Driving The Brand New BMW 8 Series Convertible Around Portugal
The first thing you realise when you see a BMW 8 Series in the flesh for the first time, particularly with its roof down, is that the German company seems to have rediscovered its ability to design good looking cars all over again. This is a pretty car, and this is a very pretty part of the world, but before we delve into the merits (or otherwise) of the 8 Series and of Algarve, a quick primer on BMW’s highest number, and BMW’s latest numbering system.
A long time ago, a plucky Bavarian manufacturer, famous for its aircraft engines that powered parts of the German war machine, was in ruins after WWII, and the only thing they could make was a one-door car. No, really – it was called the Isetta, and it had a far less complicated mechanism than the 8 Series’ cabriolet roof (the door opened up from the front, in case you were wondering). The Isetta stabilised the company long enough for it to develop a nice, small, sporty rear-wheel-drive sedan, which is called the 3 Series. Then it made a slightly bigger sedan, which is called the 5 Series – and then an even bigger sedan, the kind of car that dictators and monopolists alike love, called the 7 Series. The Indian Prime Minister uses one of those, in case you wanted to know.
And that is the way the BMW universe was for 30 years. Sure, there was a side project making a sports car, the M1, which, while very good looking, had a small production run. But in developing that car, the Bavarians had employed some mad scientists, who needed something to do, and they were let loose on the regular sedans. You thus got the M3 and the M5, for several generations now the very definition of cars with split personalities. I do not want to make light of the condition, but if you drive a modern M3 or M5 you will know what I am on about.
Then, Wall Street started booming, and an Irishman became James Bond, and the plucky Bavarians weren’t really the plucky underdog any more – they were rather big, so you got the Z8 and then the Z3. But because the beer-loving Germans connected with their American cousins (Germans are the largest European ethnic group in America, after the British-Irish), they realised that Americans wanted big, fat abominations known as ‘Sports Utility Vehicles’ and thus, the first modern luxury SUV was developed – the X5 (which gave birth to the X3). Over time, those have become rather good cars indeed.
At the same time, a beancounter at BMW must have wondered that there were all these numbers (1,2,4,6,8) that they didn’t use, and BMW needed to fill in the gaps. So we got the 1 Series and the X1, some countries got the amazing 2 Series (we get the un-freaking-believable M2), the 4 Series is a 3 Series minus a door and was driving goes up against the Mercedes-Benz S-Class Cabriolet, but honestly, it has the Merc beaten in the looks department.
And that is not only because the 8 Series has such lovely flowing lines, from the front all the way to the integrated spoiler at the back. Everything on this car looks proportionate, and the massive kidney grilles and a larger logo that emblazon the updated 7 Series and the X7 are nowhere to be found. While the constant evolution of LED headlights has meant the X4 is far nicer than an X3 unless you are tall and sitting at the back.
And now, we come to the 6 Series and the 8 Series. We will ignore the X6 (and thankfully, nobody has thought of an X8 as yet, as far as we know). The 6 Series was meant to be something BMW built on the tried and tested 5 Series platform, but with a sporty body style, without losing practicality. All the Germans played around with this – BMW had the 6 Series, Mercedes-Benz the CLS and Audi the A7. BMW made a topless version of the 6 Series as well, and that was a good looking car. But now you have the 8 Series, and the Bavarian Boffins tell us that it has replaced the 6 Series. This is, as the bigger number indicates, bigger than the 6 Series. The Cabriolet that I was driving goes up against the Mercedes-Benz S-Class Cabriolet, but honestly, it has the Merc beaten in the looks department. And that is not only because the 8 Series has such lovely flowing lines, from the front all the way to the integrated spoiler at the back. Everything on this car looks proportionate, and the massive kidney grilles and a larger logo that emblazon the updated 7 Series and the X7 are nowhere to be found. While the constant evolution of LED headlights has meant that modern BMWs have lost their earlier signature ‘corona’ lights, the ability of designers to play around with headlights and taillights has allowed them to sculpt them as an integral element of the design. On the inside, this is unmistakably a modern BMW, and since we were driving the M-Sport spec M850i, BMW’s racing colours were seen in the seatbelts.
There are a couple of things that you have to remember before you head out with this car, and both of them have to do with the fact that it is a pretty big car. A big car without a roof usually means that a huge slab of steel has been welded across the underbody, for structural strength. That is the price to pay for having a convertible, and BMW has done the same here. But, thanks to some innovative technology, the 8 Series is, as BMW’s engineers claim, just two per cent less rigid than the coupe. That shows, because it doesn’t behave like a container ship in corners, it behaves more like a jet-ski. As you grow more and more confident in the handling abilities of the car, you have to remind yourself that you are not in a nice, small roadster. In ‘Adaptive’ driving mode, the car even analyses the road ahead and, based on your speed and how the road is, adapts the suspension and steering. Head into some twisty hill roads at a decent rate of knots, and the car goes into Sport mode. Cruising down a highway at European speeds? The car will go into Comfort mode. Indeed, on the highway, with radar-assisted cruise control and lane assist coupled with adaptive driving, the car pretty much drives itself. You’re unlikely to buy a car with a big V8 motor up front, producing 523 horsepower, to drive itself, however.
And if you have the oddly empty roads of Algarve almost to yourself on a bright, sunny day, you would slot the chintzy gear knob to Sport, everything else to Sport Plus and marvel at the fact that BMW engineers continue to defy physics. A big convertible is not meant to perform like this, but it goes into corners like a proper demon. Put the roof up, with its layers of acoustic damping, put some cufflinks on and you can pull up to a casino in Monte Carlo and not feel out of place around Italian supercars – it is that good looking. Thus it is a pity that BMW India is still debating whether to bring this car to India and even if it does, it will be an import – meaning it will cost a bomb. The 8 Series is one hell of a bomb, however.
ON THE INSIDE
Merino leather, Harman Kardon sound system, 12.3-inch touchscreen display, 10.25-inch digital instrument panel
4.4 LITRE V8 PETROL
RS 80 LAKH (ESTIMATED, EX-SHOWROOM)
WHAT WE LIKE
Great design, impeccable handling
WHAT WE DON’T
BMW is still unsure whether to launch it in India
Performance – 5/5
Design – 4.5/5
Handling – 4.5/5
Interior – 5/5