1991 BMW 850

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Asking Price Range
$5,053–$16,593
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Expert Reviews

    Expert Reviews 1 of 2

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chicagotribune.com
The BMW 850i should be called the Valet because about all you have to dois show up and the car does everything else for you.

For example:

When you enter and plant posterior against the supple leather bucket seat and turn the key, the seat, steering wheel and outside mirrors adjust to your individual preprogrammed setting. If you change your mind, you need only pressa button and the steering wheel tilts or telescopes in or out to your liking. Turn off the ignition, and the steering wheel rises to make for an easier exitfrom the car.

Should you forget to close the windows and/or power sunroof after leaving the car, you need only insert the key in the driver`s door lock and thewindows and sunroof close automatically.

To keep wind noise from disturbing your drive and to prevent glass frombeing drawn away from the body at high speeds, the glass sits tightly against the rubber seals in the doors. The seal is so vacuum tight that, to allowproper opening and closing of the doors, the windows automatically lowerfractionally when you pull the door handle to get out of the car andautomatically rise and press against the seals when you then close the door.

When you want to make a telephone call, the cellular unit standard in the 850i is voice-activated, meaning that if you want to call work you utter theword ``office`` and the phone rings up the number.

Tired of fumbling in the console for tollway change? A hidden compartment in the driver`s door opens at the press of a button to provide you with theneeded coins at hand level. It`s up to you, however, to provide the coins.

Dad`s roasting while Mom`s freezing? No trouble. There are separate heat/ cool controls for the front-seat occupants. The climate-control system alsoincorporates an electrostatically charged microfilter that keeps out pollen,plant dust and other airborne pollutants, in addition to trapping bacteria,oil and diesel smoke and atmospheric dust.

The reserved space in the parking lot at your office sits in the sun, soyou bake when leaving for the day, right? Not with the 850i, which allows you to program the climate control to turn on the fan 30 minutes before you leave work to rid the car of the heat.

The glove box has dual compartments so you can keep the frequently useditems such as tape cassettes and compact discs in one, the less frequentlyused owner`s manual and maps in the other.

Should you fear the typical slip-and-slide rear-wheel-drive traction andstability on wet or snowy pavement, the 850i offers automatic stabilitycontrol (ASC) and automatic stability control plus traction (ASC+T), two formsof traction control. When computer sensors detect wheel spin, ASC reducesengine power to bring the wheel or wheels under control.

ASC+T takes that a step further by reducing engine power and applyingrear brakes automatically.

Traction control reduces the likelihood of accidents, but if theunexpected collision should happen, the central locking system on the 850iautomatically unlocks the doors, allowing outside access to occupants. Four-way flashers also are activated automatically in a collision.

To prevent the minor tire-versus-curb collision, the right-hand mirrorautomatically adjusts to provide a view of the curb while you`re backing up.

Cold weather is no obstacle to your enjoyment of the car because driverand passenger seats, right and left outside mirrors and windshield washer jetsare heated.

All this plus antilock brakes, driver-side airbag and the same 5-liter,296-horsepower V-12 engine from the BMW 750iL, plus the choice of six-speedmanual or four-speed automatic at no extra cost.

The 850i is a high-price, high-performance coupe that the automaker notso modestly calls the ``absolute state of the art`` and a ``true breakthrough in the art of the automobile.``

The boasts are a bit much. Other luxury cars do much he same as the850i. The Lexus LS400, for example, has a movable steering column; Mercedes,Cadillac and even the Ford Crown Victoria have traction control; and Buick hasdual temperature controls in the dash. The 850i brings the goodies from avariety of cars together in one machine, a $77,000 two-door coupe.

We drove the 850i with the six-speed, not the transmission of choiceunless you have some wide open spaces along about fourth gear. It`s not thatthe six-speed isn`t smooth; it`s just that by the time you reach third gearyou`re at the next stop light. Of the 1,500 BMW 850i`s to be shipped to theU.S. for 1991, only 1 to 2 percent will be six-speeds.

The 850i accelerates from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 6.1 seconds (6.9 with automatic) and has a top speed of 155 m.p.h. The price you pay for performanceis $3,700, the federal gas-guzzler tax imposed on the car for its 12 m.p.g.city/19 m.p.g. highway (18 with automatic) fuel-economy rating.

Ride and handling is of the upper-echelon type. And the quiet underalmost any conditions is eerie. We had ample opportunity to check out thetraction control after the recent midweek snowstorm. Our car was equipped withASC+T, which rates an A-plus for moving off the line on snow-caked pavement.The one qualm we had was that the monstrous 16-inch tires were the wide-profile type, which is great for hugging corners in turns, but which tendedto float on wet pavement when changing lanes.

Despite all the bells and whistles, the 850i does have some flaws.Laughingly it`s called a two-plus-two. The rear seat is a joke. The back ofthe front seat rests against the front of the rear seat. There is no leg room in back. Head and arm room? If you can`t get legs in back, what do arms andheads matter?

You can choose between firm (sports) or soft (comfort) suspensionsettings by pushing a button on the center console. The sports setting ismarked with an ``S,`` the comfort setting with a ``K.`` A ``K``?

Memory seats that self-adjust are fine, but not when the driver beforeyou was 8 inches shorter and you forget that before turning the key, meaningyou sit in horror as the seat edges toward the steering column.

And $77,000 and no cupholder-or should we say, Perrier receptacle.

The fact the 850i is so expensive and available in such limited numbersmakes it the object of attention by passersby. If you like being gawked at andhaving each stranger on the street stop to ask, ``What is it and what does it cost?`` you`ll appreciate the 850i. Some won`t relish the fish bowl treatment. The 850i is the successor to the 6 series at BMW. It`s the most un-BMW-looking car the automaker has come up with. Its low-slung aero design is abit Jaguar-like. The typical round headlamps give way to concealed, popuplights, but the traditional kidney-shaped grille up front is the clue to itsheritage.

The car is built on a 105.7-inch wheelbase and is 188.2 inches long overall, which makes it smaller than a Ford Taurus. The car looks bigger inphotos than it does in reality.

Standard equipment, in addition to that mentioned above, includes cruisecontrol, stainless-steel exhaust, front and rear anti-roll bars, four-wheelindependent suspension, power brakes and steering, steel-belted radial tires, intermittent wipers, dual power mirrors, power seats, rear reading lights(useless because human beings don`t fit back there), first-aid kit (neededin case you try to sit in the back seat to read), tinted glass, power windows,dual trip odometers, rear-window defroster, air conditoning, power sunroof,AM/FM stereo with cassette and CD player, cellular phone and tool kit (toextricate the fool who tries to get in the back seat to read).

Base price is $73,600, to which you must add the $3,700 gas-guzzler taxfor a $77,300 sticker. Our test car added ASC+T for $1,500, push-buttonsuspension control settings for $1,470 and forged alloy wheels f r $1,000.Those brought the sticker to $81,270.

You also have to cough up a 10 percent luxury tax on the amount exceeding $30,000, which is $51,270, for a tax of $5,127. That brings you to $86,397.Take heart, however, that there`s no freight charge.

The 850i first arrived in limited numbers in December, at which time some dealers were quoting $25,000 over sticker. Reportedly the extent of greed has lessened in recent months, and $5,000 to $10,000 over sticker is more commonfor the limited-edition coupe.




    Expert Reviews 1 of 2

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