Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: July 7, 2019
There are only a handful of grand tourer convertibles currently on sale and because they command such a small market share, not many automakers take this segment seriously. But if you are in search for a premium 2+2 convertible that will shuttle you long distances in comfort and luxury with hints of performance, you have more choices now than ever. We’re talking about the Mercedes-Benz S 560 Cabriolet ($166,600) and SL 550 Roadster ($128,900), Porsche 911 Carrera S Convertible ($143,700), Aston Martin DB11 Volante ($248,795), and the Bentley Continental GT V8 Convertible ($290,642).
But swimming near the bottom of the price list is BMW”s newest 8 Series Convertible, an upmarket replacement for their outgoing 6 Series and costs only $131,500. That’s significantly less than its equivalently-spec’d competitors. Does that mean that the new 8 is inferior in a substantial way? Not in the slightest. In fact, the new 8 strikes a fine balance between the sportiness of a 911 and the suppleness of an S-Class.
While stylistically much hasn’t changed, the soft-top 8 Series retains its classic GT proportions with a long front hood, low riding stance, and tapered rear end. BMW”s signature twin kidney grills haven’t looked better, and can be optioned in chrome as shown in our photographs for an extra $500. I’m personally not a chrome kind of guy, but it does appear much more mature and less of a boy racer wannabe, especially in this Carbon Black Metallic paint that shimmers with dark blue flakes. If you want extra standout appeal, check out the Dravit Grey and Barcelona Blue paint colours currently exclusive to the 8 Series. They look damn spectacular.
Aside from the hardcore M8, there is only one convertible spec available: the M850i xDrive with a 4.4-litre twin-turbocharged V8 delivering 523 hp and 553 lb-ft through an 8-speed automatic transmission to a rear-biased all-wheel drive system. BMW says they no longer offer the inline-six option in Canada due to a surprisingly low take-rate. And no wonder. The V8 is a sweetheart, revving up friction-free to the limiter. The M850i is one of the quickest 2+2 convertibles we have ever tested as well, sprinting from 0-100 km/h in 4.0 seconds flat, which is a thrilling half a second faster than the S 560 Cabriolet. Of note, it’s 0.3 seconds slower than the M850i xDrive Coupe, and just 0.1 seconds behind the sportier Porsche 911 Carrera S Cabriolet.
The Mercedes S 560 Cabriolet only weighs 27 kg more than the BMW but on the road it feels more like 200 kg. The S-Class doesn’t even try to conceal its gargantuan mass, and though it’s relatively calm and collected, it lacks the nimble and spirited feeling of the lighter BMW which disguises its weight much better thanks to rear-wheel steering. I will admit that it’s not a night and day difference from the outgoing 650i xDrive and tipping the scales at 2148 kg, the M850i Convertible weighs 117 kg more than the coupe but it gingerly glides about with the same kind of composure. It feels just as rigid without any noticeable scuttle shake or low-speed vibrations due to the chopped roof. One easy way to test this is to watch the rear view mirror and watch for tremors when hitting bumps on the road. That, and listening for any chassis shakes, creaks, or vibrations during the same moment.
The soft-top roof only takes 15 seconds to be raised or lowered, and can be done at speeds up to 50 km/h. The fabric layer does a great job insulating the cabin from unwanted exterior noises as well, and while it’s not as quiet as the coupe, you can still have whisper quiet conversations at highway speeds. Furthermore, with all-wheel drive, three-stage neck warmers, and manually attached air deflectors, the M850i eagerly extends your convertible season into late autumn.
Engaging Sport Mode opens up the exhaust valves and unveils a war drum, popping and banging on overrun and detonating a sonic rumble on each upshift. It doesn’t have a dedicated exhaust button like the M5 but this is one of the best sounding V8s to ever come from BMW. Having the top down gives you front row seats and only serves to accentuate the noise even more. How the upcoming M8 could top this, is beyond me. You can watch our Exhaust Notes video of the M850i below to hear this blissful soundtrack for yourself, and let us know what you think in the comments.
Comfort wise, the M850i is not nearly as absorbent as the S 560. Like how Chuck Norris doesn’t do push-ups, he pushes the Earth down, the S similarly makes its own rules on the road, and bends the tarmac to its will for maximum driver comfort. On the flip side, the M850i has more sporting pretense, a sharper front nose, and an athletic persona that lends a hand to carving corners on your local backroads. The S on the other hand feels like you’re trying to navigate a yacht through a narrow strait. In this regard, the M850i is a superior convertible, offering a clever balance between long stretches of grand touring and spirited runs.
In regards to the interior, the M850i sits a class behind the S-Class, no pun intended. While the mix of leather, metal, and crystal textures are aesthetically gorgeous, when you compare it with the supple leather seats and sweeping dashboard in the S, the M850i feels like its been out of contention since the very beginning. The BMW’s seats aren’t as lushious or as supportive around the shoulder area, the steering wheel doesn’t feel like it belongs to a flagship convertible, and the digital gauges with their crowded visuals and non-linear gauges make it an eyesore and difficult to locate the required information. It’s disappointing that you can’t customize the screen layout either like almost every other luxury automaker, and while the graphics are crisp and does manage to look futuristic, it only makes us long for a traditional set of analog gauges. Not great, not terrible, as the politicians from the “Chernobyl” mini-series would say.
That’s reflective on the price too. The M850i xDrive Convertible starts at $131,500, a whopping $35,000 less than the S 560 Cabriolet, and significantly less than the upper echelon of Aston Martins and Bentleys. There aren’t many options or packages available for the M850i either, with most of its stand-out features coming standard out of the box like soft close doors, a head-up display, and laser headlights. More importantly, the Mercedes doesn’t feel like it’s $35,000 more than the BMW and in this regard, the M850i is a steal, and should be viewed as one because for the price, there’s a lot on the table: a sweet V8 soundtrack, one of the most impressively balanced grand tourers on the market, and an impressive cache of driving assistance and safety features at your disposal. While it’s clear the M850i is not the top dog convertible, in isolation, it’s one hell of a buttoned down boulevard cruiser that offers the thrills and road presence at a fraction of the price of its direct rivals.
Model: 2019 BMW M850i xDrive Convertible
Paint Type: Carbon Black Metallic
Base Price: $131,500
Price as Tested: $143,200
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,856 / 1,902 / 1,345
Curb weight (kg): 2,148
Engine: 4.4-litre twin-turbocharged V8
Horsepower: 523 hp @ 5,500 - 6,000 rpm
Torque: 553 lb-ft @ 1,800 - 4,600 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km:
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 16.2
Tires: 245/35R20 front; 275/30R20 rear