BMW Challenges World’s Best With New 8 Series

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It’s finally here; the gauntlet has been thrown down. After a twenty-year absence of a true range-topping series, the new M850i xDrive has been revealed in an elegant yet imposing shape that seems to champion the best the brand has to offer, the automotive embodiment of a world-class athlete wearing a perfectly tailored business suit.

Most of the details about the new 8 Series have already filtered down to the public in various ways, with many detailed specifics coming directly from BMW in the form of testing updates with photos of camouflage-wrapped prototypes. Still, you can only infer so much based on leaked photos and rumor, and now that the production version has been revealed, the sum of the parts, concepts and technologies seems masterfully executed. Despite a curb weight just below 4,500 pounds and a large footprint, the sprint from 0 to 60 happens in just 3.6 seconds, and beneath the sheet metal is an interior that appears to rival some of the most expensive and exclusive luxury competitors in this segment.

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A bit lighter and more dynamic than the Barcelona Grey Liquid finish worn by the Concept 8 Series which was first shown just over a year ago, the softer tone on display here looks like it could be the rumored Barcelona Blue color. In comparison with the concept, things seem to have been appropriately filed down for a production model, much as we discussed last month when the new model was teased in the shadows of the M8 GTE racer.

Curves and angles are all less polarizing than the concept car’s, which was making auto-show display rounds earlier this year, but an aggressive yet still understated design language remains dominant. Despite a rather high belt-line which is all but unavoidable with modern safety regulations, the side profile of the new Eight appears hunkered down and built for speed. Glass used in the greenhouse doesn’t take up much space on the vertical axis, but heavily sloped front and rear windscreens maintain the performance-oriented attitude. The pillars also appear remarkably thin compared to current automotive trends; indeed, together with the stretched Hofmeister kink, they make for a shape reminiscent of yesteryear’s performance luxury coupes.

Other highlights that might be overlooked include the double-bubble roof, which is another vintage design touch, while the kidney grilles use a new trapezoidal shape that includes the Active Air Stream slat technology which debuted on the G11 and G12 7 Series. Headlights are claimed to be the slimmest ever fitted to a BMW, and use both LED and LaserLight technology to illuminate the road and alert other drivers to your presence via a signature daytime-driving-light appearance. BMW recently put out details pertaining to the updated Le Mans-ready lighting setup worn by the M8 GTE race car, and hidden in that release was a quick note confirming that identical taillight units are shared with the production 8 Series.

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BMW seems to be doubling down on Y-spoke wheel designs, and the twenty-inch M light-alloy units on the M850i are no exception. The design is standard, and comes finished in a high-gloss shade that the automaker refers to as Frozen Cerium Grey Metallic. Tires measure 235- and 275-section front and rear respectively, and employ a tread design and rubber compound that were developed specifically for the new 8 Series coupe.

M Sport brakes are also standard; they feature aluminum four-piston calipers in the front and single-piston floating binders in the rear, all are finished in the same recognizable blue tone that’s been in use for about five years now. Vented rotors and model-specific pads benefit from directional cooling, and the entire system is said to save weight over previous conventional offerings.

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The cabin is a place of opulent luxury and materials that were previously exclusive to the 7 Series. BMW Individual Merino leather is featured in the press photos, and surrounds interior occupants on the sport seats, door panels, center console and elsewhere. The M Sport steering wheel uses a design derived from the same unit first introduced in performance versions of the G30 5 Series, but other controls, like the shift lever, the iDrive controller, and what BMW calls the Driving Experience Control switch are all new—the latter featuring haptic feedback so you never need to divert your attention from the road (or the standard head-up display).

Speaking of the shift lever, it may benefit from an optional glass applications package, which adds what BMW refers to as “visual and tactile highlights to the interior design,” like an 8 that lights up within the selector lever. Oooo!

Also on display is something BMW marketers call Live Cockpit Professional, which has also been referred to as iDrive OS 7.0. The new X5 beat the 8 Series to market with the new all-digital instrument cluster, which is scheduled to join the rest of the lineup in the near future via the Z4 and upcoming next-generation 3 Series, but the the M850i will have larger screens and a more refined interface. Additionally, the specific system used will also detect an individual driver not only via the key, but through data stored in the BMW Cloud. No retina scans yet, but…

For the U.S., it sounds like the standard sound system will be a Harman Kardon Premium Surround setup with a total of sixteen speakers. HK speakers have found their way into BMW vehicles dating back to the 1990s, and since then have always been part of optional premium audio packages. But moving to a slightly lower rung for a special model like the M850i makes sense, because there is now another tier above it; consistent with high-dollar sound packages which have been optional on only the most luxurious and special BMWs since the turn of the millennium, the new 8 Series can come equipped with an optional Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround sound system. Made up of sixteen partially illuminated speakers, the system is powered by a 1,375-watt, sixteen-channel amplifier with dynamic equalization. It should be able to take what is likely a very quiet, isolating cabin to another realm of separation and experience.

With so much in the way of luxury and tech, it’s easy to get lost in the details and forget where a car like this stands in terms of market competition. But where other manufactures fall short in terms of keeping things practical, the M850i xDrive seems to excel; in addition to a clever mechanism to allow rear-occupant ingress and egress, 50/50 split fold-down rear seats are also standard. Trunk capacity is decent at exactly 14.8 cubic feet, but comes short of the 7 Series stablemate’s 18.2; accommodating several sets of golf clubs shouldn’t be a problem.

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For enthusiasts, the heart of the new roundel-wearing Eighter is its 4.4-liter V8 power plant. The latest generation of the twin-turbo unit which first debuted in 2008 under the hood of the F01 7 Series, its displacement has remained the same over the past decade at 4,395 cc, but the years have seen numerous technologies that were tested and proven on other engines, and these have been integrated into the N63. An innovative hot-vee design with a pair of turbocharges integrated between the cylinder banks from the outset, the N63 has always been on the cutting edge, and BMW has sought to keep it that way. 2012 saw the addition of the Valvetronic intake, among other more cursory changes for increased output, and in 2016, twin-scroll turbos replaced the conventional units for a 200-rpm-wider rev band, and a catch-can was added to the lubrication system. 2018 has seen two Technical Update 3 versions released, the N63B44M3 for the G05 X5 and the N63B44T3 pictured below, which is said to use a new aluminum alloy for the block.

Output for the M850i xDrive is listed at 523 horsepower between 5,500 and 6,000 rpm with 553 pound-feet of torque available from 1,800 up to 4,600. An 8HP76 sport variant of ZF’s widely used torque-converter automatic, working in conjunction with a model-specific version of BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive, an electronically lockable rear differential, and active front and rear sway bars routes power to pavement. The suspension is said to share quite a bit with the M8 GTE; inherent benefits include the separation of steering and dampening. Extensive modifications and tweaks are all courtesy of knowledge tapped from BMW M GmbH, which makes the M850i xDrive the closest available thing to a modern homologation special. The sleek body nets a drag coefficient of just 0.31, while overall performance is advertised with a limited top speed of 155 mph and a blistering 0–60 time of just 3.6 seconds, figures on par with much smaller and lighter competitors.

It’s typical of BMW to wait a few weeks before announcing any specific M Performance parts or upgrades, but the M850i will be available with an optional carbon-fiber roof, which is said to maintain the previously mentioned double-bubble profile. Along with lowering the center of gravity by removing weight from the highest point, an optional Carbon Package offers additional weight savings in the form of intake bars, exterior mirror caps, and a different diffusor insert. Along with the brakes, the eight-speed ZF sport auto is also a lighter than standard versions, and the suspension uses large amounts aluminum concentrated in the front axle, all in an effort to lessen the avoirdupois. If all of that collective weight-saving isn’t enough, BMW has an ace in the hole called EfficientLightweight, which is the last time we will use BMW’s compulsion to RunAllTheirWordsTogether; Efficient Lightweight essentially translates to highly intelligent materials choices, such as the extensive use of aluminum paneling where steel had conventionally been used, along with forged aluminum suspension arms and a CFRP transmission tunnel.

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Rounding things out is an array of driver-assistance tech and other active systems. These should translate to the range-topping grand-tourer behaving like a car that measures and weighs much less, one which can be whisked out of harm’s way in a split second by an ever-vigilant companion. Going beyond the standard Adaptive M Suspension, Integral Active Steering, and the active roll-bars is the optional collection of systems encompassed by something called Driving Assistant Professional.

Safety features like Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go, and the Steering and Lane-Control Assistant are enabled via the press of a single button, while the list of other attendant features, like Lane-Keeping Assistant, Active Side-Collision Protection (made up of Lane-Departure Warning and Lane-Change Warning) are complemented by a Cross-Traffic Warning. Parking is also easier thanks to Active PDC, which includes a Reversing Assistant, and there’s also the incredibly cool Remote 3D View function, which works using an array of cameras. And yes, you can park and start the car from outside when when the garage proves too narrow.

Of note is also the new Digital Key, which gains its magic abilities via an embedded NFC chip. The new setup does away with the need for a conventional car key, and the same technology can be used by an NFC-equipped smartphone; you can even start the engine using your phone, once it’s been placed in one of the appropriate locations.

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Those well versed in BMW lineage will know that original E31 8 Series production spanned almost the entire decade of the 1990s, beginning during the first February and concluding during the last May. Just a short time later, in March 2000, construction of some 5,200 hand-built Z8 roadsters began. Production of those rare and sought-after cars ceased in 2003, and BMW fans were left to wait another eleven years before another production model carried the coveted octal digit with the release of the i8, but that car is more of a  sporting outlier than a corporate flagship or halo model. In the nearly two decades that will have elapsed between the last E31 and the first G14 deliveries, BMW has been without an undisputed leader.

The Z8 and i8 are both exemplary visions of what an automaker can produce with the removal of just a few modern constraints—but performance, styling, and driving are just polarizing enough to open up room for debate among enthusiasts about their being true BMW halo cars. The M850i xDrive is just the start of the a renewed effort into this rarified and hallowed territory, but it seems ready to swing against the best of the breed right out of the gate.

Now, where’s the M8 Gran Coupé?—Alex Tock

[Photos courtesy of BMW AG.]

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