Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2019 BMW M850i

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Those shoppers interested in maximizing their investment in BMW’s latest rocket sled by driving it year-round have little to worry about in the winter months.

If a Porsche 911 isn’t powerful enough for your dollar…

And sure, many hold the new 2019 BMW M850i to be one of the most gorgeous BMWs ever built, and the majority of its lucky owners will take steps to ensure their copy rarely sees bad weather, let alone two days of record-setting snowfall in northern Ontario – though that’s exactly what your writer was faced with on his test drive.

This unit arrived home just a day before northern Ontario was pelted with two city-stopping snowfalls, just two days apart. During each, we were gifted with about a foot of snow.

This experience proved that there’s little to worry about, from a driving perspective, when M850i drivers decide to use their machine all year ’round.

First and foremost? My tester rolled on Pirelli Sottozero winter tires. These wrapped its big twenty-inch wheels, each of which (and especially the rear) were propelled by the M850i’s very-rear-biased AWD system. Further ahead was an eight-speed automatic transmission with millisecond paddle-shifting that’s more than entertaining enough to warrant frequent use.

Up front, a 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 is good for a suspiciously athletic 523 horsepower – just the ticket when The Weather Network’s website turns bright red for the second snowfall warning in a week.

On one hand, this machine is intended to deliver a visceral thrill ride – with grip and thrust and braking and balance dialled in to plaster a lingering grin on your kisser. Also, you should hear the sound it makes. Fire it up via the remote start on a cold morning, and you can hear the throbbing, barking exhaust note from within your basement.

But the M850i is also an easy enough thing to use that you could just take it to go grab some milk. Drivers well versed in operation of a low-slung vehicle in the winter will have little issue with scraping the bumper on snow humps and slush-boulders on the road, and entry and exit for average-sized adults is relatively easy – provided you’re not bundled up thickly in winter gear or wearing heavy winter boots.

As coupes of this calibre go, it’s actually pretty easy to see out of, too. This makes it easier to park, and easier to manoeuvre through traffic without feeling as vulnerable and uneasy.

Though M850i has a networked array of sensors and cameras to keep you from hitting things, the (relatively) wide and tall rear window, generous greenhouse, and optimal placement of window pillars provides strong manual visibility outwards. It’s not a Subaru Forester with tall glass all around, but the M850i’s good outward visibility helps satisfy the inner desire of the driver’s brain to have a good sense of what’s going on around them. A good-for-a-coupe view outwards means the driver will feel less vulnerable, and more up on nearby goings-on, more of the time.

The M850i is also a worthy touring coupe. It’s comfortable enough to take you and the other half for a lengthy highway trip, where you needn’t raise your voice for a conversation since the noise levels are kept down nicely. You’ll arrive hours later, feeling relaxed (provided you’re not in the back seat, in which case you’ll arrive feeling the need to see a chiropractor). The rear seats are comfortable and not particularly difficult to access, though headroom is insufficient for anyone approaching adult size.

Laser-fired headlights add further confidence after dark and improve driver comfort by illuminating the way ahead with a thick slathering of white, wide-reaching light that reduces eye strain. Even four or five hours into a nighttime drive, your eyes will likely feel at ease and alert, not tired and sandy. This extremely potent lighting system all but eliminates the strain required to see detail far up a dark road.

And, the M850i could get away with riding much more harshly, too. In Comfort mode, ride quality is typically on par with a semi-sporty sports sedan. If you’re arriving here out of something like an A4 S-Line, Infiniti Q50S or Lexus IS F-Sport, you’ll feel right at home. In Comfort mode, there’s barely a peep from the engine, other than the occasional meaty grunt that serves to remind of the power perpetually at the ready. The transmission works to keep the revs low, upshifting early and often and with total invisibility.

So, a comfy cruiser, with a rocket thruster for an engine, and looks that could kill.

But the currently deployed balance of performance and comfort are up to the driver: just click the drive mode you like, adjust sub-settings to taste, and the M850i can do hot rod, peaceful touring coupe, or almost anything in between. Steering, throttle response, suspension stiffness, and even the AWD split and traction control tolerances are all rejiggered to taste. In milliseconds, and with only millimetres of fingertip movement, you can totally transform the driving experience to be whatever you like. You are the boss of the M850i.

In Sport mode, the exhaust is louder. More power goes to the rear wheels, more quickly, in more situations. The steering is heavier. The throttle pedal signal to the engine is ramped up several times over, and the M850i’s computer brain tells the transmission keeps the revs up and traction control eased back. Result? Mounds of torque and some fantastic-sounding winter power-sliding capability are at your perpetual disposal.

While cruising in a steady state, the M850i feels like a much heavier machine than it is. This adds a sense of density and plantedness that you’ll appreciate, especially in the snow. The heavy feel disappears when you steer, or brake or apply throttle – in which case M850i reacts eagerly to your commands, even ferociously, if you’re in Sport mode.

Aspiring rally racers will be pleased that the M850i is very rear-wheel drive, so big and showy skids can be executed with minimal effort or skill. The car likes being planted, but is keen to get sideways at the first chance it’s given, staying there as long as the driver likes. Press Sport once, and the traction control button once, and you open a portal into snowy backroad power-slide paradise. Just an inch more or an inch less on the now hair-trigger throttle is sufficient to steer the M850i with precision via the rightmost pedal.

If a more cautious drive is in order, simply press Comfort once, and the traction control button once again. Now, the throttle is numbed, the steering is more slow and steady, and the M850i responds more smoothly and gently to your inputs. The AWD system prioritizes grip, not skids, and otherwise requires none of your attention. Now, the car is surefooted and stable – and even clawed itself out of several deep-snow situations I was almost certain I’d need a tow truck for.

Just note that the M850i’s wheels (and therefore, its winter tires) are very wide – meaning that at times, they can act more like skis than winter tires. The M850i’s various gadgets can only maximize the traction available to them, so drivers are well-advised to keep the laws of physics in mind during winter, and to leave their hero switch in the off position.

Finally, there’s an Eco Pro drive mode, which further reduces the sensitivity of the throttle, relaxes the driveline another notch, and provides some on-screen coaching to help you stretch every tank of fuel to the max. Drivers have the complete toolkit for any sort of driving they feel like getting up to.

Through it all, there’s a strong sense of some of the best sensations and feelings that make a BMW a BMW.

Stops come quickly and typically in a straight line, with a highly precise pedal feel that nicely transmits the traction situation at the tires back to the tips of your toes.

The steering is signature BMW, too. On centre, you feel you nearly need to break the wheel free from a deep notch when giving an input. The steering is locked onto its straight-ahead position, helping stick the car to its line and reducing your workload in correcting its position on the road. Once drivers break the steering wheel loose of its on-centre notch, tiny inputs are all that’s needed to extract a big reaction from the car. Ultimately, and to varying degrees based on the drive mode selected, M850i’s steering is very heavy, but very fast – just like a go-kart.

Also notable? The heavyset steering feel all but eliminates the startling sensation of steering wheel tug-of-war common when encountering deep slush stripes on the surface of the road – adding again, and significantly, to the M850i’s planted cruising feel in bad weather.

And the cabin is a knockout. The crystal shifter, glossy touchpad and dial for the iDrive interface, large centrally mounted display, and fully digital instruments pull off a luxury spaceship atmosphere. Extra sculpting and extra attention to the way various trim materials contrast and intersect with one another help further set the M850i’s interior apart from less pricey models, too. And you won’t find a single stitch, panel, or piece of trim that isn’t perfect, because that’s what you’re paying for. You’ll feel like you’re in a BMW, and a special one, too.

The engine? Flexible and ferocious.

On one hand, in more peaceful drive modes, you hardly even know it’s there. From very low revs, there’s a pile of torque and response available with near-nil levels of noise. It calls an electric car to mind at times, thanks to gobs of instant but nearly noiseless thrust. Opened up, it’s a nearly excessive shove into your seat as the M850i charges ahead, inhaling the forward scenery at a frightful rate as lusty V8 sound effects pulsate through the cabin, drenching it and the world nearby. After a full throttle blast, all on board exhibit the same reaction: a deep belly laugh, followed by two words. One is “Holy”, and I’ll leave you to guess the second. If you don’t find this fast enough, you should probably be in a straightjacket.

There are a few downsides, of course. You sit down low and behind about 32 miles of nose (the M850i is a lengthy beast), which can make things uncomfortable when trying to pull out onto a roadway from behind a tall snowbank. Also, and as it is in all modern cars, snow and ice and salty road spray blocks the cameras and sensors used for the advanced safety features, so they often pack things in after a few moments of use in nasty winter conditions. Finally, though the M850i is capable of delivering a soft, nicely tuned ride, overall ride quality is often at the mercy of the surfaces passing beneath the vehicle, and rougher in-town roads can knock back ride quality a good measure. You’ll need to watch those thinly wrapped twenties on potholes too, to prevent turning one or more of them into an octagon.

Largely though, this is a gorgeous 523 horsepower coupe that’s just about anything you’d like it to be. It’s not the fastest or most hardcore or purest or most powerful machine you can spend this sort of money on – but M850i sets drivers up aptly with something that can effortlessly serve any need – from tranquil winter touring coupe to a thrilling twin-turbo joyride, without much sacrifice.

It’s flexible enough to use however you like, whenever you like. And, in sport mode, it’s a slippery surface to surface missile.

If a Porsche 911 isn’t powerful enough for your dollar, and if the Jaguar F-Type R is a set of rear seats away from reality, and if the ridiculous Corvette ZR1 is too likely to land you in jail with its 755 horsepower (you won’t be going anywhere in a ZR1 if it’s snowing, by the way), then BMW hopes you’ll check out the M850i’s broad skillset and toolkit, which can be effectively put to use in a wide range of situations.

My tester clocked in at $131,000. Stay in school, kiddos.

Engine Displacement 4.4L
Engine Cylinders V8
Peak Horsepower 523 hp @ 5,500 rpm
Peak Torque 553 lb-ft @ 1,800 rpm
Fuel Economy 13.3/9.2/11.5 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 419 L
Model Tested 2019 BMW M850i xDrive
Base Price $123,500
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,245
Price as Tested $133,145
Optional Equipment
$7,300 – Executive Package $4,000; M Carbon Roof $3,000; Display Key $300