Open up and say aww yeah
Putting a name to a feeling isn’t always easy, even for a writer. It took me years to summarize what makes a great driver’s car feel great, but I finally settled on a single word: confidence. Behind the wheel of a great car, you’re confident driving as fast as the mood strikes you in any place, at any time, in any conditions. You know the car will always behave in a way that’s conducive to control.
I’ve driven the BMW 8 Series three times, first as a prototype nearly a year ago, then again as a production car for a commute and a couple laps around our figure eight handling track a few weeks ago. Then I drove the new M850i convertible around southern Portugal on roads I’d never been on with lanes barely wide enough for the car. The narrow roads, the general lack of guardrails except in the deadliest spots, the jet lag, the 523 horsepower—none of it fazed me. That I should take it easy at first, feel out the car, didn’t even occur to me as I slid behind the wheel and dropped the top. Why would it? I have confidence in the 8 Series.
But wait. This is the convertible. BMW says it’s 258 pounds (117 kg) heavier at a portly 4,738 pounds (2,149 kg), and a lot of that weight sits high on the chassis. More weight and a higher center of gravity have surely ruined the car, or at least made it less good, right? To that, I say: meh. That’s less than the weight of two passengers. You can’t feel that difference in a street car, even a light one. It might show up on the Vbox when we test this car in a few months, but it won’t be significant.
It doesn’t matter anyway. Even if the drop top handled a little less well than the coupe or was a little slower, it’d be the difference between super great and really great. Yes, the 8 Series is a large and heavy car, but it doesn’t drive like one. Credit whichever active system or combination of systems you like: rear steer, active anti-roll bars, active dampers, active differential, rear-biased all-wheel drive. The miracle of modern automotive technology is that with enough computers and actuators, you can make a car drive a size smaller. If not for its width, you’d say the 8 Series convertible drives like a 4 Series convertible.
So no, I didn’t think twice about knocking the shifter over to Sport and poking the mode buttons until the gauge reads “Sport Plus.” I didn’t worry it was too much car for the road or that a tag team of physics and horsepower would get me into trouble. I know the 8 Series has a ton of grip. I know that if a freak storm blows in and soaks the road, the 8 Series still has a ton of grip. I know the steering is tight and responsive, never forcing you to move your hands on the wheel outside a parking lot. I know that if a nun carrying a box of kittens wanders into the road, the car has the poise and the reflexes to safely avoid them. I know that if in the middle of that maneuver another nun spilled a bucket of oil in the road in front of me, the 8 Series drifts so beautifully even Jonny Lieberman can look like Ken Block with more beard—but only if you turn all the safety systems off, which no one should ever do on a public road.
What I thought about was the absolutely perfect convertible weather. Warm but not hot. A cool breeze, plenty of sun, but a relatively low UV index. I thought about how good BMW’s latest 4.4-liter V-8 sounds for a turbocharged engine, a clever solution in which each turbo is fed by two cylinders from each bank rather than all four from the same bank, maintaining the audible spacing of the exhaust pulses. Mercedes wishes its 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 had this kind of character in its exhaust note. I thought about how juvenile it is to giggle at programmed backfires on engine overrun, and I thought about how I didn’t care. I thought about how, with the rear wind deflector in place, you could still hold a normal conversation with the roof down on the freeway.
I didn’t think about cowl shake, because modern engineering and materials have made it a thing of the past. I didn’t think about that time I tried to put the top down on a Mercedes-Benz SL at a stoplight in Beverly Hills only to have to drive down the street with the roof half open and the lid sticking straight up like an idiot after the light changed; modern engineering allows you to put the 8’s top down at up to 30 mph (48 km/h). I didn’t think about brake fade, because the big steelies just don’t do that even with an extra 258 pounds (117 kg).
Later, I’d think about how the space needed for convertible parts always comes from the places that can least afford to lose it. Nature of the beast. The rear seats are just big enough for adults if both they and the front-seat occupants have short legs—but the rear-seat passengers will sit with their shoulders pressed firmly against the wall. The trunk is pretty big for a convertible, but you lose the top half of it when you put the roof down—still, other ’verts lose more. My carry-on suitcase still fit underneath, and you could put another next to it along with a few backpacks or handbags.
That’s the luxury of this luxury convertible sports car: You don’t have to think if you don’t want to. You know you can take your stuff if you need to. You know your passengers won’t hate it for being too loud or too stiff. You know you don’t have to pull over to put the roof down or up. You know you can tear up a back road at a moment’s notice, with nothing more than the push of a button. You don’t have to think or plan—you can just go and figure it out on the way there.