2019 BMW M850i xDrive First Drive Review

It’s been nearly two decades since the BMW 8-Series filled driveways with its grandiosity and elegantly oversized persona. The top-dog 850 CSi was a two-ton cruiser motivated by a naturally-aspirated 5.6-liter V12 that churned a then-remarkable 380 horsepower. Wow, how the world of performance cars has evolved.

Flash forward to present day, and the new 2019 BMW M850i xDrive offers a future-forward translation of the shark-nosed 2+2 from yesteryear, but little else carries over. Sure, it’s still got a curb weight in excess of two tons (4,478 pounds, to be precise), but it also benefits from a considerably stiffer chassis and the thrust of a twin-turbo 4.4-liter producing 523 horsepower and a wheel-spinning 553 lb-ft of torque. Those 20-inch hoops are less likely to slide due to BMW’s standard xDrive all-wheel drive system.

I’ve traveled to the 2.6-mile Autódromo do Estoril near the west coast of Portugal to track test the new BMW 8 Series, which initially might seem a mismatch to the circuit’s tight esses and bends. Decked out in a generally harmonious blend of graceful lines and aggressive bits (including some disappointingly non-functional vents and ducts), the new 8 Series, at least in non-M form, appears to lean more towards luxe than lightweight.

While it’s tempting to contextualize the new 8 Series against its starkly different predecessors, more interesting is how neatly it finds its niche within this tiny but pricey segment. If you crave ultimate comfort and vault-like isolation, Mercedes-Benz’s S 560 is the likelier choice, while the amped-up AMG S 63 ($167,700) or swooshy AMG S 65 ($238,900) add bite while retaining a prevailing sense of luxury over track-ready tossability.

The BMW 8 Series’ win lies in its focus on performance, which will become even more pronounced when the M8 version hits showrooms next year. With the thin competition in this rarified segment rounding out the spectrum of sportiness versus luxury, the M850i finally revives BMW’s tradition of adhering to its goals of building so-called ultimate driving machines. It may not be a race car wrapped in road car clothes, but the 8 Series edges a lot closer to satisfying both drivers and boulevard cruisers.