There's something kind of strange about the new BMW M850i: It really shouldn't be this good. I mean that in all seriousness. It shouldn't have this much power—523 horses from its 4.4-liter, dual twin-scroll turbochargered V8—because the full M-version isn't even out yet, and that's an awfully M-caliber engine. It shouldn't turn this tightly or grip this masterfully, and it also shouldn't look this fierce and otherworldly from the low 3/4 view, as above, its 20-inch wheels anchoring the corners in near-perfect proportion. It's a sport coupe, but the blasted thing reads and writes like a supercar.
Consider its competition. The M850i comparable to the Porsche 911 in most regards, including its $111,900 starting price tag, but it feels like a low and wide supercar in the way the 911 simply doesn't, despite the fact that the 911 is a more properly pure sports car. Comparable rides from the Mercedes paddock are also equally impressive, but are weighted down in ways that chip away at that light, airy—but still highly motivated—feel that supercars strive for. The M850i has that. Driving around, it feels poised and precise and ready for anything at a millisecond's notice. Ultimately, it feels more akin to an Aston Martin Vantage, which has tighter handling and a more aggressive stance, but is also about $30,000 more to start.
The M850i's numbers are also impressive, though not quite in the stratosphere: It shoots to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds—equal to the Vantage—on the way to an electronically limited 155 mph, compared to the Aston's 195 mph top end. But the car immediately and all the way into triple-digit speeds feels like it should be able to handle way more than BMW gifts it, especially with its massive brakes, the rear-biased all-wheel-drive, and all the electronic aids that help keep the car on the straight and narrow in the hardest of driving. This is easily a 200-mph car—again, à la the Vantage—but is sadly boxed in due to its place in the lineup hierarchy.
So what gives? Obviously, BMW isn't playing games with this car. It arrives freighted with expectations relative to its 1990s-vintage 8-Series predecessor—which had a V12 option in addition to the standard V8—and it's up against an awful lot of friendly fire from its M5 sibling. That car costs nearly 10 grand less but it has more horsepower (617) and is faster to 60 (3.1) seconds, but it doesn't have the inherently sportstastic feel of the coupe. The M850i brings that vibe and yet it stops just short of going over the top, instead teeing up the upcoming M version spectacularly. When that model bows later this year it will likely be near 700-hp and possess sub-3-second acceleration, earning its rightful place as the corporate performance flagship.
It will also still further blur the line between sport coupe and supercar. Driving the current version for a week, it felt compliant when you wanted it to be and fierce when you needed it to be—increasingly the hallmarks of everything from the Ferrari touring cars to the Aston to all the Porsches. It may not have the baked-in luxury and prestige of some of these models, with their premium leather and that extra inch of track-readiness, but it absolutely give the best of them a run for their money in every respect.