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The BMW M850i coupe is the unicorn you’ve been waiting for
[NEW YORK] You could be forgiven for mistaking BMW's latest coupe for a Ford Mustang.
Both are two-door sports cars with smoothly sloped fastback rooflines and punchy, softly rounded front ends. Their tilted headlights are angled up on the sides so they look ready for some rather aggressive antics. Their short backsides end with the upward lilt of a tiny lip set just above the trunk. Compared side-by-side in a parking lot last week, the BMW looked like a slightly beefier version of the ‘Stang - if not a close cousin.
But the equine spirit in the US$112,895 BMW M850i is more exotic than your standard rodeo steed. As they say in Silicon Valley, it's more like a unicorn.
BMW hasn't made an 8 Series since the 1990s. Internally, it was known as the E31, and it lasted for a decade as the original BMW 8-Series before the brand discontinued it, rather than update the engine to meet new emissions regulations. Back then, it reigned supreme in the best 90s way: a low profile, menacing shark nose and pop-up headlights that made it impossible to miss.
Since then, we've looked to the BMW M3 and M4 Coupes to fill the need for a sports car that's big enough - and comfortable enough - to tour in while strong enough to spike our adrenaline levels to the red-line limit.
Or, if you wanted to go really high-end, you could drop US$214,600 on the Bentley Continental GT, the handsome, intimidating, and overall best grand touring coupe money can buy.
Now, with the M850i, you can better those M cars and save yourself US$100,000. It doesn't quite have the killer looks of the E31 original - its kidney grille has become engorged, and the corners have softened in this generation - but it splits the difference between the less-expensive BMW M family and the powerful Bentley. This is indeed an overabundance of car for the money.
It also comes in one blessedly simple engine variant for the United States, a twin-turbo 523-horsepower V8. That, paired with the lightning-quick, eight-speed automatic transmission, is good enough to get you to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds (equal to that of the heavier-but-626-horsepower Bentley) and a top speed of 155 mph. All this happens under all-wheel-drive, adaptive suspension, and active steering, which all come standard.
I drove the M850i up toward North Salem, New York, on two-lane backroads cutting through golden fields and low-set lakes. I loved how intimately the car anticipated directions from my hands and feet; there's zero hesitation when you press the gas, total balance as you press the brakes on those 20-inch, V-spoke wheels, and vice-grip contact with the ground as you follow the road around tight turns. Driving the M850i closer to home through rush-hour traffic became like a video game, rousing at every hint of a duck and weave as I sorted my way to the front of the pack.
At more than 4,300 pounds, this is a big touring coupe, not a tiny sports car. If it were made by Porsche, it'd be not a 911, not yet a Panamera. So along with driving it upstate to Hayfields, I also took it to Ikea in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and filled it with lamps and rugs and all the various dishes and home supplies typically used by civilised people. I wanted to see just how usable this grand tourer was.
It turned out to be shockingly practical. It swallowed everything I threw into the ample trunk. The back seat, several inches longer and wider than those of the 911 or Aston Martin Vantage, is actually usable as more than just a ledge for bags - I daresay it would even fit human cargo. That said, tall drivers such as me will need to recline the front seat to avoid looking the windshield header straight in the eye. And there are some blind patches over your shoulder around four o'clock and eight o'clock.
But when combined with the superb interior BMW has given us here - elegant details such as the glass knob on the shifter, multi-function seats in full merino leather, and a "live cockpit" system that integrates the 10.25-inch central information display with the 12.3-inch instrument cluster - the M850i becomes a wonder to inhabit and a thrill to drive. A high-resolution heads-up feature and the intuitive next-generation iDrive complete the delightful-to-inhabit cabin like the equivalent of a chef's kiss. Voila!
About those horsey looks: Don't get too worked up about them. Spend 10 minutes with the M850i in the street, and the attention you get from admirers of all types will prove it's vastly more distinctive than anything more ubiquitous. Giddy up.