The new-for-2019 BMW M850i is a rocket-thruster propelled coupe of gorgeous proportions, excessive amounts of high-tech performance and looks that could kill.
This is one of those big-dollar rides that justify staying in school and is likely to be plastered on the bedroom walls of young car enthusiasts around the globe.
That’s assuming the youngsters these days still lust after printed posters, instead of just checking out their most-loved rides on a Smartphone screen.
It’s got laser-powered high-beams, a head-up display a la fighter jet and a cabin so perfectly assembled and beautifully trimmed that you’d need a microscope to find a single stitch, seam or panel out of place.
There’s a twin-turbo V8 of 4.4 litres displacement; it generates 523 horsepower, each of which seems suspiciously athletic, according to the seat of this writer’s pants.
There’s even an exhaust system that can be set into numerous volume settings, ranging from “restrained growl” to “honey, are those fireworks? Oh, never mind, it’s just the neighbour starting their BMW.”
With a seamless and very rear-biased AWD system, it’s also a thrilling wintertime rocket-sled and, also, a surface-to-surface missile in the snow.
For this story though, I wanted to focus on how this machine works in the sort of situation where none of that matters. Forget the torque and grip and lap times — What if you find yourself, as I did on several occasions, locked into a long day at the wheel, where you’ll be driving for many hours, and where you just want to get where you’re going, as comfortably and in as relaxed a fashion as possible?
Turns out that for all of the high-performance fanfare, this beast does the comfort thing quite nicely, in most regards.
Ride quality first
Doing a little north of 100 km/h on a nicely maintained highway in the “comfort” drive mode, the M850i rides like a semi-sporty luxury sedan. There’s a calibrated softness around the edges of the suspension spectrum, surrounding a stiff core.
Mostly, it’s easygoing and nicely straddles the line between stiff and comfy in a way that won’t leave most drivers wishing it was more of one or the other. The long wheelbase also helps soak up the bumps and keeps the ride from feeling too busy. If you’re upgrading from a sporty luxury sedan (think A4 S-Line, Lexus IS F Sport or Mercedes C43 AMG), you’ll feel right at home.
In the M850i, the ride tells you you’re in something capable, but without smashing your spine all to hell about it.
Often, performance coupes are pretty terrible in this regard, though they typically include numerous sensors and cameras that work to keep drivers from hitting things.
But in the M850i, I can see the world around me rather nicely. The rear window is tall and wide, the window pillars aren’t excessively thick, the side windows are generous, and even the rear corner windows are usable.
It’s not a Subaru Forester with tall glass all around, but better manual outward visibility (which is the kind you use your actual eyeballs, and not sensors, for), the driver feels less vulnerable and nervous since their brain is more satisfied that it’s up on what’s going on in the motoring world around them.
Steering you right good
Even the calibration of the steering system enhances driver comfort, by reducing their workload. Specifically, the signature BMW steering feel is alive and well: on centre, you feel like you nearly need to break the wheel loose from a deep notch when giving it an input.
Put another way, there’s a good bit of effort required to start the wheel turning in either direction.
While cruising the highway, this literally locks the M850i in place within its lane, and all but negates the need for drivers to issue a stream of small corrections to stay centred between the lines.
Also, when steering on the highway, only tiny little inputs are required to effect a big change in direction from the car.
Ultimately, the steering is very heavy, but very fast, which is exactly what makes a go-kart so fun to drive.
Also notable? The heavy steering feel eliminates the tendency for the wheel to play tug of war in your hands when front tires encounter deep slush-stripes on the highway, meaning there’s one less thing to break your concentration or relaxation as you travel.
Lighting the way
Finally, after dark, the laser-fired high-beams dramatically improve vision comfort.
Fully automated to engage only when there’s no oncoming traffic detected, these exceptionally bright, laser-enhanced high-beams use laser diodes and special lenses to drench the road ahead with lightning-bright illumination that reaches about twice as far up the road as a conventional high-beam.
This reduces the need to strain to see detail far away, and helps make your eyes more comfortable even hours into a late-night drive.
It’s a safety feature, too, given that, by your writer’s estimation, the laser-brights could give you an additional three or four more seconds to react to a hazard up a dark road.
Sure, this is fancy stuff and this is a six-figure car, but you can bet it won’t be so very long before the supplier of these laser lights makes them available to other automakers who build more affordable cars.
Heck, it could even trigger a headlight performance war, which is a good thing for the shopper.
On a long highway cruise, the size of the fuel tank and relatively efficient powertrain mean you’re clear for a day’s cruising without stopping to refuel, and although the engine has some beastly performance figures, in comfort mode, you don’t feel or hear much of anything from under the hood at all.
Of course, it does miss the mark for comfort in a few areas, too. First, entry and exit are relatively easy as coupes go, but those bundled up in heavy winter coats and boots will find getting in and out to be a good bit too snug.
Second, the low ground clearance and seating position mean some tense moments when pulling out from behind tall snowbanks, or creeping over uneven snow-packed surfaces without whacking the bumper.
Finally, though capable of creamy-smooth ride quality, rougher in-town roads can cause ride quality to degrade rapidly, thanks to the giant wheels and thin tires.
Interested shoppers with deep pockets, or any car enthusiast after a closer look at this gorgeous encapsulation of the industry’s latest performance, safety and luxury features, should check the M850i out in more detail.
If there’s an aspiring young car guy or car gal in your world, spending some quality time bonding over the specs, features and facts is also advisable.
This sort of automotive tech and engineering are the sort of stuff dreams are made of.
- Model: 2019 BMW M850i
- Engine: 4.4-litre V8, twin turbo, 523 horsepower
- Drivetrain: AWD
- Transmission: 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters
- Features: Harman Kardon audio system, climate controlled seats, BMW Laser high beams, adaptive cruise control, motorized tailgate, Navigation, wireless Smartphone charging
- What’s hot: Killer powertrain, plenty of winter driving fun factor, killer interior, fast and fun, easy to live with performance, good outward visibility
- What’s not: minuscule rear-seat headroom, ride quality drops on rougher roads, feels snug in winter gear
- As tested (M850i): $130,000 (approx.)