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Grand touring cars are all about enjoying your drive and enjoying the road on which you're driving. It only makes sense, then, that the best GTs are only improved by turning them into convertibles. Take, for instance, the new BMW 8 Series. The coupe might entice you to hit up a race track, but the convertible will goad you into canceling your appointments and heading out for a weekend getaway. The 2019 BMW M850i convertible is just that alluring.
In an era where BMW has gone quite a long time without building a beautiful car, the 8 Series is a standout that'll get noticed whether it's parked out front in the valet line or blasting along the open road. Long, low and wide, the 8 Series convertible looks striking from every angle, especially with its roof down. The car has a lot of presence -- as it should for something nearly 16 feet long.
The powered soft top is, of course, the defining feature of this model. It can be raised or lowered at the touch of a button in just 15 seconds, and while you're driving at up to 30 miles per hour, too. With the roof stowed, there's an unfortunately large blind spot over your shoulder, which isn't ideal for backing out of angled parking spaces. But the multilayer fabric top does do a great job of keeping wind and road noise out of the cabin.
With the roof down, visibility is naturally improved. There isn't too much wind buffeting at speed; a pop-up wind blocker, found in the trunk, can be popped in place over the rear seats if you need even less wind in your hair for long highway journeys. The best feature of all, though, is a button that turns on a blast of warming air emerging from the front-seat headrests. It's a $400 option and definitely worth the money. Like Mercedes' similar Airscarf function, it makes top-down driving more palatable on chillier days -- especially in conjunction with the heated seats and heated steering wheel.
As in any four-seat convertible like this, back-seat room is adequate for short journeys but certainly not ideal for long trips. I can sit in the back with just enough legroom but when the top is up, I can't sit up straight. The trunk, meanwhile, holds 12.4 cubic feet of your belongings, which is less than the coupe's because the soft top folds into the trunk. That cuts down on vertical room, so you'll probably want soft-sided bags for your weekend getaways. Unusually for a droptop, the 8 Series has folding rear seats -- but with the convertible top in the way, lowering the seat backs doesn't add a whole lot of utility.
The 8 Series has a really well-appointed cabin, with stitched leather on nearly every surface, sumptuous comfortable seats and modern-looking metal-mesh trim pieces. My test car has the optional glass controls package, meaning the shifter, engine start-stop button and infotainment knob are all works of art that refract prism-like. At night, unfortunately, the BMW's ambient lighting glints off the iDrive controller distractingly; this is one car in which I'd probably turn off the ambient lighting solely for that reason.
My first trip out in the M850i cements an overwhelming impression of pleasantness. It's a car that's relaxing and lovely to drive in every situation, which is just what you'd like from a grand tourer that might be called upon for long road trips.
The positives begin with outstanding ride quality that, despite the massive wheels, results in a car that is creamy over every type of road surface. Adaptive dampers no doubt play a big role here, with the car's default Comfort setting helping keep the ride plush, but even in Sport mode the 8 Series is remarkably pliant over brittle roads.
There's also a lot of smoothness to be had from the powertrain. For instance, though there's huge power available -- more on that in a bit -- the BMW's long and gentle throttle mapping allows for super-smooth getaways and driving without snapping your passenger's neck backward. The standard eight-speed automatic transmission changes gears so deftly that the biggest indication it's done so is seeing the tachometer needle move.
Then there's the rear-wheel steering, which at low speeds helps reduce the long BMW's turning circle. A car this large shouldn't pivot around so daintily and be so easy to slip through urban traffic and parking lots, but with the rear wheels able to turn 2.5 degrees, maneuvering the 8 Series is a cinch. Couple that with plentiful active-safety systems and parking sensors, and the BMW easily dispatches commuting duty.
About the only real downside for everyday driving is fuel economy. The M850i is rated for 17 miles per gallon city and 26 mpg highway, which really isn't a bad number for the car's size and power. But drive it with the roof down regularly, which hurts aerodynamics, and while using lots of the horsepower on offer and you'll struggle to see those numbers. I'm averaging 16 to 17 mpg in mixed driving. (One highway run with the roof up did see numbers closer to 24 mpg.)
This may not be a full-on M car -- we know a BMW M8 is coming later this year -- but with an "M" at the start of its model designation, the M850i has a whole lot of performance on tap. For starters, there's a 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 serving up 523 horsepower and 553 pound-feet of torque.
The eight-speed automatic transmission has an extra-short first-gear ratio to make getting off the line even quicker, and coupled with standard all-wheel drive, this car will get to 60 mph in a claimed 3.8 seconds.
What that figure doesn't tell you, of course, is just how effortlessly fast the 8 Series is. With consistent, smooth power delivery across the rev range it doesn't even feel as quick as it is. But simply put your foot down for right-now power and speed. The soundtrack is pretty fantastic, too. Sometimes turbocharged performance cars only sound exciting at full throttle, but this engine has a nice burble and rumble all the time -- even in Comfort mode you can tell there's a V8 under the hood.
There's plenty of chassis capability to back up that straight-line grunt, too, especially with the drive mode dialed up to Sport Plus. The 8 Series is incredibly accurate and has tons of grip on offer through bends. It's really more capable than I can use on a public road. Helping put the power down is that standard all-wheel drive, which has a rearward bias and a locking rear differential to give the car a sportier, almost rear-drive feel. It has enormous brakes, too, with a pleasantly solid feel that allows for scrubbing speed in an instant.
BMW's engineers worked hard to keep the 8 Series' weight in check, employing aluminum for the doors, hood and firewall, and carbon-fiber reinforced plastics used for the center tunnel. Even so, the convertible is 258 pounds portlier than the coupe, at just over 4,700 pounds. But the fact the car feels so fleet and agile, and that it handles as well as it does, really is a testament to the BMW's chassis engineering. From behind the wheel, the driving experience belies the actual curb weight.
In fact, combining both its eager reflexes on a back road and its delightful livability otherwise, the M850i is my favorite BMW I've driven in quite some time. Taken as an entire package, I like it more even than the M5 Competition I drove earlier this spring or the M2 Competition I drove back in the fall. The 8 Series really just does it all, and does it all so very well.
The 8 Series is loaded with technology from front to back. Highlights include features like LED headlights with laser high beams (yes, really -- lasers!), active grille shutters and a color head-up display. A 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster provides a map view at its center and configurable information displays on its right-hand side.
A 10.25-inch touchscreen runs the latest BMW iDrive 7 infotainment software. It's simple to use -- arguably simpler than older iDrive iterations -- with a reconfigurable home screen made up of multiple tiles. There are many, many options and some functions are buried within layers, but the system's quick responses and logical organization make it simple to pick up. If touching the screen isn't your thing, you can also use the rotary controller on the center console, or say, "Hey BMW" to "talk" to the Intelligent Personal Assistant voice-recognition function.
The list of safety technology is extensive, too. As standard the car has precollision warning and braking, with pedestrian and cyclist detection. Options fitted to my test car include lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, lane-centering steering on the highway and a 360-degree camera. The adaptive cruise has a stop-and-go feature that will automatically accelerate the car again if you're stopped for less than 30 seconds; some other ACC systems require the driver to accelerate from a stop manually.
Of course, those features all require the driver to keep his or her hands on the wheel at all times. There's one exception, though: Assisted Driving Plus, a special mode only available in certain low-speed stop-and-go situations. In this mode, below 37 mph, I can keep my hands off the steering wheel indefinitely. However, a camera in the car's instrument cluster "watches" to ensure I'm still watching the road. Nonetheless, slogging through rush-hour highway traffic on my way home from our video shoot, the system worked flawlessly and did a lot to reduce my frustration with the congestion.
Priced from $122,395 with destination, with my tester listing for $126,395, the M850i Convertible is certainly a lot of money. However, there also is not much in direct competition with this car: a Mercedes E-Class Cabriolet is less powerful, an S-Class cabrio is much larger. A Porsche 911 Cabrio is way more focused on sportiness and performance, and Lexus has yet to put its LC convertible concept into production. So for now, the 8 Series is kind of in a class of one.
All told, it's tough to find flaws with the 2019 BMW 8 Series Convertible. In ordinary driving, it's sublimely relaxing and easy to live with. Driven with enthusiasm, it attacks a back road with more speed than you'll ever really need or use. And on top of that, the big convertible has curb appeal for days and first-rate technology. It's been a while since I so thoroughly enjoyed driving a new BMW.
The most telling thing of all, though, is that being behind the wheel of the 8 Series just makes me want to drive it more. That's exactly how a grand tourer should make its driver feel, and it underlines that BMW has hit its mark with the new 8 Series.