BMW M850i CONVERTIBLE
We drive BMW’s multi-talented grand tourer with its roof lopped off and while supposedly a 4-seater, this car does superbly well with half as many seats filled
AMONG ALL THE CARS THAT BMW India has brought to India, both as CKDs and CBUs, I always had a soft spot for the 6 Series Gran Coupe which was just as long as my 525d but had a swoopier shape and looked like Sophia Loren! This was the quintessential car of its time to fly the flag for its maker in the boulevard cruising stakes in the country and now the 6 Series is passé for it is going to be replaced by the 8 Series in not one but three body styles and all of them truly gorgeous to behold in the form of the Coupe which came first last year followed by the delectable
cabrio you see here and to be followed by the four-door Gran Coupe that will hit roads later this year in Europe. I don’t know how many examples of each would come to India, but what I know for sure is that the cabrio and the coupe are perhaps the most handsome cars that have rolled out from Munich in recent years and they also give my favourite automotive hunk of a machine – the Aston Martin – a run for its money in the athletically beautiful way they are conjured up.
Enough of that pie-in-the-sky comparison and on to the task at hand and that is to suss out whether this Sophia Lorenesque beauty has the brains and the brawn to build on its earlier earthy appeal and the short answer is an emphatic yes provided that money is no object! There are two types of customers BMW is trying to target with the new 8 Series, the first of course being the sportier sort that goes for cars like the Porsche 911, the Audi R8 and to a certain extent the Mercedes-AMG GT. However, the luxury end of the spectrum as exemplified by the likes of the Bentley Continental as well as the Mercedes-Benz S Slass Coupe are also prime rivals and it seems that BMW has taken on a lot to cater to two diverse but highly important categories,
The 850i is a looker no doubt with its long nose and large single-piece lowset kidney grille
comfort on one side and sportiness on the other. And surprisingly, it acquits itself on both counts barring of course the fact that it cannot accommodate four people!
The 850 is a looker no doubt with its long nose packed with a large single-piece low-set kidney grille, the slimmest headlights (incorporating the firm’s Laserlight tech), an all-new and pronounced front spoiler with gaping large air intakes on both sides of the air dam to clearly indicate that this is brawn with intent. This new design language goes against the vein established by BMW for the X7 SUV as well as the refreshed 750Li I drove along with this very car in Portugal and it contrasts with the largest kidney grilles ever seen on a Bimmer, big or small, cheap or pricey. The long nose with the raised haunches, the accentuated and reworked A-pillar to give it a more swoopy effect, the sculpted character lines on the sides and the high deck don’t disguise the overall heft of the car (4851mm long, 1902mm wide and 1345mm tall) but even with so much of a busy outlook the car delivers that vital presence and yet has that typical appeal of an athlete endowed with fine toned
Supremely well balanced and that
is at the heart of its enjoyable
muscle. If that’s not all, those large 20-inch alloys wrapped with 245/35 R20 radials up front and the even larger 275/30 R20 units at the rear, fill up those ample wheel wells and they lend their own might to deliver a beautifully intimidating visage.
Normally the first thing one asks an OEM when it lops off the roof of a hard top coupe or saloon is how much has it been compromised structurally and here the BMW boffins told me that while there has been a weight increase of 125kg over the coupe thanks to the strengthened A-pillars, floor pan and additional cross bracing, the cabrio yet is just as stiff! As much as 97 per cent as the Coupe and this surely must also go down to the Carbon Core chassis tech that pins the superstructure making for an incredibly stiff monocoque!
This is pretty important for a car that tips the scales at a shade over two tonnes but then BMW has given it the means to haul and dance at the same time. The rorty twin dual-scroll turbocharged 4395cc V8 engine literally sings its way to its peak 523-horse output between 5500-6000rpm along with 750Nm of torque in an incredibly wide swathe of 1800-4600rpm. This is breathtaking in its scope and scale but then BMW only offers two versions of the 8 Series convertible, the 850i xDrive, which we drove, and the other being the 840d xDrive with the sublime straight six turbo-diesel engine. Forget the zero to 100kmph acceleration figure of 3.9 seconds or the 250kmph regulated top speed, it has to be the most agile car in its class of boulevard express that rears its head and always points to the straight and the narrow! And that V8 engine has to be an exemplar in terms of unstressed and unstrained delivery whatever cog she would have been asked to respond in! Speaking of the new 8-speed gearbox, it swaps cogs seamlessly when in all auto mode but when you take manual control via the steering paddle shifters, it is even quicker and sublime in the way it reacts making best use of the ample torque on offer.
Unlike the newly refreshed 7 Series saloons with their air suspension units, here the entire suspension set-up is pure mechanical with a front all-aluminium double wishbone layout while at the rear there is a five-link set-up employing a mix of aluminium and steel components that keeps the body in control and the wheel movements in fine flow without upsetting the handling or the ride. I have constantly banged on about this being a boulevard cruiser but that has been said in context of this being a different automobile than say a 911 or an R8 but boy can the 850i
xDrive run them close! The key to this also manifests itself via the xDrive all-wheel drive system plus the rear-wheel steering on this model and surprisingly for such a long, wide and low car she is sharp in turn-in but not overly daunting. Put her into Sport mode and she comes alive and I couldn’t help but be impressed by how she made me feel good while taking the mountain roads in the Portugal Algarve region in a highly controllable yet super quick manner. For a car without a roof, its agility was eye opening as well, and speaking of roof; the new three-layer fabric roof opens and closes in just about 15 seconds up to speeds of 50km/h!
The 850i is supremely well-balanced and that is at the heart of its enjoyable repertoire. The ride might be a tad on the stiffer but well damped side but this is totally understandable given its performance spread. Also the grip from the tyres and the finely dialled in steering made the car a more accomplished Grand Tourer than an out and out sports car. In fact if you were to also hazard a thought, in certain conditions the entire dynamic package makes it a nimble yet planted performer.
And it is in the open-to-the-elements GT guise that the new M850i xDrive succeeds admirably. First off it isn’t a four-seater, unless of course you want to squeeze your 4-5 year olds at the rear and for sure you’d not like to give them the jitters while hurling the car through the twisties. It is a great two-seater with ample room for driver and passenger with enough craftsmanship and flair along with loads of equipment and trim packed into the cabin. There is a wind deflector, which you can raise during top down motoring to cut down on the buffeting or disturbing your hairstyle but without an iota of doubt this is a car for continent crushing motoring in the manner intended and BMW has nailed it.
So what can one say about a car which its creators within BMW had termed as “the gentleman racer”, a term that fits it admirably yet has the class and the refinement to motor from coast to coast and step out feeling like a daisy! Trouble is this works well in Europe and the US so for India it would necessarily have to be a poser’s delight to add to another handful of cars he or she might already have in the garage! But what a car, indeed! ⌧
Above: Quality levels on the inside are exemplary. Left: Performance is sprightly and as expected from the M badge. Below: The convertible is gorgeous to look at
Top to bottom: The 850i makes do without the large kidney grilles; the central touchscreen is a tad small; the V8 is spectacular in the way it delivers power; the 850i is a looker from every angle