BMW’s 8 Series convertible is like a Bentley for US$100,000 less

It’s got a wide array of enticing upgrades on a platform that’s already pretty near perfect

by HANNAH ELLIOTT/ pic by BLOOMBERG

IN AN April online review, I called the 2019 BMW M850i a “unicorn.” In my test of the hardtop coupe, which marks a resurrection of the defunct-since-the-’90s line of 8 Series BMWs, I found a handsome chariot that checked a lot of boxes. It’s zippy, sprinting to 60mph (96.6kph) in 3.8 seconds and hitting a top speed of 155.

Plus, it sports an excellent infotainment system and a blissful amount of storage. It’s comparable to the beefy Bentley Continental GT but about US$100,000 (RM417,030) less expensive. The review caught fire on our website, probably because summer was nearing and people were dreaming about driving for fun. It got me thinking, “What’s even more fun than a unicorn?”

Here’s what: a unicorn with a retractable soft top.

The US$121,400 BMW M850i convertible is just as perfectly balanced and aggressively tuned as its roofed counterpart and, with the top down, nicer to look at. At its base price, it’ll cost you US$9,500 more, plus desirable options such as the neck warming fans and heated armrests that are part of the US$1,300 comfort seating package. Active antiroll bars that pop out in the case of a collision are — blessedly — standard. BMW has come a long way in making safety a given, not a splurge.

One standard item I wish were optional is the “Display” key, a palm-size touchscreen obelisk used to start the car but also to view the status of things like windows and locks, set a time to turn on the heater, or check the tire pressure. It feels like a second phone — and costs US$606 to replace if (when) you lose it.

The convertible weighs 258lbs (114kg) more than the coupe — but you won’t notice. Instead, you’ll pick up on the stiffness of the reinforced body, especially in sport mode. You’ll also note a thrilling squirreliness to the all-wheel-drive as you peel out.

In any convertible you hear the engine notes well enough, but here they demand attention. It seemed everyone swivelled as I powered home from work through Manhattan. The engine roars loudest as you downshift, gurgling and popping. Have you seen those YouTube videos of dogs whining and “talking”? It’s like that but even more sinister.

Inside the welcoming cabin, the M850i convertible is supportive in all the right places, with merino leather seats that embrace you. The cockpit integrates an excellent 10.25-inch (26.04cm) central display and intuitive 12.3-inch instrument cluster, plus a high-resolution heads-up display and BMW’s next-generation iDrive software. I loved the ambient lighting that softly changes from blue to yellow as you drive at night. Speaking of which, excellent night vision is an optional upgrade.

The 12-speaker Harman Kardon audio system comes standard with a powerful 464W amplifier, though even that has trouble competing with the engine roar when the top’s down.

More controversial will be the optional US$650 Swarovski crystal accents, including a diamond-cut knob for the shifter. I consider the latter a well-executed extravagance, though my followers on social media called it ostentatious. “Crystal is for grandma’s cabinet,” was one comment on my Instagram feed. Another: “I wish it was connected to a manual transmission.”

Alas, there’s no stick option to pair with the twin-turbo 523hp V-8. But it has an eight-speed automatic transmission, adaptive suspension, rollstabilization, and active steering. You’ll slip through traffic like water over stones.

The soft top retracts in 15 seconds at speeds of up to 30mph. You won’t ever want to put it back up.