by Gabe Beita Kiser
The revival of a hallowed nameplate is normally a recipe for disaster. The manufacturer responsible either tries to capitalize on a name, but deviates from the original recipe entirely - like the Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross - or they can't afford to go it on their own and the internet becomes a warzone. I'm looking at you, Toyota Supra. But there was a different sense of excitement on the web when BMW decided to can the 6 Series Coupe, and in its place, revive the 8 Series badge once more. Of course, there was the promise of an M model, and the M8 has duly delivered. But for most people, all eyes will be on the regular 8 Series, and in particular, the luxurious open-top experience of the 8 Series Convertible - the first of its kind as the E31 of the '90s never saw a convertible come to fruition.
The first-ever 8 Series Convertible finds power from one of two available engines. In the new for 2020 840i and 840i xDrive, a familiar 3.0-liter turbocharged straight-six generates 335 horsepower, while the M850i xDrive gets a great big 4.4-liter bi-turbo V8 that churns out 523 horsepower, with both engines using the same exceptional ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox. With the dawn of the 8 Series Convertible, BMW finally has a credible answer to the Mercedes-Benz S-Class Convertible!
After launching with a V8-powered bang in 2019, BMW has added the six-cylinder 840i and 840i xDrive models to the lineup. With the familiar B58 turbocharged six-pot under the hood, it develops 335 hp and 368 lb-ft of torque. The 840i models also make do without the M Performance paraphernalia, boasting smaller wheels, standard brakes, and standard comfort-biased suspension. To keep the 8 Series Convertible on the tip of everyone's tongues, the M850i xDrive has also retained its asking price with no increase from 2019.
Replacing the 6 Series with an 8 Series was an ideal opportunity for BMW to work some design magic, but instead of going for revolution, they've evolved the 6 Series' shark-like design. Standard BMW design traits remain like the slender kidney grilles, brake cooling ducts on the front fenders, and dual-cluster full-LED headlights that make use of BMW LaserLight technology. The headlights are the slimmest ever installed on a BMW, giving the 8 Series the impression of being even wider than it is.
LED lighting is retained at the rear, where dual chrome-tipped exhausts are integrated into the rear bumper. M850i models receive the M Sport Package as standard - an option on the 840i - which gives the 8 Series more aggressive front and rear bumpers, a rear spoiler, and darkened exterior trim where chrome would usually reside. Of course, the key differentiating factor of the Convertible is the multi-layer power-operable soft-top roof. As standard, the 840i twins ride on a set of 18-inch alloy wheels, while the M850i gets a standard set of Cerium Gray 20-inch alloys.
Based on BMW's largest coupe, the 8 Series Convertible is a truly mammoth grand tourer, albeit one that's still several inches shorter than an S-Class Cabriolet and the 6 Series Convertible it technically replaces. The convertible shares its 111.1-inch wheelbase with the 8 Series Coupe, as well as its 191.1-inch length in 840i guise, while the 850i measure 0.1 inches longer. All models are 74.9 inches in width, excluding the mirrors, and 84.1 inches including them. Where the 840i and 850i Convertibles differ, however, is in their stance, with the lesser-powered 840i models riding lower overall. They carry 4.6 inches of ground clearance and stand 52.7 inches tall, while the 850i carries an extra 0.4 inches of ground clearance and 0.3 inches in overall height. The 840i tips the scales with a curb weight of 4,211 lbs, nearly 300 more than the coupe, while adding all-wheel-drive sees the curb weight climb to 4,356 lbs. The M850i is by far the heaviest, drawing a readout of 4,736 lbs.
While the M8 range of Coupe, Convertible, and Gran Coupe deal with outright performance, BMW hasn't left the 8 Series Convertible without a suitable breadth of performance of its own. Two engines - also found in other body styles - are available, with the 840i being the recipient of a 3.0-liter turbocharged six-cylinder engine developing 335 hp and 368 lb-ft of torque. The M850i xDrive gets an increase of two cylinders and 1.4 liters, boasting a 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 engine offering up 523 hp and 553 lb-ft. The 840i is the only model in the range to feature a rear-wheel drivetrain, with both xDrive derivatives featuring permanent all-wheel-drive. But regardless of which engine and drivetrain you choose, the exceptional ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox is standard.
Both engines are simply sublime, each with their own character and neither lacking in speed nor efficacy. Whether from a standstill or performing sweeping overtakes, both powerplants effectively deal with the situation at hand, although it must be said that the M850i's sultry exhaust note is far superior to that of the inline-six in the 840i. As for the obligatory 0-60 mph sprints, the 840i manages a five-second effort, while the extra traction of the 840i xDrive drops that figure by 0.4 seconds. Opting for the V8 shaves off nearly a full second further, achieving the 60 mph benchmark in just 3.8 seconds.
Despite its obvious size, the 8 Series Convertible feels light and nimble. For BMW aficionados, it's a return to form for the Munich-based manufacturer, as they've stopped relying on just superb powertrains and focused once again on the chassis to convey an exemplary driving experience. The Integral Active Steering system - a $1,150 option on the 840i but standard on the 840i xDrive and M850i xDrive - enables the rear wheels to steer, which makes the 8 Series more maneuverable at low speeds and more stable at high speeds. That makes it dynamically talented, and the suspension resists roll and carries the 8 Series on its toes. But the secret to the 8 Series' handling is the steering. It's as easy and direct as any modern EPAS setup may be, but BMW has finally found their mojo, digging into the depths of their past by engineering feel and communication into the wheel once more.
It's all dialed up further in the M850i, which gets M Performance brakes, suspension, and a locking rear differential, sharpening handling and responses and effectively putting the power down. To be honest, though, even the standard 840i is a sweet-handling machine, and the rear-wheel-driven nature makes it feel a little purer than the 850i xDrive, despite the lack of power and M Performance bits.
In the luxury grand tourer segment, economy regularly plays second fiddle to the overall experience. But that doesn't mean the 8 Series is a guzzler by any means, and it manages to evade US Gas Guzzler tax - at least in 840i guise. In this configuration, the EPA affords it estimates of 22/29/24 mpg city/highway/combined, while the addition of xDrive nomenclature to the tailgate drops these figures marginally to 20/27/23 mpg. The V8-powered M850i xDrive suffers for its soulful soundtrack, delivering 17/25/20 mpg and dropping below the 22.5 mpg combined threshold for Gas Guzzler tax.
Regardless, all 8 Series Convertibles are bestowed with an 18-gallon gas tank, and with a full tank of the recommended premium unleaded, the 840i will be your best bet as a long-distance companion, achieving 432 miles between refills.
If BMW has trouble in one area in particular, it's that regardless of how expensive a model may be, the interior always feels in some way, shape, or form, like an evolution of a regular 3 Series. That's not to say the Merino leather upholstery of the 8 Series isn't luxurious, or the heated 14-way power-adjustable sports seats aren't incredibly comfortable and supportive. It's got all the functionality - power-adjustable steering, a heated steering wheel, heated front armrests, arguably the most effective dual-zone climate control system around, and automatic soft-close doors - but it lacks the specialness of other grand tourers at this level. An S-Class Cabriolet feels more opulent, an Aston Martin DB11 Volante more spectacular, and the 8 Series… well, it feels like an opulent 5 Series - familiar and easy to interact with, but ultimately uninspired.
It's not the most practical, either, although not many are at this level. The two front occupants are graciously accommodated with an abundance of head and legroom, and ample levels of adjustability. But the two in the rear are forced into tight quarters, with seats not capable of accommodating your average teenager. Just 29.5 inches of legroom is all the rear occupants get - 10 inches less than the rear seats of a Honda Fit. Like many a drop-top grand tourer, three's a crowd when it comes to the 8 Series Convertible, despite the claimed four-seater capabilities.
The trade-off for the open-top experience of a convertible vehicle is always felt in the loss of practical trunk space, and the 8 Series Convertible falls foul of this, too. However, at least BMW made use of a folding soft-top for the 8 Series, unlike the trunk-eating hard-top from the 4 Series. Because they went for a ragtop, the 8 Series Convertible only loses 2.4 cubic feet of usable volume, down from 14.8 cubic feet in the 8 Series Coupe to 12.4 cubes in the Convertible. A low liftover height and keyless hands-free trunk access are also boons for practicality.
Inside the cabin, storage is typical of BMW's other offerings. Two cup holders are situated in the center console up front, and two between the rear seats - along with a pass-through hatch from the trunk. The glovebox is decently sized but awkwardly shaped, and the door pockets are relatively spacious. There's a wireless device charging pad with a non-stick mat that's useful, and beneath the center armrest, there's a fairly large storage bin. Fortunately, what you can't accommodate in the trunk, you may as well store on the otherwise all-but-useless rear seats.
Taking center stage in the 8 Series Convertible's arsenal of equipment is a power soft-top roof, operable at speeds of up to 30 mph and opening or closing in just 15 seconds. But there's a lot more going for the 8 Series - 14-way power-adjustable sports seats (16-way power multi-function seats on the M850i) are heated by default, as is the steering wheel and the front armrests. There's the option of neck-level heating, too, pairing with standard dual-zone automatic climate control. BMW's latest Live Cockpit Professional comprises a fully digital 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, while a head-up display is also standard. Keyless access, soft-close doors, and fully adaptive LED headlights, along with a rearview camera and wireless device charging round out the standard consignment of features.
A range of options can be added to improve the 8 Series' offering, with glass controls and ventilated seats offering more luxury, while various Driving Assistance packages equip adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assistance, enhanced forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring with active steering avoidance, lane departure warning, park distance sensors, a surround-view camera and more. These systems add to the already standard suite of forward collision warning and city collision mitigation.
At the heart of every 8 Series Convertible is a 10.25-inch touchscreen display catering to infotainment needs. It features the latest iDrive 7 software and multiple means of control including touch control, operation via the iDrive rotary controller - now with haptic feedback - gesture control and cloud-based voice control. The system combines standard AM/FM/CD/SiriusXM satellite radio functionality with USB and Bluetooth inputs, as well as Apple CarPlay with a one-year free trial, but no Android Auto. Navigation and a WiFi hotspot are included as standard, the latter for three months, and a range of connected apps ensures that real-time traffic information, parking availability, hazard previews and more are all beamed straight to the car.
By default, audio is piped through to a 408-watt Harman Kardon surround sound system with 12 speakers, but buyers can opt for a 1,375-watt Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound System for enhanced enjoyment.
New to the market, the 8 Series Convertible has not been the subject of any recalls at the time of writing, and fortunately, neither have any other 8 Series derivatives. However, it is still early days for the new model. All 8 Series Convertibles depart the factory with a four-year/50,000-mile limited warranty, a four-year/unlimited-mile roadside assistance plan, and BMW's Ultimate Care maintenance program, covering three years or 36,000 miles worth of complimentary maintenance on certain items.
Only a limited range of BMWs have been evaluated by the NHTSA, which unfortunately do not include the 8 Series in any guise. Likewise, the IIHS hasn't completed any crash-test evaluation, either. However, all 8 Series Convertibles feature six standard airbags including front side airbags and front and rear head airbags, a standard array of ABS, EBD, and brake assist, stability control, traction control, rollover protection, and standard Active Guard - a suite of systems comprising forward collision warning, automatic city braking, and pedestrian detection. These systems can be optionally upgraded to include high-speed automatic braking and collision avoidance, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, parking sensors, park assist, a surround-view camera and lane departure warning.
For once, the revival of a historic nameplate has been widely accepted. But it's only because BMW has revived the 8 Series in line with the same ethos embodied in the original model of the 1990s. That one was always supposed to have a convertible, but it never reached the market, so the 2020 8 Series Convertible seems to have picked up where the original left off just over two decades ago. But the automotive sphere has changed, and now the 8 Series is up against stiff competition from exotic manufacturers. That's arguably its biggest problem.
It manages all the things BMW is good at exceptionally well, with a large trunk, endearing powertrains, exceptional dynamics, and a solid comprehensive package. But it fails to excite in the way an Aston Martin might, and it fails to live up to the luxurious standards of an S-Class. Perhaps that's to its benefit though, as the 8 Series Convertible will fly under the radar. It'll still be exceptional in all aspects, but only the driver will truly know how good it is. If that sounds like something you could appreciate, then the 8 Series Convertible is an incredible return to form for BMW.
Like all things German, price isn't really a fixed item when it comes to ordering your 8 Series Convertible. Perusing the options list will likely see the final asking price surge far beyond what the base MSRP might be. Still, for what it's worth, the 840i carries a starting price of $97,400 while the 840i xDrive asks $100,300 excluding options, tax, licensing, and destination fees. Opting for the range-topping M850i xDrive will set you back $121,400 - which is exactly the same as the 2019 model.
3.0-liter Turbo Inline-6 Gas
|840i xDrive Convertible||
3.0-liter Turbo Inline-6 Gas
|M850i xDrive Convertible||
4.4-liter Twin-Turbo V8 Gas
Three trims in the line-up carry similar specifications - both 840i trims are equipped almost identically apart from the drivetrain, while the M850i xDrive gets the biggest number of upgrades. It's the latter we'd pick, though, and for a number of reasons. The soundtrack and soul of a 4.4-liter bi-turbo V8 are hard to ignore, and the performance provided in tandem with standard all-wheel-drive is good enough to question the need for an M8 at all. You also get rear-wheel steering as standard - an option on the 840i and standard on both xDrive models, and you get Extended Merino leather instead of Vernasca on lesser models. Importantly, however, the M850i gets the M Sport package as standard, equipping it with an active rear differential, M Sport brakes, more aggressive looks, adaptive M Sport dampers, and bespoke interior elements, along with ventilated seats. We'd add in the driving assistance packages for added safety and convenience, along with the fantastic Bowers & Wilkens sound system, but otherwise, the M850i xDrive is all the 8 Series you'll ever need.
If ever two vehicles were hard to fault, it would be this pair. Each goes about performing the duties of a luxury grand tourer in fine form, but each does it in a different way. For the BMW, it's about sportiness and involvement, sacrificing interior opulence for the sake of crisp handling dynamics and sublime engines. The Mercedes, on the other hand, is the embodiment of luxury and technology - kitted comprehensively, and looking as lavish as machines that cost twice as much. Only one non-AMG S-Class Cabriolet exists, though, and at $134,300 the 463 hp V8-powered S 560 is $37,000 more than the price of a base 840i and $13,000 more than the M850i xDrive. It's the more luxurious, refined tourer of the two, but the driver behind the wheel of the BMW will enjoy every corner just a little bit more. It all comes down to what type of luxury car buyer you are, as neither is a bad car - they just do different jobs in the same segment.
The BMW i8 Roadster and 8 Series Convertible are two completely different machines. The former is a mid-engined, carbon-fiber, hybrid sports car with eyes set on rivaling the Porsche 911. Its hybrid powertrain develops 374 horsepower to the 8 Series' 335 or 523 hp outputs, but it makes use of them in a very different way. It's a sharp if sterile sports car designed to handle corners with aplomb, sacrificing a modicum of comfort and huge amounts of practicality for its nimbleness. The 8 Series, by contrast, is a big bruising GT car. In a straight line it'll easily run with, and potentially even beat, the i8, and it'll put up a fight around the corners, but at the end of the day, it'll also run a cross-continent cruise in utmost comfort and with a full load of luggage on board. Objectively speaking, the 8 Series is the obvious choice, and the financially a smarter one, too - but if this is the league you're shopping in, you might as well buy both BMWs and call it a day.