I had a pretty good idea what to expect walking up to this sinister beast. My relationship with this particular murdered-out 2020 BMW M850i Convertible actually starts about 9 months earlier. I was helping its current owner decide on his next set of wheels. Without going into detail, my assessment after an agonizingly brief test drive was that this is perhaps the best model BMW currently has in its lineup. I know, big verdict after only a 10 minute drive right? Think of the 8 Series as the two door version of the 5 Series sedan. Having driven the then-new M5 some weeks prior, it’s a fair assessment. (I’m hoping to get one long enough to do a proper review, subscribe and help me make that happen!).
Now, having spent some proper time behind the wheel, my initial verdict still stands. But it also begs a question which I’ll get into later. For now though, let’s talk design. While some of BMW’s newer designs are a bit, well, polarizing to be fair, the designers absolutely nailed it with the new 8 Series. Built to replace the generic-looking 6 Series, the 8 Series has all the flair and attitude of a proper BMW grand touring car. Yes, it’ll never hold a candle to a Bentley Continental GT for the absolute essence of grand touring or that pesky Porsche 911 for outright performance (although with a 0-60 mph time in the mid-3s, it comes shockingly close). Its price, however, undercuts those two while bringing just as much heat to the party.
As the halo car for the brand, the 8 Series rightfully earns the design title. The signature twin-kidney grill is large but not ostentatious like the 7 Series. The shark-nosed front end employs BMW Laser lighting (pew-pew!) elements and is a thoroughly modern and techy take on the daytime LED running lamps. The black M Design 20″ wheels alone are fantastic to admire and the rear end is tastefully aggressive and sports gargantuan cutouts for the quad exhaust pipes. Not to take anything from the Coupe and 4-door Gran Coupe, but the M850i design appeals more as a convertible.
It’s in that convertible form where you get to really experience possibly the best iteration of BMW’s 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 this side of a true M car. Armed with 523-hp and 553 lb-ft of torque all routed through BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive system, the M850i is astonishingly quick off the line. It’ll startle a Nissan GT-R from a red light and finish it off with a few exhaust pops for good measure. The ZF 8-speed automatic is tuned smartly and delivers gear changes as rapidly as a dual clutch. The GT-R and Porsche 911 may be the clinical track machines out there. But the M850i however, top down, exhaust burbling away, has an appeal and presence that is undeniable.
Bright, sunny day and traffic moving at a nice clip, that exhaust is gloriously burbly and crackly on overrun, not unlike a big American V8 (think Hellcat) but with a hint of refinement. It’s hard not to goose the throttle just to hear it. BMW also pipes exhaust noises into the cabin through the audio system, which to me is nonsense when the exhaust itself sounds this good. Honestly, the guys at Magnaflow would be proud. The M850i also puts BMW’s famous ride and handling tune on display. The adaptive suspension soaks up road irregularities with aplomb in Comfort mode and firms up nicely in Sport mode. Make no mistake, at over 4700 lbs, the M850i is a heavy beast. But like a linebacker, it knows how to gracefully carry its weight.
Taking some corners at a moderate pace, the M850i shows its sports car side. With rear-wheel steering, it shrinks several sizes smaller. This big car is agile. Push it too far though and the weight becomes noticeable. Steering is quick and direct with an appropriate amount of communication through the helm. The seats are supportive and almost infinitely adjustable, it’s not difficult to find a good driving position. Rear seats? Let’s face it, you’re not buying this car to seat four adults comfortably. Think of them as extra storage space. Material quality all around is on point, I had to really search to find anything cheap-feeling. I especially love the Glass package, which encases the shifter and some ancillary controls in glass. Combined with the mood lighting, the M850i’s cabin is an exceptionally premium place to be.
Technology is also present and accounted for here, starting off with the massive 12″ infotainment screen. BMW continues to refine its iDrive system and this latest generation is more intuitive and offers features that border on the gimmicky side. One such feature is Gesture Control. Want to adjust the audio volume? Twirl a finger just in front of the infotainment screen. Want to end a call? Make a stabbing motion in the same area. It’s cool at first but it’s a feature I’ll probably never use after the first week or two of ownership. Besides, that’s what steering wheel controls are for: to keep both hands on the wheel.
The usual driver assistance aids are present such as lane departure warning and keeping assist, adaptive cruise control and front collision warning which can stop the vehicle if a frontal collision is sensed. The gauge cluster screen is bright, easily legible and can project pertinent information (speed, navigation prompts, engine rpm etc) onto a heads up display on the windshield. With the requisite M bits to justify the name (M Sport differential, M Sport brakes), the M850i more than earns that M in its name and is leagues beyond the ‘base’ six-cylinder 840i, itself no slouch.
So back to that earlier question I hinted at. With the M850i being this good, how much better could the actual M8 be? At an as-tested price just over $130k, you get a great looking car that is equally at home eating up a back road as it is cruising the streets of South Beach. Yes, it’s not the heavyweight track weapon in the vein of the M8 but really, at 4500 lbs and an extra $30k, is 600-617-hp worth it? If you really want a track-worthy BMW, you’d be buying either the M2 or M3/M4. While the M8 certainly pegs the aggression meter a good bit more than the M850i, the latter strikes as just the right balance of grand touring and aggression. However, when you’re spending north of $120k, logic flies out the window. The heart wants what it wants.
The 2020 BMW M850i Convertible is really a high-priced German take on the muscle car. Big, hairy chested and loud when you touch that Sport button. Smooth, easy going and handsome when you decide to slow down, take it easy and stow the top. Just the right balance.
Big thanks to Rod for helping to make this review possible! If there’s a car you’d like me to review, let me know! Your subscriptions help to make that happen! Subscribe today!
For 2021, the M8 Coupe and Convertible are on hiatus. We don’t know when they’ll return to the lineup but you can still grab the M8 Gran Coupe!