Copywriter, technical writer, translator (FR>EN, ES>EN, IT>EN), journalist

The ideal cruiser: the 2019 BMW M850i Cabriolet

I enjoy poking through the technology options in modern vehicles. Most people might think of this task as coursework, but each feature I find elicits the joy of finding an “Easter egg” (at least of the software variety).

That said, no matter how much technology arrives in the 2019 BMW 850i xDrive Cabriolet, I highly suspect most drivers, even tech-inclined ones like me, aren’t likely to want much more than an open top and the open road.

First impressions

The M850i sported a carbon black metallic paint job, accented by blue BMW M disc brake calipers peeking through the 20-inch M light-alloy cast aluminum wheels in a high-gloss polished Frozen Cerium Grey metallic finish. A long hood leads to a windshield that barely rises above the angle of said hood.

A massive twin kidney grill stretches widthwise to wide, slim headlights with barely any metal to separate grill from headlights. The kidneys are wider at the base than up top, a bit of a design departure introduced in recent models. Equally wide and slim taillights accent the rear of a short, wide trunk deck, as do the twin finished exhausts below.

It’s hard to say whether the M850 looks better with the top up or down. Thanks to good weather during my week with the car, I have little to say about driving it with the top up. The 15-second wait for the top to fold itself into its compartment was a small price to pay for open-air motoring.

Interior

Beautiful red Merino leather covered most of the firm, adjustable sport seats (black leather covered the remainder) and accented other parts of the interior, interspersed with black leather, wood accents and other high-end materials.

image courtesy BMW

At night, ambient lights glow gently along the dashboard, the top of the doors, and from within the Bowers & Wilkins speakers distributed throughout the cabin. As with many such touches in this Bimmer, you can choose the colour of ambient light.

image courtesy BMW

Glass applications in the cockpit are newish options on BMWs. Their facets are most obvious on the shift lever, but you’ll notice them on the iDrive Controller, engine start/stop button (to the left of the shift lever) and audio volume knob.

image courtesy BMW

Despite the M850’s length, the rear seats aren’t much roomier than what you’d expect in a compact vehicle. I’m sure they are lovely for people of a certain height. Leather loops on the sides of the front seats fold them down and cause eleectric motors to move them slowly forward to facilitate ingress and egress for rear-seat passengers.

If the back seats aren’t in use, you can set up a wind deflector over them to make the front seats more comfortable when you’re at speed.

Hockey bag test

The M850’s trunk is meant more for golf bags than hockey bags. You get a little more room if you reach into the trunk while the convertible top is up and you fold the top’s storage compartment out of the way. Regardless, you would need a big shoehorn (not offered as a BMW genuine accessory) to fit a hockey bag through the small trunk opening.

The bag rode comfortably in the back seat (mostly with the top down). Back seats, incidentally, do fold in a 50:50 split, so I slid sticks through the trunk and into the back seat area.

Giving a teammate a lift

In-cabin technology

Unlike previous drop-top experiences, the 12.3” instrument cluster (now fully digital) remained legible even with sunlight entering the car from behind. I suspect it will become the standard across many (all?) BMWs since the model name appears just below the driver-facing camera situated in the middle of the top of the screen. (The X7 I reviewed sported the same screen.)

image courtesy BMW

That camera, in case you’re wondering, is what the Bimmer uses to track a driver’s level of attention, so don’t be surprised if the car suggests you take a coffee break.

The heads-up display remained equally legible in all lighting circumstances. This generation of HUD includes all the expected information, plus an optimum shift indicator if you choose to shift the gears yourself.

Cameras on the vehicle’s exterior deliver a 360-degree “bird’s-eye“ view of the M850 and its immediate surroundings, handy for manoeuvering in tight spaces. Drivers can also get a live 3D image on their phones at any time using the Remote 3D View feature.

BMW’s operating system, iDrive, enables drivers to set a wide variety of driving preferences. The Bavarian company took a page out of at least one computer manufacturers’ playbooks by saving driver preferences to the BMW cloud and downloading them to other BMWs that person may drive.

The iDrive system itself, aka BMW Operating System 7.0, features a ”flattened” menu structure to allow drivers to access features in fewer steps. It still works using the same cluster of controls, i.e. the iDrive Controller knob/joystick/trackpad/button surrounded by buttons that lead to commonly accessed screens. You can also touch the infotainment screen, but resting the forearm on the centre armrest to use the iDrive Controller cluster proved more comfortable. Drivers can use BMW’s system or Apple CarPlay, which ships standard on the 8.

In my tester, BMW bypassed the standard Harman Kardon audio system in favour of the optional 1,375-watt Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound System with Diamond loudspeaker technology. While I’m sure it sounds great, I did not treat this droptop as a concert hall because I was too busy. . .

Driving

With apologies to Bowers & Wilkins and their fine speaker technology, I’m of the opinion that all the music you need in this vehicle comes from the exhaust, thanks to a 523 hp 4.4L V8 BMW TwinPower Turbo engine. While the ride is civilized through and through, merging into traffic on highways gives you the (thoroughly legal) opportunity to hear the engine roar. The vehicle is also tuned to, in certain circumstances, automatically use engine braking to slow down. That means hearing what I interpreted as a snarl of disappointment each time the M850 downshifted through its eight gears (more on this below), driving up the revs as it did so. (The driver can shift gears too using the gearshift lever and the paddle shifters on the steering wheel.) If you want to turn up the volume on this aural treat, you can delay upshifts during acceleration by choosing SPORT or SPORT+ drive mode to boost both power delivery and acoustics.

When I write that the ride is civilized, I mean the M850i sticks to the ground during what BMW tactfully terms “spirited driving” of all kinds. Off the line, for example, Launch Control prevents wheelspin and ensures a firm, grounded experience (and still allows the V8 to roar—I don’t know if I can be redundant when repeating just how good this engine sounds).

BMW chose to take what I’ll call “rev management” to the next level by connecting the M850’s standard navigation system to the drivetrain. BMW’s press materials for this car state, “Navigation data is used to downshift early . . . when approaching an intersection in order to use engine braking to slow the car down.”

A comprehensive set of active safety features ships in the M850. Collision and Pedestrian Warning with City Braking function comes standard. Optional features include active cruise control with stop-and-go, steering and lane control, and lane departure warning.

You don’t buy a BMW 8-series to burn fewer dollars on fuel. That said, it does ship with drive modes that include Eco and Eco Pro, both of which you can configure. The M850 also features engine start-stop technology to burn fewer of those dollars at red lights and stop signs. There’s also a “coasting” function. In certain situations “(w)hen travelling at speeds between 15–160 km/h, it ensures that the powertrain is decoupled as soon as the driver lifts off the accelerator. The vehicle can then simply coast along at idling speed and with minimized fuel consumption.”

Pricing

BMW prices the base 2019 BMW 850i xDrive Cabriolet at $131,500 MSRP. With options, exclusive of taxes and other charges, the M850 I tested ships for $143,200.

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