I still remember the day I found out that BMW wanted to bring back the 8 Series moniker. One of my trusted sources had texted me and I simply couldn’t believe it. Of course, I couldn’t share the news with everyone, but was excited at the same time. Naturally, I immediately started dreaming about what it could look like.
The original rose the bar extremely high and it had a certain je ne sais quoi that enthralled not just me but a lot of customers too. It had a design that withstood the test of time and a shape that immediately got your attention the most attractive feature, for me, being the lack of a B-pillar. That alone made it special, a standout in the crowd, and I was hoping the new model will be even better and leave the troubles the original had behind.
One Of The Best Car Designs: The E31 8 Series
That’s because, even though the original 8er was beautiful, it also had a lot of problems. That car was designed to be a GT model even though some have mistaken it for a sports car. It couldn’t possibly pose as a sports car because of its weight and size. Furthermore, the weight distribution was all over the place, with huge V12 engines up front loading the front axle rather a lot. And those V12 engines did have their issues and still do, to this day.
Even so, with all those issues, the car was special and you simply can’t deny that. It had the best engine architecture at its disposal, along with simple, muscular lines along the sides to let everyone know there was plenty of power hiding under the sheet metal.
Big Shoes To Fill
The new model has some pretty big shoes to fill, then, and I’m not sure it’s capable of doing that. When it was first unveiled, a lot of people said it was just a 6 Series but in fancier clothing, and with a different number on the boot. Those critics aren’t necessarily completely off and the sales figures sure seem to point that way. But even so, I think the 8 Series is the best-looking car in the current line-up of the Bavarian car maker. By quite a lot.
Pictures don’t really do justice to this car and that’s becoming a cliché used to describe modern-day BMWs. When I first saw pics of the car, I too thought it was a bit much, especially at the back, where all sorts of shapes were mixed together, putting on a show that was meant to include everything. Unsurprisingly, when you actually get to see the car in the metal, that whole rear end looks a lot better, because you have a 3D perspective of it and understand why all those elements are where they are.
Chip in the wide hips that are further accentuated on a Convertible model, and you definitely see the resemblance to the original. The front-end is beautiful too, aggressive but not over the top, in a sort of silent killer style, if you will. The low-slung, sharp nose and the sleek headlamps with the short overhangs create a powerful front fascia, worthy of the 8 Series moniker.
My one gripe with the new generation though has to do with the side profile, specifically with one element that shouldn’t be there. I’m referring to the B-Pillar, of course, one of the elements that made the 8er special in the first place. Luckily, the 8 Series Convertible doesn’t have one and that makes it my favorite body style in the 8 Series range.
Yes, I’m that frivolous.
It’s also quite ironic how the S-Class Coupe, the only true rival the 8 Series has, doesn’t have a B-pillar. The Convertible would be my pick of the three body styles also because I think it fits the character of this car best.
Let’s be honest here: this is no sports car! Tipping the scale at nearly 2 tons for the Coupe model and even more for the Convertible, this isn’t even near to that goal post. Instead, the 8 Series Convertible is a long and heavy car that’s definitely easier to include in the GT segment than anywhere else. And since that’s the case, and we’re talking about a 530 HP beast with a proper twin-turbo under the hood and a price tag well over $100,000, it’s pretty obvious it appeals to those who can afford it as a weekend getaway toy.
Since that’s how it’s going to be used, and not anywhere near any sort of practical purpose, the Convertible body style, with its retractable roof makes it the perfect choice in my book. Just press (keep pressing) a button (for 15 seconds at up to 31 mph) and start enjoying the open air.
Unique Touches From BMW Individual
The BMW M850i Convertible delivers on that front and then some. It looks brilliant from the outside, as we already established (even with the roof up) and it does the same great job inside as well. The materials are of the best quality and the finish is up to par. Our tester came dressed up with Merino Opal White leather which will be tricky to maintain over time but does put on a show, especially in combination with the Atlantis Blue Metallic paint job.
This color, part of the Individual catalogue, is one of my favorites of all time and while it does look different depending on the type of light hitting it, it’s also a nightmare to try and capture it accurately on camera. It’s one of those hues you just have to see for yourself.
Even though the fit and finish is impeccable and the leather soft to the touch, when you get inside the 8 Series you don’t really feel like this car is something special. Especially if you’ve been inside a BMW made in the last 3 years. And the design easily makes a point here, as it is roughly the same as the one you find in a 3 Series. The only noticeable difference is to be found on the center console. Sure, you get a leather wrapped dashboard, crystal knobs and the aluminum Bowers & Wilkins speaker grilles and they are nice, but nothing truly out of the ordinary and nothing you couldn’t get on any other BMW today as a matter of fact.
The one thing that surprises you is how space tends to disappear inside the cabin. BMW sells this car as a four-seater but you can only really use the front two seats for adults. I was able to fit children in the back, with some sacrifices, but I really wouldn’t recommend it, not for longer trips at least. All of this is true even though the car measures over 4.8 meters in length, nearly catching up to the 7 Series flagship.
Looking at it from outside you’d think there’s plenty of room inside but you’d be wrong. The length also becomes a nuisance when driving around town, too, as you have to be mindful of the car’s generous proportions to make sure you don’t scratch anything. Luckily, you can get it with integral steering which makes it rather easy to park, in combination with the 360-degree camera system.
What we’ve uncovered so far is that this car is not practical, it’s not easy to drive around town and it could use a bit more pizzas. But is there something the BMW M850i does well? There is and it’s all thanks to that brilliant engine.
The Same V8 Brilliant Engine
Take the top down and enter sport mode and you instantly realize just why so many people want one of these cars and wouldn’t mind paying so much for it. Just listening to that brilliant V8 sound and feeling every fiber of the Merino leather makes it all worthwhile. Even the terrible mpg numbers.
The BMW M850i is incredibly fast. It’s so fast, you need to make sure you have a long stretch of clear roads in front of you any time you decide to press the gas pedal to the metal for more than a few seconds. It will do 0-100 km/h in less than 3.9 seconds most of the time, even though BMW’s claims would say otherwise. And it feels fast too, especially with the roof down as the wind makes its way into the cabin.
It’s quite amazing how this car piles on miles on the speedometer and you don’t really get the chance to watch the process as you’ll be focused on the road, noticing how the lines separating the lanes start getting blurry. Luckily, even though the M850i has 530 HP and 750 Nm (553 lb-ft) of torque at its disposal, it also comes with xDrive all-wheel drive and that helps put the power down efficiently.
Fret not though, as it has been set up in typical BMW fashion and it will still allow you to have some fun, swinging that generous tail whenever you’re more aggressive with the gas pedal. And all the while you’re doing that, the majestic sound of the V8 is right up there with you, unencumbered by any sort of roof or sound insulation, a sound that’s right as it should be, not too loud or raspy, as it is on the M8, and not too subdued either. Just perfect!
The wind is well kept out at speeds up to 80 km/h but that marker is reached in the blink of an eye, so you need to make sure you have the wind deflector installed (which nullifies the useless rear seats anyway) and the windows up as they will keep the wind muffled out at speeds up to 110 km/h (70 mph). Over that speed you’re on your own and you better make sure you brought a cap or scarf or something to keep your head protected.
As for the cornering, I wish I could say this is a proper rival for a Porsche 911 but it just isn’t. BMW did its best to keep the weight in check but there’s only so much you can do. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great car to throw in a series of fast paced corners but you need to make sure they aren’t too tight as the M850i will lean a bit into them. The integral steering helps but it can’t work miracles, as I’m sure you’re expecting. After all, it seems pretty obvious to me then that this car fits better on the open road, maybe on the shores of the Pacific on the PCH than on Lime Rock Park.
Should You Buy One?
And that brings us to the inevitable question that has been haunting this car from the get go: who is it for? It’s hard to say, to be fair, because this is not a bad car. It’s a riot on wheels, an adrenaline-infusing machine that sounds brilliant and looks like it belongs in Saint Tropez all year long. And yet I can’t help but feel like this is just a 6 Series with a different badge on it.
Some are saying that this car is supposed to rival the likes of the Bentley Continental GT or the Aston Martin Vantage, but unfortunately the 8 Series doesn’t have anything truly special in its bag to allow it to stand next to those shiny badges. And when you’re talking about asking for $150,000 on a car, the badge does have a lot to do with it. Sure, the BMW M850i will beat an Aston Martin Vantage in a drag race but do you really care by the end of the day? Would you really pick the BMW for that reason alone?
2020 BMW M850i Convertible
Exterior Appeal - 90%
Interior Quality - 90%
Steering Feedback - 70%
Performance - 100%
Handling - 80%
BMWness/Ultimate Driving Machine - 90%
Price Point - 70%
When you’re talking about a $150,000 car, the badge does have a lot to do with it. Sure, the BMW M850i will beat an Aston Martin Vantage in a drag race but do you really care by the end of the day? Would you really pick the BMW for that reason alone?