Some cars are meant to be enjoyed by a very exclusive group of people from the moment they are penned. That’s a very limited cast, to be fair, otherwise known as the 1 percenters in recent years. Those are people who can afford the best things in life and that includes cars and other frivolities that aren’t really a necessity, but more of a fad. It’s hard to justify the price tag of a car in the six-figure range, no matter how you look at it, as long as there are cars that can also get you from point A to B for a fraction of that price. And yet, you can only understand why you’d be willing to pay that much if you experience what these cars have to offer. I’m not talking only about the performance, but also about the experience because cars like the M850i xDrive Convertible come with a certain feeling that you need to experience for yourself.
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Exterior and Interior Design
BMW did the whole 8 Series thing about 20 years ago. Back then, it was the epitome of luxury and the same recipe is applied today. As you may know, BMW names its cars according to the position they occupy in the range, the higher the number, the more luxury you can expect. At the same time, the exterior size grows considerably, which makes the 8 Series Convertible a bit of a paradox. Taking a look at the spec sheet reveals that the 8 Series is one of the longest cars BMW makes today. It sits at 191 inches in length (4,851 mm) – and thus you can hardly say this is not a long wheelbase car – but once you sit inside, you will notice that space kind of disappears.
It fascinates me how car makers manage to squeeze every bit of usable space on small cars like the 1 Series, for example, and how that same space just disappears when it comes to bigger models like the 8 Series. To be blunter, I wouldn’t recommend sitting anyone in the back if they are over 5’4” (160 cm). It’s perfectly fine for kids and I did manage to sit even taller adults in the back, but with the sacrifice of those sitting in front and only for short distances. However irrational it may sound, that’s the case with most convertible models out there and it seems like it’s a downright rule especially for big, luxurious GT cars.
The main rivals the M850i Convertible has to deal with have similar problems. The S-Class Convertible has more room in the back, but it’s still not exactly fitting for four adults. The Bentley Continental GT has the same issues while the Aston Martin Vanquish Volante doesn’t have rear seats at all.
Also, on the topic of practicality, the front seats are some of the most comfortable I’ve ever tested, feeling sublime in every given situation. They were wrapped in Merino Leather in a stunning shade of red, combined with extended applications in black, from the dash to the door panels and other certain areas. Piano black trims and the aluminum applications for the Bowers and Wilkins sound system created a really good-looking contrast, something that plays into the exquisite experience you’d expect from such a car.
The interior now features BMW’s latest iDrive system as well, with the new digital instrument cluster that I’m not a big fan of. It gets even worse in a convertible as sun can shine directly into the cluster and make reading information off it rather difficult. Luckily, the Head-Up Display also went up another notch and provides every bit of information you could possibly need. The cabin shines even brighter the moment night falls, as the ambient lighting turns everything into a proper spectacle.
You can, of course, choose the preferred color for the lights but unlike other cars, on this one we also had the Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound system which is the best you can get in any BMW these days. It comes with tweeters made using diamond dust for better sound and apart from the exquisite clarity this system provides, it also looks brilliant at night, when the tweeters and mid-range speakers on the doors light up, showing that Fibonacci string design in all its greatness. You can choose whether they should be lit up in white or in the same color as the ambient lighting, as well as turning them off completely.
As usual, when it comes to convertibles, I’d recommend getting the top tier sound system, which in this case will set you back 3,800 euros in Europe. This way, you make sure the speakers can provide enough power to compensate for the wind noise in the 8er. Something some people don’t realize about droptops is that since you don’t have a roof, the sound from the speakers goes everywhere, making enjoying the music a futile exercise unless enough power is provided. That’s not the case on the M850i though, if you choose the Bowers & Wilkins sound system. It’s a perfect choice and you should get it, even if it means dropping other options from your list.
I’d also recommend getting the Driving Assistance Packages, event though I know some people won’t agree. The thing is, as capable as this car is – and we’ll get into that in a moment – it is meant to be thoroughly enjoyed, not raced. Thus, this is a proper gran tourer, meant to be driven on the shores of the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean, taking in the cool breeze. In such a scenario, you could just activate cruise control and the Lane Keeping Assistant to allow you to take in the scenery. Chip in the sound the V8 provides and you’ll understand why this luxobarge costs as much as it does.
Regarding the sound, the M Performance model comes with a new exhaust compared to other iterations of the N63 engine and it has a specific note, which comes from the way the turbos are connected to the engine. Unlike on some mills, where a twin-turbo setup usually means you get a turbo for each bank, on the N63 two cylinders from each bank are connected to each turbo. That gives this V8 a special sound, and it’s thrilling, to put it mildly. In Eco Pro or Comfort mode, you only notice its voice at low revs, when pulling out. Put the car in Sport or Sport+ and things get louder in an instant. The sound is quite addictive, to be honest, and it is to be enjoyed with the top down, which makes the experience even better. There’s plenty of pops and bangs and the car becomes an instant head turner the moment you open the flaps in the exhaust via the Sport mode.
That’s not the only reason why people will gawk at you while behind the wheel though. The tester we had was dressed up in Dravit Grey and had Fiona Red Merino leather inside, and the contrast they created was another reason why you’d get interested looks. The design of the 8 Series is a stunner anyway, no matter whether in Coupe or Convertible guise. The thing is, the latter choice looks better as it creates an even better profile from the side and the back, with a wide rear end and generous hips since the roof can be folded. Wearing 20” tires and wheels also contributes to this overall sensation of awe and the contrasting blue calipers hidden behind the gloss black rims is yet another good addition.
Speaking of the roof, it’s a textile choice for a number of reasons. Just like the 6 Series before, the 8 Series follows the same path as it is a less complicated design as well as a lighter option overall. Sure, a convertible will always be heavier than a Coupe, due to its complicated mechanisms used to pull back the top, but using a textile roof makes things a bit lighter. Even so, the M850i xDrive is a heavy car and you can feel it when pushing it hard on some twisty roads. In its defense though, that’s the only time you’ll actually feel its heft in action. In a straight line, this thing simply flies. It will do 0-62 mph (0-100 km/h) in under 4 seconds and that’s just crazy. The 530 PS (523 HP) and 750 Nm (553 lb-ft) of torque are the main culprits of why this is even possible. Another is the xDrive all-wheel drive system and the brilliant 8-speed automatic gearbox. Put them all together and you get a proper, comfortable GT car mixed in with ludicrous amounts of speeds if you so desire along with a brilliant soundtrack. Take the top off to enjoy some sun and wind and there’s very little more you can ask for.
Even though the M850i is heavy, you only feel it when you’re trying to make this car perform in ways it wasn’t intended to. This is a cruiser, not a sports car. It will be incredibly fast in a straight line and that may fool you but don’t get confused. The fact that we lost the roof as well, doesn’t do it any favors. There’s flex in the car’s body, as expected, but the fact that you get Integral Active Steering helps out, a lot. It masks the car’s hefty weight and also allows it to be more agile than you’d think. Having rear wheel steering also helps with flex and it’s a win-win situation.
Why would you care how heavy a car is if it performs great anyway?
Another plus is the level of comfort you get. The ride is absolutely sublime. Composed at all times, handling imperfections in the road with grace, the M850i Convertible is definitely worthy of the GT badge. The throttle response is great too, as it varies quite a lot depending on the driving mode.
Around town, in Eco Pro or Comfort mode, the acceleration is progressive, easy to modulate and control all the way through the rev range. The shifts are smooth as butter and the adaptive suspension makes sure potholes are dealt with in an elegant manner. The 20” wheels do send some jolts into the car’s chassis if you’re dealing with utter rubbish roads, but all things considered, this gran tourer drives like a dream. In the M850i, the change from Eco Pro/ Comfort to Sport mode makes a bigger difference than in other cars, if you ask me. Everything stiffens up and the throttle response gets razor sharp. It’s not on the level of, say an S85 engine, but turbo lag is almost nonexistent.
As expected, I spent most of my time with the car with the roof down, being lucky enough to have great weather. Thus, I couldn’t but be disappointed with the wind deflector solution chosen by BMW for the 8 Series. Basically, it’s the same system used on cars like the E30 3 Series, more than 30 years ago. Install it on top of the rear seats and you turn your convertible into a roadster, only two seats being actually usable. A new, more modern and intelligent approach would’ve been better, so that you can possibly enjoy your time in this car with your kids or short friends, not just your significant other.
Also, the entire action of putting the wind deflector up or taking it down is pretty confusing. The deflector does work, though, and I can’t complain about that. Put it up along with the side windows and you can enjoy open top cruising at speeds up to 75 mph without the wind bothering you too much. Sure, you’ll have to speak loudly, but that’s part of the convertible lifestyle. Furthermore, the angle at which the windshield is hooked to the body of the car means you don’t get too bothered by the wind without the deflector either. BMW also includes, as standard, neck warmers on the backs of your front seats. That means you can enjoy your car even in colder weather, with the top down.
The boot is yet another disappointment as is the case with a lot of convertibles. Unlike on the 8 Series Coupe, where the boot is quite generous in size, on the convertible you get minuscule amounts of space, fit for maybe two carry-on cases and that’s about it. Since you won’t be carrying people in the back of your car anyway, I’m guessing that space will be used for luggage anyway.
So where does that leave us? The 8 Series Convertible is a more than welcome in my book. To some extent, I think it’s more of a modern version of the original 8 Series than the Coupe model. That’s because, due to the fact that you can retract your roof, there’s no B-Pillar on this car, making it look like the real successor of the 8er made in the 1990s than the fixed-roof counterpart. I know I may be subjective, but the fact that the Coupe has a B-Pillar has been a rather big disappointment for me.
The droptop is also more of a head turner than the Coupe model. Wherever you go people give you the VIP treatment without even knowing who you are. There’s a possibility that this is happening because there simply aren’t too many of these cars out there at the moment and, as they get more common, the wow factor will die down. However, I’m also certain the design, contrast between red leather and a dark grey exterior as well as the sound of the V8 will never go out of fashion, causing a stir wherever you go.
Yes, this is an attention grabber, a head turner, if you will. It’s also a fast, comfortable car that will allow you to have an incredible overall experience while behind the wheel.
Should I buy it?
Is it better than its rivals? Hard to say, as the 8 Series kind-of plays in its own league.
The S-Class Convertible comes closest but it’s bigger and not nearly as composed on the road when driven hard. It’s also more expensive even though the two are pretty close. The Porsche 911 is a different breed as well, while the Aston Martin or Bentley choices are drastically more expensive, but you end up paying for the badge more than for the experience. What I can say though is that this has been the highlight of my year so far in terms of driving experience and enjoyment and, unless the M8 Convertible arrives on my driveway by 2020, I think this will remain at the top of my 2019 list.