The BMW M8 Competition is a great many things: fast, menacingly handsome, fiercely capable and luxuriously appointed. All those points are true for the four-door Gran Coupe, too, even if it doesn't swagger quite so arrogantly with an extra pair of doors and a reworked behind. Despite its manifest talents, the M8 is a jolly difficult car to wholeheartedly recommend; the M5 argument is too reductive - because while they share a lot, the three-box saloon just doesn't cut the same dash - but the rivals faced by the M8 are compelling at more than £120,000. As tested our M8 Competition test car was £143,435, which is taking a buyer into Aston Martin, Bentley and very senior Porsche territory. And truthfully the BMW badge doesn't have quite the same cachet in that company, making the M8's case becomes even more difficult to argue.
However, there is a solution for those after a V8 8 Series without the associated M Division baggage: the M850i xDrive. Even on paper, it looks a more natural fit for the 8 Series - especially as a four-door Gran Coupe - because of its slightly more relaxed remit. Regardless of what BMW might claim, the 1,960kg Competition is not a sports car; all the better, therefore, to embrace its GT side with a more mellow understudy.
The 850 still boasts 530hp from a detuned version of the M's 4.4-litre V8, so it's far from slow, with 62mph coming up in less than four seconds. And although BMW talks of its "motor racing experience" having had "a formative influence on the chassis technology's design and tuning", that the M850i goes without some of the key M8 components - the brake booster, the variable four-wheel drive, the Track mode - speaks to a less intense character before you even get inside.
Much has been written about the 8 Series interior, so we won't dwell on it too long here. Detractors have issues with the parts also found in lesser BMWs; far from ideal, sure, though BMW's way with cabins - digital dials notwithstanding - is hard to fault at the moment, and the aura feels a lot more luxurious with the trim materials optioned on this test car. Nobody should be put off a DB11 by the fact it uses pretty old Mercedes infotainment, and nobody should be put off because the M850i's functional, attractive driving environment is also found in a 3 Series. Because it works really well.
With the 'Gran Coupe' badge now trickling down the BMW range to include everything down to that weird looking 2 Series, it can be hard to know what the badge stands for. Perhaps it's no surprise to learn that the 8 Series feels the most apt Gran Coupe range, loping along at a motorway cruise with aplomb and assurance. Honestly, its supreme; the seats are great, the Bowers & Wilkins surround sound system has the depth and clarity to feel worth every penny of its £4k cost, and rolling refinement is exceptional. Once up to a sensible cruising speed (which, in an 850i, probably stretches the definition of sensible), the only things you'll stop for are to fill the car or driver up. It's the classic GT par excellence, and probably better than the M8 in this regard.
The powertrain is a real complement to the 850 experience, too, largely because it retains a lot of the traits that make it so effective in the flagship: effortless torque, eager responses and a real appetite for revs. The V8 might be more likeable here than in the M car, too, the rumble a little more authentic and seemingly less synthesised, even if it still wants for character against the best that Audi and AMG can offer. The eight-speed Steptronic is pretty much beyond reproach, too, so much so that you'll seldom feel the need to take manual control.
All that said, a £100,000 car (or £120k as tested) needs to do more than just ease the strain of a motorway trudge in 2020. You should want to actually drive it as well. On that front the M850i xDrive is a mixed bag - a qualified success if you will. Because while it could be said that it feels very large on a minor road, that's an accusation to be levelled at near enough every new car on sale beyond the C segment. And although the Sport setting causes an embarrassing amount of flatulence from the exhausts and an unwelcome abruptness throughout, name a car with one of those settings that doesn't. Oh yes, and the steering feels a little remote and can be inconsistent. Also the case elsewhere. And familiar to a boatload of BMWs. It hasn't stopped them being rated good.
What the Gran Coupe does do well is strike a likeable balance between outright ability and overall comfort. Arguably better than the M8 does, in fact; because while we all know it can do a 7:32 around the Nordschleife, the effort that goes into making a two-tonne car achieve that takes its toll. And the M car can just feel a little too formidable to enjoy or even begin to exploit on the road. Tellingly, the 850 feels exactly how you'd hope an M Performance BMW might - sufficiently focused to be entertaining when you ask for it, yet accommodating enough to not be thought draining when you don't.
Left in its default drive setting, the Gran Coupe delivers secure damping, a degree of throttle adjustability to its xDrive system and a still cushy ride quality. Its charisma off the motorway isn't quite to the same unmistakable pitch as on it, but the 850 remains a decently capable car nonetheless.
Which is both the 8 Series' greatest strength and its most obvious drawback. It's a broadly talented, nicely executed, thoroughly impressive model across the board; there's just nowhere that the 8 truly excels, nowhere it could be said to stand head and shoulders above the opposition. It cruises magnificently - if only marginally better than the usual suspects - and it's certainly a handsome beast, subjectively speaking. But at its £95k starting price the more powerful Audi RS7 is within a couple of thousand pounds, and at £119,925 (as tested) buyers might also be reasonably looking at a Porsche Panamera GTS and the AMG GT 4-door, imposing rivals both. And while this M850i xDrive Gran Coupe feels like the best iteration of G1x 8 Series yet (because as a two-door there are even more alternatives to contend with), at no point does it quite feel like being the one to wholeheartedly recommend.
In isolation, it's capable and cossetting, fast and reasonably good fun. That it cannot be said to lead the class says more about the quality of the competition than any real or noticeable deficiency on BMW's part. Ultimately, the M850i is a very good car surrounded by greatness - and while selecting the all-rounder is an entirely valid choice, it does mean overlooking a lot of genuinely compelling alternatives.
SPECIFICATION - BMW M850i XDRIVE GRAN COUPE
Engine: 4,395cc, V8, twin-turbocharged
Power (hp): 530@5,500-6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 553@1,800-4,600rpm
0-62mph: 3.9 seconds
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Weight: 2,070kg (to EU, including driver)
MPG: 24.3 (WLTP)
CO2: 265g/km (WLTP
Price: £95,785 (price as standard; price as tested £119,295 comprised of Frozen Bluestone metallic paint for £2,450, Ivory/Night Blue Merino Full Leather Individual for £4,950, Visibility package (BMW Laserlights) for £1,500, Technology Package (Driving Assistant Professional, Parking Assistant Plus, BMW Drive Recorder) for £2,900, Premium package (soft-close doors, front seat ventilation, front Heat comfort package, BMW Individual Alcantara headlining) for £2,100, Adaptive M suspension Professional for £1,895, Panoramic glass sunroof for £1,895, Sunblinds for side and rear windows for £995, Glass application 'CraftedClarity' for interior elements for £575, Piano Black trim for £250 and Bowers & Wilkins Diamond surround sound system for £4,000)
1 / 5
Chat about all things motoring
The Pie & Piston
Chat about everything else…
Win on Sunday, talk about it on Monday
Not all cars are created equal
Meet your hero Matt Bird in person
Need to get something off your chest?