Convertibles come in many shapes and sizes. While some are only about the open-top experience and not much more, others are either super sporty or all about comfort and luxury, and they are big, heavy, very luxurious and sporty, too. Open-top Grand Tourers, however, manage to give you the best of both worlds. Designed specifically to travel vast distances in comfort, luxury and speed, they are cars for those who love driving and want to do it in sumptuous luxury.
Now, convertibles are good for that open-top driving pleasure – the wind in your hair, the feeling of being part of the environment. But the downside of lopping off the roof is that you also lose the one thing that actually holds the car together – the roof. So, to increase stiffnesson the new 8-series, BMW uses its Carbon Core technology. Here, the all-important central tunnel is built of carbon fibre, and to aid rigidity, BMW engineers use an extra-rigid subframe for the front suspension. There’s also a thick tube of steel running through the A-pillars that flank the front windscreen, and in the rear, BMW has also used extra stiffening material in the shape of a circular coil that runs around the boot.
This is an extremely attractive-looking car. The squat stance, the tightly packed bonnet, the low-set kidney grille, the muscular flanks, all work fabulously. And then what really makes you stare at it is that ‘short’ windscreen and the tight-fitting soft-top.
The 850i gets four-wheel drive, a big twin-turbo V8, and what has also been used to make this two-tonne, four-wheel-drive car feel agile are active anti-roll bars and rear-wheel steering.
Under the hood, is BMW’s 50i V8 that makes 530hp and a huge 750Nm of torque. There’s no air suspension here, but you do get an Active M Differential in the rear, just in case you want to make full use of its rear-biased four-wheel-drive system.
The cabin of the 850i is neat, clean and quite chunky looking. Full of thick leather that stretches from door pad to door pad, the insides get plenty of anodised metal and bits of crystal inserts, to appeal to the swish set.
The big seats are very comfortable, even over day-long drives, as I find out. And the car isn’t as low-slung as something like a Z4, so getting in and out isn’t as difficult on your lower back. Noise insulation is also quite good when the roof is up. What makes it even nicer to use is that you can drop the canvas top down as long as you are below 50kph.
The two rear seats are also pretty big. However, as space is very limited, they are best suited for kids. And this is especially true if you have the roof up.
With a car like this – a big, fast convertible GT – you have to look at both, its ability to cruise comfortably as well as drive like a sportscar. So first up, let’s see how good it is in comfort. It immediately impresses. The suspension is relatively soft, throttle responses are easy, and the steering feels very accurate. Low-speed ride is pretty good too. There are no sharp bangs and I can really enjoy the road and relax. It does feel a touch restless over bumps at higher speed, and then over poorly paved patches, it does thud occasionally too. Still, what makes you ignore that less than perfect ride is the punch of the engine. All you have to do, if you want to feel you are being shot out of a steam catapult, is flex your right foot. . . and then the burst of acceleration is so strong, it instantly plants a smile on your face. There’s so much grunt under the hood, the 850i explodes through the 0-100 mark in just 3.9sec; and that’s a bit of an eye opener – remember this car weighs more than two tonnes... actually, a good deal more.
While you may not be able to feel all that weight in a straight line, come to the corners and all that mass makes its presence felt. Yes, there is plenty of grip, and it sort of corners flat, but chuck it into one and you can feel the weight being transferred from one side of the car to the other. Yes, the stiffer front sub-frame does help give the front end plenty of bite, and the steering has a fair amount of feel and a good amount of precision. Still the 8-series doesn’t exactly feel as lithe or as agile as something like a 911. Yes, it clearly has the chops, but it gives you the impression it’s muscling its way through corners, rather than scything through them. And then, despite the fact that BMW has tried their best, there still is a bit of scuttle shake and chassis flex.
What also detracts from driving pleasure, especially on a twisting turning road, is the thick A-pillar. It’s so wide, in fact, you need to literally duck your head this way and that on a mountain road to see the road ahead. And this does limit your confidence, especially around some of the tighter corners.
The 850i works well on many levels. It is attractive looking with its roof up, as well as down, it is a relaxed and comfortable cruiser, it has the ability to cover vast distances in comfort and speed, and should you happen to come upon the right road, it can even play sportscar. Now you could argue that the ride should have been be a bit more pliant, it could have been a bit lighter on its feet, and boot space, especially with the roof down, could have been better as well. Still, BMW’s new 8-series convertible delivers so much GT car in a single package, it could be the one car to satisfy all your sportscar needs. Big and fast GT, relaxing convertible, corner carver; it can do it all. And it will even carry four at a pinch. Don’t expect an attractive price though, the move from 6- to 8-series will mean a jump in the price; so expect the 850i to cost upwards of Rs 1.3 crore when BMW launches it early next year.
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