I christened my BMW M850i test car “stealth bomber”. For reasons that are obvious, that is. First, lack of imagination on my part. Second, because my example was finished in all black, meaning that even the distinctive “kidney” BMW grille and the huge (20-inch) alloy wheels had been given a glossy black finish to match the bodywork. Only the lights, windows and BMW badges relieved the stygian apparition before me. It feels entirely appropriate to have Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black on surround sound, and makes even the most mundane trip feel like a day out in Vegas.
Despite its size and swooshy looks, this BMW, and its driver, sits close to the tarmac, below the radar so to speak, and carries a literally low profile. There are showier paint jobs to be had on it, like a nice orange metallic, more bling indeed, if you want to flaunt your wealth (it is a £100,000-plus motor).
The BMW M850i is, like the proper US Air Force stealth bomber, an astonishingly capable piece of high-tech kit (though in this case less lethal, usually). The BMW, an out-and-out V8 500plus horsepower performance coupe, has a carbon fibre core, for strength, lightness and acceleration. It is blisteringly fast. Just as the stealth bomber does in the skies, so on the ground the BMW pushes the very limits of physics – with a 3.7 second sprint to 60mph using a special launch control setting, it is one of the fastest production cars ever built.
Here is a car that genuinely has to have a four-wheel drive system to even work properly – without it would be far too wayward as a rear-drive only machine and an unsteerable joke if anyone tried to make it front-drive only. Plus they’ve even bolted on some mild hybrid kit to recycle energy wanted in braking and to take the edge off the car’s emissions and fuel consumption, as well as adding just a bit more to that remarkable low speed acceleration. Given that it is such a fast and furious car, the fact that it is not that far off the fuel economy or the fuel emissions (proportionately) of the Nissan Juke I tried last week, itself a cutting edge little thing, is quite the engineering achievement.
It has… well it has everything, except the ability to fly, but that’s only because they’ve artificially limited the top speed to “only” 155mph, and stuck a body kit on it that tries to make sure it stays on the road.
I especially enjoyed the “sports display” you can summon up on the big touchscreen just to the left of the pilot/driver’s eyeline. It’s a bit too offset to work out everything that is going on while you’re trying to drive this top version of the 8-series coupe, but it will show you how much torque and power the engine is delivering, as well as the direction and strength of the G-forces being unleashed on you, though you’ve got a fair idea of those already as your head is thrown back.
As with many cars these days, there’s a choice of settings, including Eco, which is not so incongruous in such a made-for-drama vehicle because you will be spending a good deal of your time in traffic jams, after all. In Sport mode, everything is thrown at the car’s performance, and, to be truthful, it is not the nicest drive on the road. For track days, maybe, but the aggressive way the car refuses to move up the gears as it speeds up, and conversely drops down gears with equal determination as you brake makes the car feel too uncouth, though undoubtedly responsive. Even in the hands of an amateur (me) you still feel well in control and up for the thrills. Even so, I always found myself reaching for the handy “Comfort” button on the centre console. The M850i is better as a pacey grand tourer than a sports car, if only because of its size.
It’s a big car, you see, like a BMW 7-series limousine reshaped as a 2+2 seater (the back seats are for kids or short journeys only), and the stylist have done an excellent job in making that long tail look as coherent and well proportioned as they have. It is quite reminiscent of a Seventies US muscle car coupe, and, from a few angles, it has a bit of the current Ford Mustang about it (also a V8, but a lazier one, and three times as cheap). Still, the 7-series essential luxo-barge character does persist, which is a good thing.
The seats, in particular, are superb and the list of cosseting features is long and lovely. The only glitch I discovered was in the software; switching the demister on would silence the radio for a short time, and selecting rear from the auto transmission wouldn’t summon up the usual colour widescreen camera display (a problem when rear visibility is otherwise so constricted). It’s possible I accidentally made my way deep into the interstices of the car’s software to create some eccentric new user preference, but it was unsettling.
I read somewhere the other day that the German economy was kaput, if you’ll pardon the expression, because it is so reliant on its car makers, and because they are soon all going to be left behind by China and the electric car. Well, maybe, but total electric sales (pure battery, no hybrid) in the UK for example, amounted to about 15,000 units, or 0.7 per cent of the market. Even though they are growing by 20 per cent a year, and 40 per cent a year in Europe as whole, and they will help to save the planet and there is a climate emergency, it is also a bald truth that there is a long way to go to win full public acceptance of electric-only propulsion.
In the meantime, the likes of BMW, which has been investing heavily in electric technology, to be fair, will still make a good, profitable living out of selling world-beating, state-of-the-art machinery such as the 8-series coupe, and to the Chinese among many others. Would that the UK had such a healthy outlook for its car industry, including the bits owned by the German-based companies. My M850i felt anything but kaput. Wunderbar, more like.
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