BMW M850i xDrive Cabriolet Review

BMW, like the rest of the world, is on a mission to convince the marketplace that its cars are even more luxurious, premium, and valuable than ever before. They’ve changed their slogan from Pure Driving Pleasure to Ultimate Driving Machine, they’re charging more money, and they’ve shelved the 6 Series in favor of the 8. And it’s in that last change (and perhaps only in that last change) that everything comes together.

The new 8 Series Cabriolet is the ultimate expression of BMW’s post-enthusiast mission, and while the move is anything but a welcome one to “purists,” the M850i xDrive Cabriolet is welcome.

Big enough to fit all the golf bags you’re ever likely to throw at it, beheaded enough to be exciting, and stately enough to be comfortable, the new 8 Series Cabriolet rides a line that BMW has had trouble riding for a long time, and that makes it enormously desirable.

Effectively unchanged from the M850i Coupe — apart from a few stiffening measures that together with the cloth top add about 125 kg to its overall weight — the Cabriolet gives the 8 Series exactly what many others have accused the car of missing: a personality.

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I will admit that the Cabriolet takes what was a fairly svelte and attractive if slightly by-the-numbers coupe and turns it into a car that you will struggle to differentiate from the Z4 at a distance. But the lack of roof means that you gain a truly, exquisitely, raunchy exhaust note.

Unlike the more “focused” M3s and M4s, which make nearly as much power as this 530-hp unit and are loud rather than tuneful, this engine is loud because it ought to be. It can carry a note and celebrates every one of your dalliances up to its redline at 6,000 rpm with bursts of explosive joy.

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With the top down, there’s nothing to get in the way of you hearing the way the sound bounces off buildings and back to you. Best of all, BMW’s own fake engine-note maestros can’t fake you out with their own in-car speakers. Fine though the Bowers and Wilkins sound system is, the real thing is better.

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And that’s exactly what the cloth top — which can be furled or unfurled in just 15 seconds at speeds of up to 50 km/h — lends the 8 Series. Not having a top frees BMW from the need to juggle the capricious market’s demands. Without an actual top, there’s no need for the 8 Series Cabriolet to simultaneously insulate you from the world while allowing the exhaust notes through. In BMW’s regular cars, those conflicting desires force its engineers to make admirable, but ultimately quixotic compromises that earn them nothing but contempt.

It’s a theme that continues through the car. BMW bangs on about how this was designed as a race car first and a road car second, but I would have never guessed that. And I mean that as a compliment. Especially in a grand tourer like this one.

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The company’s other, supposed sports cars are about as stiff as a corpse and just as much fun. This, though, is genuinely smooth and comfortable on the road. In comfort mode, especially, it rivals (but does not match) the 7 Series for quality of ride, while being firm enough to keep you horizontal through even the quickest and tightest of corners.

Whether this comfort is because of its golf-club clientele or its enormous size is hard to say, but the result is a car that’s fun without being punishing. Yes, I enjoy a good, rough-and-tumble race car ride when the situation calls for it, but this most certainly is not the situation.

Helping the 8 Series Cabriolet through the corners is the four-wheel steering, which again, provides you with nothing but advantages. Over a tight mountain pass, the car feels quick and nimble. I’ll allow that the steering, though rapid enough for anyone’s needs, lacks the feedback and feel that once made BMWs famous, but I hardly think that’ll come as a surprise since it’s the middle square on your auto-journalist BMW-review Bingo sheet. And anyway, it’s so likable in so many other ways that I can overlook this shortcoming.

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Meanwhile, on the highway, it feels just as imperious and capable as Lady Marlborough. It succeeds overwhelmingly in its efforts to convince you that you’re owed speed. Laws don’t apply to you, you’re driving an M850i Cabriolet. You deserve 100 miles per hour on the highway and the highway patrol should thank you for your restraint since you could easily have been going faster.

The 8 Series Cabriolet spoils you with advantages and encourages you to misbehave. It’s the Lori Laughlin of cars and never mind the politics of it, don’t we all kind of wish we had a Lori Laughlin in our lives, fighting unfairly for our undue slice of the world? Well, we can’t. But some of us — those who can spare $121,400, anyway — can have an M850i Cabriolet in our lives.

BMW has officially announced that every 8 Series variant, from Coupe to Cabriolet to Gran Coupe will come as a straight M (unlike this sub-M, I guess?), and while I haven’t driven that, it’s hard to see how it could improve on the M850i.

What more could you want than 3.9 seconds to 62 mph? How much better could the engine sound? How much more fun could a car this size be? The beauty of the M850i xDrive Cabriolet is that it feels perfectly equipped to be what it is: a naughty GT. It has what so many other BMWs have lost. A delicate balance. It doesn’t feel overstuffed with infotainment, nor does it feel undersprung. You can set it in adaptive mode and be satisfied.

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And while you may be looking at this and wondering what it offers that a well-equipped Mustang can’t — a fair question — I would counter that the 8 Series delivers a BMW badge and it lives up to that promise.

Its appeals are irrational — the ability to show off. From the badge that implies success to the gesture activated controls that imply a comfort with the future, to the autonomous features (lane guidance and so on) with which you can impress your friends, the M850i Cabriolet brings the special something that so many have accused the coupe of lacking.