What we're driving: BMW M850i
What it costs: from $272,900
Why we’re driving it: The top of the BMW tree has taken a twist with the arrival of the born-again M850i.
Most makers choose a four-door luxury limousine as their headline act, which is where BMW pitches the 7 Series, but the M850i tilts the game for a swish coupe and an open-air convertible, with both models fast-tracked for deliveries down under.
The M850s sit in the upper end of the car business, where their likely rivals are led by the Bentley Continental, but they also bring a sportier edge to luxury and the potential for old-school grand touring anywhere in Australia.
“The 8 Series will be the most luxurious sports car in the luxury segment. It’s not just a sports car, but also has usability so you can drive it every day,” promises BMW's 8 Series product manager Howard Lam.
“It’s a grand tourer, in the pure sense. Noblemen and wealthy people would once step into luxury horse-drawn carriages and tour Europe in style. Today, the 850 is for long drives, driving through the hills in a high-powered and comfortable car, but still arriving relaxed."
On the outside
Drawing from the deep well of the 7 Series means the 850 is a big car. For a coupe, it’s very big. Yet it’s smooth like Lindt chocolate and the size is disguised by sweeping lines and a low nose and tail.
The long history of the 8 Series runs back to 1989, when the first of the line set a new standard for low-drag design with a payback from low noise to improved fuel economy.
The passing of 40 years, and the absence of the Eight from the BMW family, has not blunted that approach to the shape and efficiency of a car which will definitely turn heads.
For the Eight, BMW has chosen a lightweight carbon-fibre roof for the first time outside its hotrod M series cars.
The convertible has a fast-moving electric roof, still provides adult-friendly headroom in the back seats, and looks good with the top up or down.
Luggage space in the convertible isn't deserving of its own postcode, but the boot has plenty of length despite a pinched-in loading lip.
Under the bonnet
The package is familiar from other BMWs, with a 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 engine that makes big numbers and effortless acceleration. The only car that’s faster in today’s line-up is the M5 Competition.
The X-drive all-wheel drive system is biased towards a driver-friendly rear-end advantage, so it can deliver snappy performance in the worst conditions including snow and ice.
Power is fed along a carbon-fibre transmission tunnel that was chosen because it strengthens the body without adding weight.
There's also an eight-speed automatic gearbox, adaptive air suspension, 20-inch alloys and four-wheel steering, which makes it easier to park and also aids high-speed stability.
Fast car fans will enjoy the active exhaust system, which liberates extra decibels under load and cracks and pops when braking for corners.
On the inside
A glittery, diamond-cut, glass shift lever says everything about the 850. It’s bling, but also there to do a job, and the same approach is reflected in the rotary iDrive controller.
The same story is reflected in a driver-focussed cabin with big display screens for the gauges and infotainment, sumptuous leather, all the usual electric assistance systems, and an ‘air scarf’ which blows warm air through the front seats for the driver and passenger in the convertible.
On the road
Driving the 8 Series can be relaxing or challenging. You choose.
“The 8 Series has two personalities," boasts BMW's Lam. "It’s a comfortable sports car, but also highly track capable (and) designed for pure performance. And it’s just as at home on the racetrack as it is through the hills.”
Take the red pill or the blue pill, either way it’s an enjoyable car which defeats the most challenging roads with a combination of comfort and driver feedback.
Go cruising and it’s gentle, cosseting, relaxing and capable of covering distances without fuss.
Switch to a fun run and the size and heft of the M850 disappears as it becomes more taut and responsive with a simple switch to the Sport mode. It’s never going to threaten the Z4 but, in the class it will take a power of beating.
It’s been too long since there was an Eight at the top of the numeric line-up at BMW Australia. These impressive newcomers add some zest to the luxury scene, along with a first-time convertible to give shoppers more choice at the top of the two-door world.