Each 8-Series model boasts sinewy, elegant, and voluptuous sheet metal with highly technical details that could be equally impressive in an art museum as on an automobile.
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Temperatures were cool on a Friday evening in December — OK, it was downright cold, for L.A., anyway — when I stumbled off the Parking Spot shuttle bus at LAX, bleary-eyed after a circuitous multi-leg cross-country flight. My phone had already synced to Pacific Standard Time, though my body was very much still in another time zone. At that point, I would have happily driven a 1980 Chevette if it would take me to my bed. But what was waiting for me was a gorgeous 2021 BMW M850i xDrive convertible — quite a sight for my sore eyes.
BMW’s trio of 8-Series models arrived for 2019 as the more emotional and luxurious replacements for the fast but aloof 6-Series coupe, convertible, and four-door Gran Coupe models. Each 8-Series model boasts sinewy, elegant, and voluptuous sheet metal with highly technical details that could be equally impressive in an art museum as on an automobile.
While the 8-Series doesn’t quite achieve the level of lustiness of, say, a quarter-million-dollar Aston Martin DB11, it’s infinitely more alluring than the chunky 6-Series. Like the Aston, the 8 looks equally good as a coupe or a convertible, with the mid-grade M850i xDrive trim level being arguably the best looking.
With its unique fascias, darkened trim, and 20-inch wheels designed by BMW’s “M” motorsports division, the M850i conveys more strength and potency than the $24,000 less expansive, six-cylinder-powered 840i whilst stopping short of full “aggro” looks of the steroidal M8 model perched $21,100 further up the 8-Series convertible food chain.
While most folks would have left the thickly padded, snug-fitting fabric roof in place until the mercury rose by a degree or 10, I tend to err on the side of al fresco when I don’t think I’ll get robbed or wet. So, 40-degree weather be damned, that top is going down. And since the 8’s top may be lowered with the key fob, I didn’t even have to wait to get inside: One long press of the unlock button sends the top into a pike, tuck, and then a plunge into an impossibly shallow reservoir before the flush tonneau cover drops down to conceal the evidence.
Just as impressive, you can take this silent, 15-second act on the road — literally — at speeds up to 30 mph.
A kick under the rear bumper opened the trunk, which swallowed my wide-body suitcase with room for another, and my garment bag fit neatly beneath the top stack. Raising the top could open up even more space, and I could have tucked longer items through the 50/50 split pass-through into the rear seat, an aperture that remains accessible, top up or down. You might still prefer an SUV for Costco runs or binge antiquing, but the 8’s spacious trunk (for a droptop) is only one reason I applaud BMW for sticking with well-insulated fabric for the roof rather than a heavy, complex, and space-gobbling metal hard top. I’d like to see more color choices offered, however, besides black and gray.
Once inside, I fiddle with my seat’s 16 different adjustments, my favorite being the power side bolsters that are always good for a hug, as I pressed the ignition switch. It feels different. Turns out it’s among four components that comprise a $650 Glass Controls package that swaps the ignition button, volume knob, iDrive controller, and shifter for faceted glass versions of said gadgetry, the shifter replete with an illuminated “8” within it. The height of frippery for a German performance car, or welcome sizzle for an interior that borders on austere?
Both, actually, and I wouldn’t order an 8-Series without it. I also recommend dressing up the space with two-tone leather as well as the 1,400-watt, $3,400 Bowers & Wilkins upgraded audio system that includes glowing, door-mounted speakers that change color in accordance with the M850i’s 11 ambient lighting schemes. Certainly, a mortal could survive without two-tone leather, crystal gear selectors, and glowing speakers, but without them, the visuals inside the 8 may not match the MSRP.
The convertible unlocks the true character of the 8 Series, which pumps out an unyielding amount of thrust and handles better than most vehicles its size.
With the car’s many screens and displays animated and the turbocharged V-8’s 523 noble steeds roused, I nudged that blingy shifter into Drive and let the big V-8 whisk me away with the uncanny smoothness that BMW engines are known for, accompanied by a barely audible burble. As for that cold air, it didn’t stand a chance against my arsenal of stay-warm devices, including the folding wind screen over the rear seats, raised side windows, and various heated surfaces beyond the de rigueur heated seats to the steering wheel, the armrests, and neck.
Yes, the car blew warm air on the back of my neck through a vent in the head restraint. It was as naughty a feeling as I’ve felt in a car since high school and made its $500 cost seem cheap. The engine would only pipe up when my right foot showed some intentionality; otherwise, the big ragtop’s road manners proved impeccable. Strong and silent, a genuine luxury car — almost disappointingly smooth. That was confirmed about a mile from the airport, upon noticing the brightly colored, razor-sharp head-up display indicating that — OMG! — I was driving 80 mph. On Sepulveda Boulevard. Yep, this thing is deceptively fast and heavenly serene.
Several miles later, I remembered that, as with most BMWs, its 8s feature multi-mode Driving Dynamics Control systems, and sure enough, I was floating along in pillowy Comfort mode. With a few miles to go before arriving in Hollywood, I switched to Sport mode, which sharpens shifts, heightens throttle sensitivity, sends more of the engine power to the rear axle, firms up the ride, and quickens steering response. At last, some feel!
Having selected some even sportier settings available within Sport mode — including the option to configure your own Sport mode should you want to intensify some, but not all, of the aforementioned driving qualities — I merrily charged right past my destination, made a few spirited runs on Mulholland Drive and some spurts on the freeway to Autobahn speeds, where the car exhibited unflappable poise. Now, the M850i felt like a proper BMW — you know, an Ultimate Driving Machine kind.
In its softer settings, I could still flatter the lovely BMW 8 with superlatives, only more accurate ones like, say, Ultimate Tanning Machine or the Ultimate Admiration Machine. And something tells me most drivers would be fine with that, too.