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First Drive: 2019 BMW M850i xDrive Cabriolet

FARO, Portugal — Face it, it’s a ballsy move on the part of BMW. With overall car sales circling the drain generally and the luxury car segment currently in a funk, the company is doubling down on big, bold and expressive automobiles for the moneyed class — first with the 8 Series Coupe, and now with the brand-new 8 Series Cabriolet. OK, both of these cars will act as de-facto replacements for the lower-priced (and older) 6 Series siblings, though also catering to a higher economic demographic. But neither model — especially the $131,500 Cabriolet, which would be a highly self-indulgent purchase, even in flush times — is going to generate volume sales in Canada. That will be the job for BMW’s ever-expanding, X1-through-X7 lineup of sport activity vehicles.

However, it’s early spring, the sun is high in the sky, and its warming rays are beaming down on flesh made ghostly from a long, cold, snowy winter. The route out of Faro, at the south end of Portugal, is smooth and lightly travelled — and the immense power from the 2019 M850i xDrive four-seat soft-top is intoxicating. Not quite the sports car BMW envisions it, the M850i nonetheless makes a damn fine gran turismo, combining wicked thrust, superb handling when required, and suitable levels of pampering top up or down. So, let BMW worry about sales and profit margins and all of that stuff — I’m too Zen to care.

Lacking the eye candy pop of BMW’s iconic two-seat sports cars — the 507 and its homage, the Z8, immediately come to mind — or with the same sense of occasion as a 50-year-old Mercedes-Benz 280SE Cabrio, the passenger-friendlier M850i xDrive is nonetheless handsome, low to the road with an elongated, sculpted profile. Up front, slim LED headlights and large air intakes flank the pronounced kidney grille, the face imbuing the convertible with an intimidating presence.

This is backed up by the sort of powerplant one expects in order to leave those less deserving choking on the 8’s dust — a 4.4-litre V8 boosted by two twin-scroll turbochargers and a bunch of M Performance techno-trickery, the end result being 523 horsepower between 5,500 and 6,000 rpm and 553 pound-feet of torque from 1,800 to 4,600 rpm. Even when tipping the scales at a solid 2,148 kilograms, the M850i xDrive will launch itself from zero to 100 km/h in an outstanding 3.9 seconds. A lusty soundtrack, enhanced by the standard flap-controlled sport exhaust system, accompanies such scofflaw behaviour.

In the Sport and Sport+ modes, pedal response — as well as the V8’s power delivery and throaty exhaust acoustics — are all configured for an exhilarating driving experience. And, once we reached the foothills outside of Faro and the tarmac went from straight to serpentine, we seriously explored those two modes. Admittedly, game as it was, the M850i was slightly overworked in Sport+, primarily the steering. Backing off a titch and switching into Sport made the car much happier hooning the back roads, aided by the rear-biased all-wheel-drive system and the rear-wheel steering.

Not into playing silly bugger? Toggling the Driving Experience Control switch transforms the Cabriolet from tarmac terror to docile boulevardier, perfect for cruising the boulevards of upscale shopping districts.

Stowed in place, the fabric top resides under a cover with a surface finish and stitching coordinated with the instrument panel and interior door and side panel trim. A standard wind deflector can be positioned behind the front seats to ensure one’s hair isn’t being mussed. When not in use, the deflector can be folded up and stored in the trunk, which needs to be done if the back seats will be used. Optional neck warmers are available to extend the al-fresco driving experience in cooler weather. Air outlets, integrated into the front seat head restraints, provide a pleasant warming effect. Airflow can be adjusted over three speed settings either manually, via the button on the centre console, or automatically, which adjusts airflow depending on vehicle speed.

And as we are a four-season nation, at the first drop of rain (or snow) the roof can be raised in 15 seconds at speeds up to 50 km/h with the touch of a button. The fully electric soft-top design incorporates multiple layers of fabric materials to insulate the occupants from outside noise and elements.

For those who worry about vehicle safety in the event of a rollover, BMW has that covered courtesy of an automatically activated rollover protection system. This system activates the moment that data analyzed by the central safety electronics indicate a risk of a rollover. Two high-strength aluminum rollover bars, fitted behind the rear headrests, are extended by a pyrotechnic charge in a fraction of a second to form a survival space for occupants, in conjunction with the extremely rigid A-pillar windshield surround. Speaking of which, between the thick A-pillar and the windshield header, visibility when turning left is compromised.

Inside, the 8’s cabin is typically BMW — function before frivolity and with a focus on driver needs. Along with the gear selector and the iDrive Controller, the centre console accommodates the Driving Experience Control switch and the engine start/stop button, all arranged within a newly designed cluster with active haptic feedback. The control unit for the light functions is new and consists of buttons positioned at the bottom of the instrument panel between the steering wheel and the driver’s door. A leather M Sport steering wheel with multi-function buttons and paddle-shifters is standard.

The sports seats are deserving of praise for their long-distance comfort and excellent lateral support. The headrests are integrated into the backrests and can be adjusted for both height and fore/aft position. A semi-electric folding function has been included for the front seat backrests, which is activated by using a leather strap located on each seatback to facilitate easier entry and exit for the rear passengers.

Despite automotive headlines rife with news about autonomy and electric vehicles — BMW is no exception, having said it will have 25 electric or hybrid models by 2025 — there is still a market for advanced performance and luxury. The M850i xDrive Cabriolet easily fills these needs, with the added hedonistic touch of open-air motoring at the touch of a button. Just in time for warming temperatures and sunny days, this intimate four-seater GT is now at dealerships.


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