the much larger subset of vehicles to which it is anathema. With its single row of (real-world) seating, its opera-glasses greenhouse and its complete lack of off-road pretensions, the 8 Series coupe is one of the few top-tier luxury steeds that makes zero overtures to the SUV faithful.
It’s a form of conspicuous consumption rarely seen on today’s streets, a fact that was underscored by the attention the car commanded from pedestrians inured to the constant parade of extortionate exurban explorers thundering down the road. As a celebration of individuality, the BMW M850i proves that today’s luxury is that much more appealing when encountered out of uniform.
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