The visceral experience is as important as any numbers the car can achieve.
The automotive industry is an efficient market, filling buyers’ needs in every price range imaginable. From time to time, companies like BMW and Mercedes-Benz have ventured out into the unknown and surprised us with cars and trucks that no one seems to have asked for. We recently noticed that there is a surprisingly limited choice of 2+2 convertible touring cars around the $150,000 price range. Ever since Jaguar stopped making the XK series, and with both the Mercedes-Benz S 560 Cabriolet ($168,700) and the Maserati GranTurismo Convertible Sport ($176,500) starting way out of the target price range, the Porsche 911 Carrera S Cabriolet seems to be the only option in the market and even that is just barely making the cut.
That is, until now, when BMW decided to resurrect an iconic nameplate for their top of the line sports car, the 850i. With a healthy power plant and a starting price of $131,500 for the convertible option, the 2019 BMW M850i xDrive Cabriolet fits the bill. I recently had the great pleasure of spending a week with the it, and it was a real delight.
First things first, the 2019 BMW M850i xDrive Cabriolet is absolutely gorgeous. Many convertibles that start life as a coupe have an awkward silhouette with the top closed, but the M850i Cabriolet is an exception. I’m willing to argue that the Cabriolet expresses the 8-series’ curvy, low-slung, design even better than the regular M850i xDrive Coupe (reviewed here). The signature BMW kidney grille is displayed up front in its fully glory, and with the help of the slimmest headlights in any current BMW models, the M850i Cabriolet carries an imposing presence deserving of flagship status.
The M850i Cabriolet’s elongated body profile illustrates the essence of a grand tourer perfectly. The raked windscreen sets the tone to the fluid and aerodynamic styling, and BMW’s engineers have pushed the cabin far back to maintain proper roadster proportions. M850i Cabriolets come standard with a set of 20″ Y-spoke wheels fitting for the car’s overall design language, and the spokes are spaced enough to allow the oversized M Sport brake calipers to peek out from behind. Similar to the adaptive LED headlights, the taillights feature a slim profile and the rear bumper is sculpted to accentuate the athletic stance.
BMW decided to use a soft-top convertible design when designing the M850i Cabriolet. The goal was to reduce weight, as well as to lower the centre of gravity and thus improve performance and handling. In closed form, the multiple-layer fabric used to create the convertible top is excellent at isolating outside noise. There is very little wind or road noise transmitted to the cabin, and even when driving through a stretch of heavy rain, the acoustics inside were well managed. When the weather cleared up, I was able to open the top with a touch of the button located below the shifter in as little as 15 seconds, and the fact that this operation can be done at speeds up to 50 km/h is very convenient for unpredictable Canadian weather.
On the open road, the M850i’s 4.4-litre twin-turbocharged V8 engine transforms this grand tourer into a highway missile. With a rated 523 horsepower that arrives from 5,500 and 6,000 RPM, and max 553 lb-ft. of torque from 1,800 to 4,600 RPM, the M850i surges on in a manner that is as one would expect from any top-of-line German sports car. The xDrive all-wheel drive system puts the massive power down to the ground with minimal traction loss, and the eight-speed Steptronic Sport transmission features a Launch Control function that allows the Cabriolet to accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in just 3.9 seconds. BMW suggests fuel economy at 13.5L/100km city, 9.2L/100km highway, and 11.6L/100km combined; not a bad tradeoff for the performance packed into that engine bay.
To many buyers of a grand tourer, the visceral experience is as important as any numbers the car can achieve, and BMW was certainly aware of that when designing the M850i. Not only is the car visually stunning, it has also executed in the aural aspects flawlessly. The V8 engine responds to the slightest throttle command with a deep growl. When pushed, it elicits a glorious scream that keeps you wanting more. The loudness of its exhaust system can be controlled by the Driving Experience Control switch. In “Comfort” mode, it is calm and civil, but once set to “Sport”, the flaps open and the M850i Cabriolet turns into a rolling firecracker that rewards occupants and onlookers with monstrous exhaust notes that announce its arrival way before it appears on the horizon.
Given its sizable footprint, the M850i Cabriolet is more at home on a highway than on winding back roads. However, BMW engineers have put in considerable effort to ensure that it has the dance moves to match the brand’s “Ultimate Driving Machine” image. The M850i features a double-wishbone front axle and a five-link rear axle to maximize lateral acceleration forces without sacrificing ride comfort, and the setup also minimizes disruption to its steering caused by irregularities in the road surface. It also comes standard with BMW’s Adaptive M suspension with electronically controlled dampers, which adjust automatically responding to various road conditions and driving styles, or through the various driving modes.
One of the cooler features that help push the M850i Cabriolet’s handling abilities over the top is the Integral Active Steering system, which is essentially a four-wheel steering system. The rear wheels have the ability to turn up to 2.5 degrees in the opposite direction to the front wheels at speeds up to 70 km/h (88 km/h in Sport/Sport+ modes), and in the same direction at speeds above those. In real world driving, the system works flawlessly. The M850i handles way smaller than its size suggests; nimble going into a corner and planted on the exits. The light steering weight is my only minor complaint with the M850i Cabriolet but its responsiveness makes up for it.
The BMW M850i Cabriolet’s interior is first class. The optional Fiona Red/Black Merino leather interior calls for attention from afar, even with its convertible top up, but is fitting for a top-of-the-line sports car. Interior design is elegant and sophisticated, and materials are nothing short of being top notch. Our tester is equipped with the optional ‘CraftedClarity’ glass application to the start button, iDrive controller, and the volume and shift knobs. The look and feel of the glass has become the new gold standard for a luxury vehicle.
The seats are supportive for long trips, and the M850i offers a serene environment with the help of the optional Bowers and Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound system. Given that the front engine is pushed back to sit atop the front axles, and the cabin is also pushed towards the rear, there is very little rear legroom and the rear bench is best reserved for small children. Trunk space is also limited to reserve room to store its convertible top, but it will fit a golf bag perfectly.
BMW’s latest seventh-generation iDrive infotainment system is installed on the M850i Cabriolet, controlled using either touch or the iDrive controller on the centre console. While the interface is different and more complex than previous generations, the overall user-friendliness is still there, and the 10.25-inch Control Display’s resolution is excellent. BMW’s Head-Up Display also comes standard on all 8-series Cabriolets, which projects a variety of information onto the windscreen including speed, speed limits, warnings from the driving assistance systems, route guidance, and more. Those who spend lots of time driving at night should consider the optional BMW Night Vision system that displays a video image to the main Control Display screen.
The M850i Cabriolet comes with a host of advanced safety systems to ensure its occupants arrive to their destination safely, and to assist drivers with relieving the stress of driving in day-to-day situations. Our tester is equipped with standard Collision and Pedestrian Warning with City Braking function, and an optional Driving Assistant Professional which includes Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go function, Steering and Lane Departure, Lane Control and Lane Keeping assistant, Active Blind Spot Detection, and Crossing Traffic Warning systems.
The base price of the 2019 M850i Cabriolet starts at $131,500, and our tester was equipped with several options such as the Executive Package ($4,500), Bi-Colour Merino Leather Package ($1,500), Chrome Accent Package ($500), Bowers and Wilkins sound system ($4,900), BMW Display Key ($300), and Fine-Wood trim ($300), bringing the as-tested total to $143,200. While the Porsche’s all-new 911 Carrera S Cabriolet starts at a similar $143,700, its price goes up significantly once the options list starts getting populated. It can easily cost $20,000 more than a similarly equipped BMW M850i Cabriolet when all is said and done.
By resurrecting the nameplate and creating the first ever 8-series convertible, BMW has effectively filled a niche in the market that is owned by the Porsche 911. The 2019 BMW M850i xDrive Cabriolet is a proper grand tourer that turns head everywhere, and is an excellent sports car on its own. Its sheer performance and thunderous engine and exhaust notes allow the M850i to be a no-brainer choice for those who want a long distance cruiser, and it will be interesting to see how the latest 911 Carrera S Cabriolet stacks up once they arrive on our shores.