Driven: BMW 850i Convertible

This is BMW's big glamour car. While there are specialised high-performance M6 versions of the same car, this is the one that wealthy cruisers are meant to buy. It has a powerful V8 engine up front, is loaded with all the luxury equipment that BMW can dream up, and is extremely nicely built, by one of the best known luxury car makers. But not many people buy them. I wonder why?

Like many of the BMWs which the company's controversial stylist Chris Bangle has been in charge of, the design of this car polarises opinions - almost exclusively to the South Pole. Only one person I spoke with during the week I had this car for review thought it was good looking. Personally, I can't see an attractive line on it anywhere. I've met Bangle and heard him give a talk amongst other car designers, and he's very persuasive... clearly the BMW board are under his spell.

 Of course it includes BMWs infuriating non-intuitive direction indicators. Why do they think it's necessary to re-educate drivers for their cars? The Play Station gear selector works nicely, as do the other controls. Over the past few years there have been lots of complaints about BMWs I-Drive computer controller on the console, and while it's still far from perfect, it isn't that hard to get the hang of. The navigation system BMW uses is one of the better types on the market.

 And the head-up display on this car - projecting information onto the lower windscreen - it's brilliant. Road speed, important warnings and navigation directions are shown on the head-up display. Surely this wonderful feature should migrate to many other cars. There are dozens of motors powering things on this almost 2-tonne car, including one to lift the steering wheel to help (overly large) drivers enter and exit the car, soft door shutters and headlights that turn (slightly) with the steering. The seats are adjustable in every direction and it's possible to carry 4 full-sized adults, if they don't mind compromising on space a little - better than many competitors in this respect.

Performance is strong, but not blistering, and the wonderfully deep, woofling exhaust note is an aural pleasure. In Sport mode, the gearshifts allow more enjoyment of the sounds than normal, but the additional steering column-mounted flipper shift mode is really superfluous, as the car changes up or into drive at it's own discretion anyway.

There's no doubting some fine engineering has gone into this car, and it's as easy as can be to drive in town or the country - but you'd really have to like the look of it...

Engine type: 4.8-litre V8
Power: 270kW
Torque: 490Nm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Performance: 0-100km/h 5.8 seconds
Price: $228,800 at time of review
Photos & text - Paul Blank (copyright)