BMW has recently undergone something of an identity crisis. As it’s moved over the past decade from creating beguiling drivers’ cars to more mainstream—and better selling—crossovers and SUVs, it lost some of its “Ultimate Driving Machine” focus. But thanks to an investment in an extremely versatile, underlying architecture, much of its mojo has been found.
By Tony Dear
The M850i convertible and X7 50i, two seemingly disparate vehicles that share many fundamental qualities as well the same platform, dubbed CLAR. Both are beautifully constructed of uniformly high-grade materials and have industry-leading infotainment and driver aid systems.
The X7 is sized between an Audi Q7 and Mercedes GLS. It is offered with seating for six or seven. The M850i proportions are spot-on for a flagship coupe or convertible, meaning a long hood and tight cockpit. Both BMWs satisfy over a much greater bandwidth of conditions than the cars the Bavarian company made its reputation on.
In the Cockpit
Heavy traffic? Engage the latest suite of driver aids, labeled Extended Traffic Jam Assist and either will competently navigate the minefield of distracted, dangerous numbskulls that threaten us on most every trip with nary any intervention required by their pilot. A few button pushes to resume or tweak trajectory on their lovely steering wheels and you’re at journey’s end, without the kind of stress such normally invoke.
The incredibly supple ride both the 8-series and X7 both excel at is matched by their staggering refinement; whisper quiet over most surfaces, they define modern luxury motoring. And when that rare chance comes to get after it, the M850i and X7 50i both thunder forward with aplomb, their characterful twin turbo V8s channeling up to 523hp through eight slick gears and transparent, intuitive AWD hardware. Available four wheel steering lets these large vehicles perform Antman-like feats of shrinkage, making maneuvers in tight confines less taxing; their only real dynamic demerit is feel-free steering.
Of the two, the M850i is the slightly better defined offering, with the ability to transform from consummate coddler to rip snortin’ GT in no time. The X7 is a little too floaty in its normal suspension setting and doesn’t sound sporty enough to differentiate itself from large domestic family transports. BMW has obviously recognized this, and almost all future eight cylinder X7s produced will be M50i versions, with the same power as the convertible and more athleticism baked into their chassis. Combined, these two have the armament to cover almost every conceivable automotive contingency.
EPA ratings: 17/26/20mpg M850i; 15/21/17mpg X7 50i
0-60mph: 3.5sec M850i; 4.6sec X7 50i (indep test)
Price as tested: $131,395 M850i; $112,245 X7 50i
4.5 Stars: Both
CLAR is short for Cluster Architecture. It is a platform that is comprised of steel, aluminum and carbon fiber. CLAR is modular and is the basis from which almost every BMW or Rolls Royce is built (front drive Bimmers and Minis are built on a related one called FAAR). It allows for full EVs, hybrids and vehicles that run solely on dyno-juice, and production can be adjusted on the assembly lines where it is built to accommodate changing demand for any of these power sources.
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