- The BMW M850i convertible is a stylish throwback with a powerful engine that nonetheless comes packed with high-tech features.
- The convertible isn’t cheap.
- But the hefty price tag is certainly worth it if you’ve reached a certain stature in life and want to reward yourself.
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In a world that seems to want nothing but suburban utes and upscale pickups, cars like the BMW M850i convertible are romantic anachronisms. What’s the point of a top-down, grand-touring, two-door convertible with a 523-horsepower engine in a realm of bubbly crossovers with turbocharged four-bangers and trucks with room in the back for lumber and logs?
The rationale behind the revived BMW 8-Series is that there must be some people out there in Carlandia who value a long drive at high speed while dressed to the nines. They’re probably older folks who spend more than $US300 on sunglasses and favour equally pricey Italian sportswear. Their luggage matches. They fly first-class.
And the last time they had a BMW 850 to spend money on, it was the 1990s. Sure, they have had the 6 Series. But decades ago, the old 8’s massive V12 motor meant that while the junior talent agents and guys who were trying to make partner while driving the 3 Series, there was something special for those who had hit the upper rungs of life’s ladder.
The V12 option is gone, and in its place is a superior (if less cool to speak of aloud) V8 that rocks a pair of turbochargers. Simply put, the new M850i isn’t screwing around with its raison d’être: to propel affluent adults toward the horizon at impressive velocities.
BMW recently loaned us a 2019 M850i xDrive convertible with all-wheel drive, stickering at $US126,000. (There’s also a coupé that starts at about $US112,000.) I drove this first ragtop of the year around New York City and the New Jersey suburbs. I rolled large – very large. Here’s what I thought.
The 2019 BMW M850i xDrive convertible arrived in a sharp “Sonic Speed Blue” paint job.
The BMW 8 Series has been missing in action since the late 1990s. But boy, that old car was a thing of beauty! Back then, you could choose between a V8 or a V12.
The M850i looks … OK with the top up, but the coupé looks better.
I immediately dropped the lid, an automated operation that takes about 15 seconds, with the soft top stowing in a compartment behind the back seat.
You really want to engage in some open-air motoring with the car. And fortunately, spring warmth and sunshine arrived on cue in the Northeast.
The signature BMW kidney grille is blacked out and narrow, stretching from headlight to headlight.
The M850i’s proportions are good, not great. I’d prefer some extra hood.
The sleek headlights are adaptive LEDs, meaning the high beams can be adjusted to traffic by dimming and the headlights can adjust in their pods.
My test car came with 20-inch wheels, sporty rubber, M Sport brakes, and an adaptive M Sport suspension.
Trunk space is usually a compromise with convertibles …
… and the M850i is no exception. There’s barely enough room for a small gym bag and a squash racket.
The M850i badging is modest. This isn’t a full-on BMW M car — a proper M8 will arrive later. But the M850i does get some M Sport goodies, such as the aforementioned brakes and an M Sport differential.
Let’s pop the hood and check out that mighty powerplant!
The twin-turbocharged V8 is a 4.4-litre mill than makes 523 horsepower with 553 pound-feet of juicy torque. The power is sent to the all-wheel-drive system via an eight-speed automatic with manual mode. Fuel economy is surprising: 17 mpg city/26 highway/20 combined.
Time to slip inside! The M850i’s interior isn’t as posh as what you’d find in a Mercedes or an Aston Martin, but it’s nevertheless quite well-appointed and tectonically purposeful. The front seats and armrests are heated and cooled — and there’s a neck warmer available for $US400.
The back seat is … well, it’s snug, with room for two adults as long as they don’t mind developing a close relationship with their knees.
Nobody is going to argue with the sunshine pouring in, however.
I always find BMW steering wheels too thick. But the feel of the M850i’s leather-wrapped wheel is excellent, and the buttons and knobs allow for hands-free operation of vehicle systems and the infotainment. The instrument cluster is all digital.
The wheel is also heated, and there’s a nod to the M Sport features.
The BMW M850i has a “display key” with a small touchscreen to set climate controls remotely and assess the vehicle’s status.
The display key is recharged using the car’s wireless pad.
The center console houses the glistening crystal shifter (too much bling for me), the iDrive infotainment controls, and the drive-mode selector.
The M850i’s infotainment system, iDrive, runs on a 10.25-inch screen. It’s effective, but it’s also rich with branching submenus.
GPS navigation was faultless in my testing.
Owners get a one-year subscription to SiriusXM satellite radio. There are also USB/AUX ports for devices, as well as Bluetooth pairing.
The system also showcases the drive modes. I rather enjoyed adaptive, which adjusts to driving needs and the driver’s style …
… but many owners will favour sport and sport-plus to get the full effect of that roaring, barking, rumbling V8 as you work it up and down the gears and the torque band. The M850i can hit 60 mph in 3.5 seconds, on its way to a top speed of 155 mph.
The Harman Kardon surround-sound audio system is brilliant. BMW has really found a superb partner here.
So what’s the verdict?
I like two-doors with monumental engines: the Ferrari 812 Superfast, the Mercedes-AMG GT, the Aston Martin DB11. When you’re talking about GT cars, you’ve got me at G.
This is, of course, age talking. I’m not a youngster, so taking a sports car hard into a corner appeals to me less than it once did. Going fast in a straight line is fine. If I’m surrounded by luxury, so much the better.
The M850i is what we might once have called a “fine automobile.” You certainly feel fine in it, sort of like Goldilocks: It’s not too stiff, but it’s a Bimmer, so it’s not too soft either. The car is cut from lightweight aluminium, but it manages to soak up the bumps relatively well. (It tips the scales at about 4,500 pounds, so it’s not a featherweight.)
The V8 serves up 70 fewer ponies than what I savoured in the M5 last year, but that’s to be expected with the sub-M Sport M850i. To be honest, I don’t need 600 horsepower to have fun – 500 and change is good by me.
The 850i I tested was also equipped with about $US2,000 worth of driver-assist and semi-self-driving tech, which I had previously explored on a BMW X7 SUV. I avoided the parking assistant and the traffic-jam assist (the former is iffy, while in the case of the latter, I didn’t find myself in any jams). The surround-view 3D camera is cool, however, providing a bird’s-eye view of the vehicle when manoeuvring.
If you’re one of the few and the proud and the brave who might be in the market for a real GT car, the BMW M850i should OF COURSE be on your shopping list. To answer the question of whether it’s worth $US126,395 … if you have to ask, you’re kind of missing the point.
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