BMW's new 8-series exudes grandeur, sophistication and intensity
Classy racer: The new BMW 8-series The interiors stand out with touches such as the application of glass on the top of the gear lever, iDrive rotary control and Start button, and metal file surfaces for the iDrive knob and air-conditioner louvres. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

It has taken me nearly 30 years to drive the BMW 8-series. I never got to sample the first-generation car when it was introduced in 1990. It was a low-volume car and hence BMW did not think it needed additional exposure.

The first car resembled a shark - and a well-fed one - and was set to become an icon from the moment it arrived. Powered initially by a normally aspirated V12 - then the purview of a select few - it had an exotic appeal.

Like its predecessor, the new 8-series has a commanding presence, even if its styling is not as radical or revolutionary. It is a more aerodynamic and fluid version of the sleek 6-series, with lines which conform to the classic coupe shape.

You realise how special the car is once you step inside. It gets a two-tone cabin, with swathes of stitched leather lining the crucial areas. It has the usual tech accompaniment, but that takes a backseat to classy finishings.

The leather which drapes over the passenger-side dash stands out for its simplicity and vastness - unmarred by airbag signs. It makes that portion of the fascia resemble the glistening flank of a race horse.

The top of the gear lever and iDrive rotary control are encased in diamond-cut glass, which further lifts the car above its stablemates and peers. Even the Start button is encased in glass.

Metal file surfaces for the iDrive knob and air-conditioner louvres add a touch of glamour.

Seats are sporty yet cushy, with ventilation - rare on BMWs. Once adjusted, the driver's seat gives you a good view of your surroundings.

All in all, a very inviting and ergonomic interior, which makes driving the big and powerful two-door less daunting than it might have been.

In fact, the M850i xDrive is rather well-behaved for something with 530hp and 750Nm pouring out from its 4.4-litre biturbo V8.

Its eight-speed autobox does a smooth and seamless job of getting that output to all four wheels in a civilised manner.

Left to its own devices, the car is deceptively mild, with as much emphasis on refinement as verve. It gets to a gallop almost imperceptibly - with 50kmh to past 90kmh accomplished in the blink of an eye, and the engine emitting a low and soft drone which says it is not even beginning to flex.

But at the same time, it does not have the synaptic response which makes filling gaps in traffic.

For this, you need to select Sport Plus mode, which transforms the M850i into something else altogether.

Its V8 growl comes to the fore, with loud pops and crackle accompanying lift-offs and downshifts.

The gearbox becomes substantially more urgent and stays in one cog for a much longer time.

In this mode, the car takes on a racer's persona and you do not even have to toggle its paddle shifters to get it in the right gear - it is on edge.

Torque is apportioned mostly to the rear axle. There, an electronically controlled rear differential lock helps keep full-throated driving saner.

Even then, it is not difficult to get the M850i's tail out in Sport Plus mode. It is the preferable mode, as it brings out the sound and fury of a car which was never meant to be a shrinking violet.

The M850i is equipped with driving-assistance systems. These are far less intrusive than similar systems elsewhere, even if they sometimes seem out of place for such a driver-centric car.

Still, they do help to mitigate the car's broadness, tugging gently at the wheel to create more distance between you and the food delivery bike or heavy diesel truck along the way.

This is something an owner of the first 8-series did not have access to, nor would have even imagined.