A good friend once gave me this invaluable piece of advice: you take your jollies where you can find them. Words to live by, certainly.
And so, armed with that knowledge and in a most casual fashion, I asked a BMW executive if the new 8 Series Convertible was the replacement for the now-discontinued 6 Series Convertible.
After a bit of squirming, she said the 8 Series is not, in fact, the replacement for the 6 Series, a car which nominally sits in the market segment occupied by the 5 Series. Rather, she asserted the 8 Series Convertible a luxury open-top grand tourer. Reading between the lines, this car is built as an answer to the Mercedes-Benz S-Class Cabriolet, and to a lesser extent, the Aston Martin DB11 Volante and Bentley Continental GT Convertible.
But you might be thinking, “aren’t all BMWs luxury cars?”
And you’d be right, though to paraphrase George Orwell badly, “All BMWs are equal, but some BMWs are more equal than others.”
Here, let me provide you an example—the 2 Series Active Tourer costs around $150,000 and this, the 8 Series Convertible in range-topping (until the M8 arrives, anyway) M850i xDrive trim costs over four times that, at roughly $630,000. And even then, the 8 Series Convertible is only available through local dealers Performance Motors on a per-order basis, that is to say you won’t see them sitting around the showroom.
As with most cars in the luxury class, it’s more useful to see what’s on the options list, as opposed to what comes standard on the car. After all, when you're breathing that rarefied air, there’s nothing more terrifying than having the exact same car as your neighbour.
Carbon fibre bits for the exterior, fancy wood trim, cut-crystal accents (the gearknob, infotainment jog dial, engine start/stop button and audio system volume knob), a Bowers & Wilkins sound system and phosphorous-based adaptive ‘laser’ lighting are available as optional extras on the 8 Series Convertible. Needless to say, the test car we drove in Portugal was specced to the nines and had all the above.
The more studied BMW observer will note that all these items are also available on the 7 Series, X7 and 8 Series Coupe—Munich’s flagship saloon, SUV and coupe respectively. So, on that front, the new 8 Series Convertible is a success, elevating the 6 Series to giddy heights it could only dream of.
There’s also the small matter of the 8 Series Convertible’s giddily elevated price tag (the comparable 650i Convertible last retailed here for just under $500,000), but I digress.
But the bigger question the 8 Series Convertible will need to answer is not the number of internal organs its potential buyers will need to mortgage, but whether or not they will feel shortchanged after stumping out over $600,000 for it.
The short answer to that is an emphatic no. If settling into the perforated leather seats with their scalloped backrests, gripping the thick-rimmed leather wheel and peering over its long, sculpted bonnet isn’t enough, then the 8 Series Convertible’s ride should put paid to any doubts.
Perhaps it’s the 530hp grunt of its 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8, the intergalactic reach of its eight-speed gearbox or its pliant ride, but the 8 Series Convertible behaves exactly the way you want a soft-top GT to.
That is, with the sort of breadth of ability and languid grace to swallow continent-sized distances and slowly cruise down boulevards with equal ease. On the subject of the former, its high-speed ability is truly phenomenal.
Even with the soft-top down (stowed and extended in 15 seconds electro-hydraulically at speeds of up to 50km/hr), wind noise rises with speed, but the car never seems to lose its composure. Apart from the amplified rushing of wind, tearing down the highway at supra-legal speeds al fresco is virtually indistinguishable from driving with the top up.
And it should also be said that driving with the top up in the 8 Series Convertible is barely distinguishable from driving in a fixed-roof coupe. It’s truly remarkable stuff, the way BMW has engineered this level of refinement in a car whose roof is essentially several millimetres of fabric.
It’s also remarkable how BMW has engineered a big coupe with this level of handling. Against its floppy predecessor (nominally, anyway), this 8 Series Convertible, equipped with active suspension, active roll bars, all-wheel-drive and all-wheel-steering is deft.
Or, at least, more deft than you might give this big boulevard cruiser credit for. Seen in isolation, it offers up extremely credible, if not class-leading performance. Objectively speaking, however, its nose always pushes wide into ‘safe’ understeer and turn-in isn’t as sharp as I’d like, in spite of the magical gains normally offered up by all-wheel-steering.
The most glaring, and perhaps, the least quantifiable of the 8 Series Convertible’s flaws is its worryingly low ability to inspire confidence, which is always a bad thing and even more so when said car weighs just over 2-tonnes and is able to transmit 750Nm to the tarmac.
I had a hell of a time placing the car’s nose with any semblance of accuracy and the top portion of the instrument cluster’s cowl stuck into my line of sight, making it even harder to drive the car with any sort of vigour.
But I also get the feeling that cornering hijinks isn’t quite the point of the 8 Series Convertible. Fun in the sun is, and even if the heavens do decide to open up, as it did on me on a lovely, twisty Portuguese back road, or if the weather suddenly turns chilly, the car has an answer for it. In the case of the former, a quick-deploying soft-top; for the latter, air vents just below the headrests that blow warm air onto the nape of your neck.
The 8 Series Convertible is truly a car for all seasons, reasons and then some. So, perhaps there was some truth in what that BMW executive from earlier said…
ENGINE 4,395cc, 32-valves, V8, turbocharged
POWER 530hp at 5,500-6,000rpm
TORQUE 750Nm at 1,800-4,600rpm
0-100KM/HR 3.9 seconds
TOP SPEED 250km/hr
TRANSMISSION Eight-speed automatic
FUEL CONSUMPTION 8L/100km
VES BAND TBC
PRICE $630,000 (estimated)