FIRST DRIVE | 2019 BMW 8 Series Convertible is for the sun-worshippers

Mark Smyth drove the drop-top version of BMW’s M850i in the Algarve

18 April 2019 - 07:40 By Mark Smyth
The M850i convertible looks dynamic from almost every angle and feels it from behind the wheel. Picture: SUPPLIED
The M850i convertible looks dynamic from almost every angle and feels it from behind the wheel. Picture: SUPPLIED

The BMW 6 Series is dead, long live the 8 Series. Actually, that’s not quite true because BMW has killed off the 6 Series coupe and convertible and made the 5 Series GT wear a 6 Series badge instead.

After BMW raised the profile of the 8 Series as its flagship coupe, which launched recently in SA, we have now driven in Portugal in convertible guise. While it looks bigger than the 6, it is actually 50mm shorter, but 8mm wider. The drop-top is quite a bit heavier too and the convertible gains more than 150kg in weight over the 8 Series coupe to facilitate the extra strengthening and safety gear.

The 8 Series is all about “expanding our line-up in the luxury segment”, says Sarah Lessmann, product manager for the new convertible. She told us that “strengthening our position in this segment is very important in BMW’s Group One Next strategy”.

It’s part of the reason why a couple of years ago BMW used its full name to form a luxury division, Bayerische Motoren Werke, to give its high-end customers more attention, though it’s yet to be rolled out globally at the retail level.

The 8 Series convertible becomes the latest addition to the luxury fold and with it comes a classic soft-top roof that opens and closes in just 15 seconds at driving speeds up to 50km/h. It’s a quiet operation as the rear panel opens to accommodate the multilayered fabric.

The soft top gives it a nice classic look and lowers its centre of gravity compared to the coupe. Picture: SUPPLIED
The soft top gives it a nice classic look and lowers its centre of gravity compared to the coupe. Picture: SUPPLIED

Only the M850i will be coming to SA, with its TwinPower turbo V8 producing 390kW and 750Nm of torque and BMW claiming a sprint to 100km/h of 3.9 seconds and a limited top speed of 250km/h.

With the top down in the Algarve, it actually felt like a better machine than the coupe. Perhaps the drop-top seems better suited to what for many will be a big cruiser of the same ilk as the Mercedes SL or Jaguar XK.

BMW says it competes more with the Aston Martin Vantage and Porsche 911, but it’s just not in that league. It’s sporty but it’s not a sports car, if you know what I mean. At least not until you push it hard in twisty and narrow mountain passes where you realise the insane level of grip available as you exploit that 750Nm of torque.

The all-wheel drive and active rear-wheel steering make it feel smaller, nimbler and more precise than its dimensions suggest. Put it in Sport+ and it eagerly devours the road, inspiring confidence and a grin as you whip round another bend. It’s not as nimble as the new Z4, of course, but set everything up correctly and it can be almost as much fun.

It’s also more luxurious too, as you would expect, with loads of kit and a good level of comfort. It has a great driving position, with good visibility and the digital instrument cluster easily accesses ahead of you. It also has the option of the Swarovski crystal gear stick if you like that sort of thing.

BMW is not done with the 8 Series yet. The M8 is in the final stages of development and we got to see another model that will only be revealed in June. We’re sworn to secrecy on that one, but if you were au fait with the 6 Series range you will have a good idea of what’s coming.

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