FARO, PORTUGAL - It's been barely 15 minutes since leaving the hotel, and suddenly there’s room to let fly. So I put the hammer down and the predictable happens: the long bonnet starts to rise while the steering goes a bit light.
Backs are pushed into seats. Gasps are issued. This is my kind of BMW, that sort that just seems to live for rapid acceleration and would trample over your licence given half a chance.
In seconds the speedo is deep into three figures, while a turbine-like howl rises in intensity from the front, which is all very lovely and exciting, but maybe a bit unexpected, maybe even a little unbecoming of a big, plush, four-door limo meant for company directors.
But it’s precisely because it doesn’t know how to behave itself that I’m officially a fan of the new 7 Series.
A facelift for BMW’s longtime flagship is the reason we’re in Portugal. That, and the fact that you can soon buy an 8 Series in open top form, too. But it isn’t just newness that unites the 7 and 8.
Two versions, the 750Li and M850i, happen to share the same powerplant, a revised version of BMW’s N63B44 engine, better known to us as a 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8.
It gave the previous 750Li 444bhp, but they’ve gone and fiddled with it for the latest Euro 6d-Temp standards and somehow found another 79 horses, so you now get 530hp with your facelifted 750Li. Or, if you like, 530hp with your M850i Convertible.
This is only the second 8 Series, but it’s the first time BMW has sliced the roof off it. Actually, there was a cabrio version of the original 8 in the 90s, but BMW never put it into production. Too heavy, says Sarah Lessman, the engineer who headed the project for the current 8.
(Click HERE to read about the M850i xDrive Coupe)
Mind you, the M850i Convertible isn’t exactly a featherweight. It’s roughly 125kg heavier than the coupe, which means it breaches two tonnes handily. Believe it or not, that means it’s ever so slightly (15kg) more portly than the 750Li.
Giving the M850i a folding cloth top meant making the usual adjustments: reinforcing the body, giving up some boot space, that sort of thing. Remarkably, the Convertible is only two per cent less rigid than the coupe, and even more remarkably, Lessman says an acoustic layer in the cloth roof means that with the roof overhead, it’s just as quiet inside.
Basically I take her word for it, because I end up spending 90 per cent of my time in the M850i with the roof stowed. You can banish it in 15secs if you keep your speed below 50km/h, and once that’s done your ears are in for a treat.
This may be the same V8 as the one in the 750Li, but it sings an altogether different tune, with more bass and more attitude. I’d compare the M850i’s exhaust note to the distinctive thrum of a Ducati, actually, only it burbles and crackles with even more menace and presence, particularly when you jab at the button for Sport Plus.
Drive an M850i Convertible, and your neighbours are going to know you as that guy with the cabrio that sounds like thunder.
It’s hard to imagine that both M850i and the 750Li have the same engine, actually, given how the V8 is altogether more muted in the limo. There’s just the perfect amount of restrained snarl when it’s installed in the 7, which is apt, seeing as to how this is supposed to be transport for boardroom members.
Anyway, comfort and opulence clearly remain top priorities with the flagship. Quilted leather is a new option, and even lovelier in real life than it looks in pictures. There’s extra sound insulation in the rear wheel wells, along with thicker window glass to bolster the cabin’s ability to cocoon its occupants in vault-like silence.
All 7s have air suspension with active dampers, and in this iteration it’s been given a wider envelope of settings, so Comfort is softer than before. You know what that means for Sport, and sure enough the 750Li stomps around with imperious authority.
It’s not that it feels lightweight or that there’s no body roll, but for something that does such a fine impression of the cigar lounge at the club, the 750Li is a cornering champ. The grip might not be endless, but there’s a neutrality to the balance that has you throwing the big BMW into bends with glee and wild abandon, certain that mild understeer is the worst that will come of it. The brakes are mighty, and with xDrive standard the 750Li lunges out of corners like it really means it.
More’s the pity you won’t be able to buy one. We’re getting the 730Li, 740Li and M760Li, all of which have carryover engines. Also headed our way is the new 745Le, the plug-in petrol-electric that replaces the 740Le.
There’s plenty to admire about it, what with a new drivetrain that pairs a straight-six (basically, the 3.0-litre turbo in softish state of tune) with a slightly more powerful motor than before, and a larger capacity battery to shove it all along.
It gets the predictable slew of electrification improvements – more range in EV mode, a higher top speed without petrol power – but that’s a car for another discussion. The 750Li proves that the 7 Series’ body is a fine home for a lovely V8.
It would simply have been too close in price to the M760Li and its V12, though – say, S$550k against S$600k, but what’s fifty grand for four cylinders? Nor is Singapore getting the lounge seating option that puts only two chairs in the back to turn riding in the 7 into proper biz class travel. We only have ourselves to blame for not buying enough of them the first time around.
(Click HERE to read about the storming V12 in the M760Li xDrive)
Still, five seats or four, there’s no getting away from the new 7’s grandiosity. The facelift brought a front grille that’s the size of your front gates, with slimmer headlamps for contrast to make them look even bigger.
The nose is practically vertical (which is something mirrored by the new air breathers’ design), and just to keep it all in proportion they upsized the BMW badge. At the back, new exhaust tips make the bumper look wider, as does a new light strip that links the taillights, which themselves have been redesigned with 3D contours.
I have to say, I grimaced at the pictures but quite like the end result in the flesh. At least you can’t mistake a 7 Series for 5 now, which was apparently the point of the restyling. And the in-your-face design gels philosophically with the performance; the 750Li can stick its face up against the bum of pretty much anything out there, so it might as well be a face that you can spot from outer space.
Lucky Number 8
Against the new 7’s brashness, the M850i looks toned down and mild. With the roof up the coupe’s basic lines are there, so the conversion is a good’un, and when it’s folded the lengthy rear deck creates classic open top cruiser proportions.
This is a car that doesn’t really have a target market nailed down, if you think about it. The S-Class Cabriolet is bigger and plusher, and the 911 Cabriolet, sharper to drive. The M850 sits between them, meaning it’s nearly as comfy as one and nearly as sporty as the other. Best of both worlds, was the aim.
How about an AMG GT? Only two seats. Lessman, the project head, names the Aston DB11 Volante as a rival, except not a direct one because it’s 50 per cent more expensive. But it makes sense, because you can cover ground at a shocking pace in the BMW. If anything the, M850i is quicker than the DB11, at least in 0 to 100km/h terms, and it has the personality to match the performance.
You’ll never forget that it’s a two-tonne machine, but there’s a mountain of tech on its side to make you try. All 8s get air suspension, xDrive and rear axle steering, along with mixed tyre sizes and bespoke rubber from Bridgestone (optional on the upcoming 840i but standard here). That’s one reason Lessman scoffs at the idea that the 8 Series is merely a replacement for the 6 Series, but with a bigger number so BMW can charge more.
On all the rest of the range, she tells us, BMW has to calibrate the suspension for the “worst case”, meaning the smallest wheels, weakest engines and so on. Your 330i M Sport on 20-inch wheels was set up pretty much the same as a 318i on 17s. But there isn’t a worst case for the 8 Series, so everything’s been fettled exactly the way Lessman’s team liked it.
And anyway, she says the 6 Series was built on 5 Series underpinnings, while the 8 was derived from the M8 GTE racing car. It’s a fair point, but one the M850i makes for itself when you get to an apex and attack.
It’s sharper than the 6 ever was. If anything, you get through a couple of corners at a pace that would easily trouble an Aston, and the M850i soaks it all up so nicely that you ask yourself if you shouldn’t have braked a bit deeper and leaned on the Bridgestones a bit more.
So you challenge yourself and commit to some later braking, which in turn has you moving the wheel with a bit more urgency to get the line right, and soon it starts to feel like work. Keep it up for long enough, and you can monster the front tyres in a day, like we did. The reward for sweating it out a bit with the M850i is breathtaking speed, but in truth, the car feels much sweeter at, say, 80 per cent, at which point you’re covering ground at a pretty hot pace anyway.
Ultimately, a 911 might swim along with more fluidity, but there’s the plush side of the M850i to consider, which is something you can savour at any pace. That brawny V8 quietens down when Comfort is selected, and the adaptive dampers relax to take the edges off an uneven road.
There’s something soothing about the utterly effortless acceleration that 750NM of peak torque delivers, too, and it all adds up to a car that a centenarian could drive all day, for days.
In that sense, the M850i and 750Li do have a connection, in terms of how they deliver far more than what you expect them to, and reach beyond the confines of their respective forms. Drive a 750Li like a hooligan? You can, you’ll want to, and you’ll just about die of laughter from the joy of doing so. Pop down to the market or leave a tense board meeting in an M850i in search of relaxation? You’ll be glad you did in either scenario.
What unites the 750Li and M850i is an engine, but they’re also different sides of the same coin. One is a limousine that thinks it’s a sportscar, and the other, a sportscar that thinks it’s a limo.
PHOTOS Daniel Kraus / BMW
BMW 750Li xDrive
Engine 4396cc, V8, twin-turbo
Transmission 8spd auto
Top Speed 250km/h (limited)
Fuel Consumption 9.5l/100km
BMW M850i xDrive
Engine 4396cc, V8, twin-turbo
Transmission 8spd auto
Top Speed 250km/h (limited)
Fuel Consumption 1.0l/100km