As a car journalist, it’s easy to get jaded. We often get to drive some of the sexiest, most exciting cars on the planet, cars that most enthusiasts can only daydream about driving. So sometimes, we get really quite fantastic test cars to borrow and they just sit there, in the driveway, for days at a time. Sometimes, though, there are cars that light a fire under even the most jaded car journalist’s ass. For me, that car was recently the BMW M850i Convertible. It might not be the most thrilling car on sale but the combination of its stunning blue color, black wheels, monstrous V8 and killer soundtrack made it impossible to resist.
When BMW first launched this new 8 Series, now in its long-awaited second-generation, it was immediately admired for its beauty. However, once test drive reviews started to trickle out, some journalists were concerned that it lacked a certain desired tactility, that it wasn’t the sports car they hoped it would be. I’m here to tell you that such a feeling is misguided, especially in the BMW M850i Convertible.
The M850i isn’t a sports car. Such a statement might not sit well with the brass at BMW but it’s the truth. Despite the 8er’s remarkable ability and impressive engineering, it’s still far too big and heavy to be a genuine sports machine. Having said that, it also doesn’t feel like it’s trying to be a sports car, or even that it was meant to be a sports car. Rather, it feels like a sporty GT car, a comfortable grand tourer that can handle a twisty road if it encounters one. And that’s because it is one.
There’s a lot of talk about the BMW M850i not being as good to drive as a Porsche 911. No dispute there. It isn’t. But it isn’t meant to be, either. It’s meant to be sporty but also incredibly comfortable. It’s meant to be fast but also remarkably refined. It’s meant to take long, exciting and romantic adventures; across continents, through stunning scenery. Preferably, with Alex Morgan riding shotgun.
Part of its romanticism is its styling. The BMW M850i is a stunning car and my Sonic Speed Blue Convertible test car turned heads as much as any high-priced exotic. Its beauty combines with traditional GT car styling; a long hood, short overhangs and a low roof; to inspire grand fantasies. Yet, it’s muscular enough and edgy enough to remind you that it’s also incredibly powerful. Which is also part of its attraction. It’s gorgeous but also powerful and it doesn’t want you to forget that.
It’s not perfect; its Kidney Grilles can be a bit odd looking at some angles and its headlights are a bit boring; however it’s a genuinely pretty car from any other angle and one that made me turn back to admire it each and every time I locked it and walked away. Its silhouette is beautiful and it has so much presence. Sure, it might have the odd design quirk here and there but the BMW M850i’s design is more than a sum of its parts, so to speak.
Admittedly, it could use a more exciting interior. I get where BMW was going when it was designing the 8er’s cabin — attempting to harken back to the original E31 8 Series — but it comes off being a bit too drab in such an expensive, pretty car. Granted, it’s a lovely interior to actually sit in and use, as the materials are superb, ergonomics are near-perfect and the technology is top-of-the-line. But its design is a just bit underwhelming and, honestly, not much better than what you’ll find in a decently spec’d 3 Series. Still, I wasn’t complaining while driving it and you likely wouldn’t either.
While it is a GT car, I’d be remiss to say that the BMW M850i Convertible isn’t fun to drive. By nature, the 8er is designed to go very fast in a straight line and occasionally take a high-speed sweeping turn. But it’s still a good athlete. Steering is accurate and its front end is responsive, allowing the M850i ‘Vert to be placed exactly where the you want. Its chassis is also willing to follow, allowing you to push the car and it will play along. Though, don’t push it too hard or physics will remind you of how big and heavy it actually is. Thankfully, that limit is higher than 99.9 percent of customers’ capabilities.
But where the fun really starts is under its hood. Hiding away under that seductively sculpted hood is a 4.4 liter twin-turbocharged V8 that makes 523 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque and it seems heavily underrated. Forward thrust is effortless, with the dip of the toe resulting in a near-catapult-like launch at the horizon. I don’t know what it is about Bavarian horses but they seem stronger than most. Maybe it’s all the beer and sausage.
BMW claims 0-60 mph in 3.8 seconds for the BMW M850i Convertible. That’s a few tenths shy of the Coupe and even a few tenths shy than a lot of its competitors. Don’t think it doesn’t feel fast, though. It feels violently fast, with explosive acceleration at any speed, in any gear. It’s just not as absurdly fast as some of its competitors. Honestly, though, when you’re traveling at that sort of speed, with the top down, wind in your hair and a blaring V8 soundtrack behind your head, are you really concerned those couple of tenths?
That V8 noise alone is worth spending the extra money on the Convertible. With the top down, there’s no roof to muffle the noise of eight furious cylinders firing and any sort of speaker/exhaust trickery is either too washed out by real engine, induction and exhaust noise to hear or nonexistent entirely. Either way, it’s a fantastic noise that combines a lot of great V8 sounds. For instance, at low revs, it has a bit of American V8 to it but that noise becomes higher in pitch and begins to wail, like a European exotic, as it reaches higher revs. With that noise reaching your ears unencumbered, any sort of worry of performance figures, lap times or grip are gone. All you care about is the noise.
Of course, that monstrous V8 is paired with a ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic gearbox as-standard (and typical in BMWs) and routes power to all four wheels. So it’s a calm, comfortable and easy car to drive, even in sketchy weather. When you’re not making a ton of V8 noise, it’s even quiet and restrained. Puttering around town in the M850i is as easy as it is in a 3 Series. Even the suspension is remarkably comfortable.
Despite being a relatively sporty car and one that weighs quite a bit, its suspension was always up for the job. Over even the harshest of bumps where I live, of which there are several, the M850i always remained composed and comfortable. There’s a real suppleness to the way the M850i Convertible rides. It’s a bit firm, as it does have a sporty side as well, but bumps are dealt with in such a way that they’re felt but not intrusive. So you can still feel what’s going on beneath you but it never spoils the fun or the luxury.
For me, though, the most impressive aspect of the BMW M850i Convertible is its refinement. Despite not having a roof, which inherently ruins structural rigidity, the drop-top 8er never suffers even the tiniest wiggle or shake through the chassis. BMW has done a remarkable job with increasing the Convertible’s rigidity and removing NVH (Noise Vibration Harshness). Last year, I drove a BMW M4 Convertible and every bump would send harsh vibrations through the entire car and it often felt as if the rear-view mirror would jiggle off. Not so in the M850i, where cowl shake is nonexistent.
That’s not where BMW’s attention to detail ends, though. You can tell a lot of thought and work went into making the M850i a proper GT car. As a GT car, it needs to be practical as well. After all, where is Ms. Morgan going to put her bags on our European getaway? So the trunk is surprisingly capacious and very deep. Two sets of golf clubs can fit longitudinally with a couple of extra bags on top. Anything else you need to carry with you can be stored in the back seats.
Those two rear seats may be the only practical miscalculation by BMW. They might look like seats but human legs would disagree. Adults can’t fit in the back at all unless the two front passengers have their seat so far forward their knees are pressed against the dash. However, if you think of them as leather-lined parcel shelves, which is what most 911 owners do, then they make a bit more sense and act as helpful storage.
When you want to drive with the top down, the easily stowed wind deflector is in the trunk, tucked away in its own little bag. Once out of its bag, the wind deflector is easy to install and can be done by one person in just a few seconds. With the wind deflector in place and the side windows up, you can drive the BMW M850i Convertible at a very rapid pace, with the top down, and easily have a conversation while also keeping your hair in check.
All of that combines to make the BMW M850i Convertible an incredible grand touring car. I’ve seen a shocking amount of criticism for its lack of driving engagement or purity. But those claims are misguided, as enthusiasts are wrongly comparing it to the Porsche 911 Cabriolet and Mercedes-AMG GT Roadster. It doesn’t compete with those cars, though. Those are sports cars. The BMW M850i Convertible is more luxurious, more relaxed and more refined than the Porsche and AMG.
So don’t think of it as a 911 fighter. Don’t think of it as a proper sports car, something to get your blood pumping on a back canyon road. Instead, think of it as a budget Aston Martin DB11 Volante. Calm down a bit, drive it at six or seven tenths, and it starts to make so much more sense. Enjoy its stunning looks, the comfortable interior, the wind in your hair and that V8 soundtrack in your ears. The company in the passenger seat probably doesn’t hurt, either.