It’s certainly plundered the trim cupboard labelled ‘matt chrome’. I get the feeling most of the interiors of BMW’s coming generation of cars will be chromier than those they will replace. Thankfully, most of the shiny stuff is impressively and tastefully deployed, and the environment looks and feels very rich and expensive more widely – just as it should.
The 8 Series’ seats are superb. In front of you when you’re sat in one is BMW’s new-generation ‘iDrive 7.0’touchscreen infotainment system (new look, more driver-customisable menu screens) and its Live Cockpit Professional 12.3in instrument display (so BMW finally joins the ranks of car makers offering a fully digital cluster). If these new digital instruments spell the beginning of the end for the beautifully simple, round BMW speedometer, I’ll be sorry to see it go, I must say. You can’t read a half-octagonal dial nearly as easily. But, with speed displayed digitally in the head-up display, perhaps BMW thinks that no longer matters.
Elsewhere there’s a new transmission tunnel layout too and, if you want them, attractive cut glass versions of the car’s gear selector, iDrive selector, engine start button and audio volume knob. It all seems very nice, in the glorious isolation of an international press launch. Would it beat a Porsche Panamera, Audi A7 Sportback or Mercedes S-Class Coupe for material lavishness, perceived quality or avant-garde technological appeal? I’m not so sure.
The M850i’s V8 will certainly take some beating. It’s smooth and quick to respond, just as is the car’s eight-speed automatic gearbox, and retains that nicely elastic mid-range feel and top-end ferocity with which BMW M5 owners will be familiar. This is a seriously fast car that would give up very little on real-world pace even to full-fat AMGs and lesser Aston Martin DB11s. It’s also a beautifully quiet and well isolated car at cruising speeds – although I’d sooner hear more from that V8 under load and a bit less of the impression done of it by the car’s audio speakers.
The 8 Series’ ‘Integral Active Steering’ system is more intuitive in use than similar BMW set-ups used to be, but it still doesn’t quite give the car the tactile, enticing, natural-feeling rim you’d like from a big GT. The steering’s somewhat short on both front-end contact patch feel and on-centre stability; it’s too monotone of weight regardless of selected driving mode; and it’s also well capable of taking you by surprise when it at once lightens and quickens at roundabout speeds. That you’re constantly adapting to its changing characteristics remains a slight barrier to the enjoyment of the car’s driving experience.
Negotiate that hurdle successfully, however, and you’ll find the M850i is a fine-handling car: one as agile and compelling though a fast bend as any big GT. BMW’s standard-fit ‘eDiff’ for the rear axle adds handling balance and a modest dose of adjustability too should you want to spice things up, but not so much as to detract from the car’s towering sense of traction and stability under power.