Monday, January 2, 2012

Test Drive: 2012 BMW 650i Convertible- Necessary? Probably not. Awesome? Yes.

Words by Ben Aghajanian, photos courtesy BMW USA

Cape Cod, Mass.: No one needs a vehicle like this. I’m typically a pretty sensible and low-key purchaser. However, I could see myself purchasing this car, if money were no object.

When a car stickers for over $90,000, expectations are set quite high. However, in this day and age, where compact cars crest $25 grand, “entry luxury” sport sedans usually sticker north of $40k, and the everyman Ford Explorer can top 50k (?!), BMW’s new 650i convertible starts to make a little more sense.

For starters, the powertrain in this 193-inch long beast can be described by many words, but two seem most fitting: magnificent and symphonic. The twin-turbo, 4.4-liter V8 puts down 400 horses and over 400 lb-ft of torque practically right off of idle. Without looking at a torque curve, it seems that the vast majority of it arrives by 2500rpm. Even by 2000rpm, you’re already moving at fairly brisk clip. Equally impressive is the new 8 speed automatic, which is amazingly not a DSG, despite being the fastest shifting and most engaging auto I’ve driven. If you (or another family member) absolutely will not get a manual, this is about as good as it gets. Once you manage to engage drive, ignore the gimmicky shifter. Silver paddle shifters at 9 and 3 on the thick, three-spoke tiller operate even when the gearshift is in D, with the left side for downshifts and right side for upshifts.

The 650i is also a true grand touring car, with its long wheelbase and smooth, composed ride despite heroically sharp handling. It can seat 4 if the driver and passenger are willing to give up a decent chunk of leg room. My passenger and I are both 6’ 3” and were able to manage sitting on the same side of the car even though my knees brushed the dash. The car makes you forget that quickly, though.

The flexibility of this V8 is fantastic. Pushing the M sport mode button on the console makes it even better. As on all BMWs, this cranks up throttle response and shifts to the next level. As you drive faster, the seamless upshifts come with a deep, subwoofer-like booming noise that furthers the sense of speed and power. It’s quite intoxicating, and along with the car’s superb stability and good traction despite wearing 19-inch Goodyear run-flat tires, makes driving 70mph on a 50mph road incredibly easy. The paddle shifters help, too. On the Cape’s twisting and hilly roads, the big 6 has endless power and hugs tight turns easily.

Inside, you feel as though no corners have been cut. The interior is top-notch, with extremely comfortable and very adjustable seats featuring BMW’s trademark thigh extension (Japanese carmakers, please take notes), a soft dash and door panels, and a driver-oriented cockpit. Even the door pockets are felt-lined. Instrumentation is intuitive, with a large navigation screen you can actually read with the top down on a sunny day. Although I never drove the old 645i, I got the feeling the 650i was much improved.

Another thing BMW got right on this car was the exterior styling, including the ragtop. I love soft top convertibles; if you want a hard top you might as well get a coupe. Soft tops retain (some) luggage space, are lighter, and are less likely to break. The front end features LED headlights flanking the kidney grille, and has a bit of the forward-canted shark nose that was a hallmark of the original 6 series that I love. The character lines on the sides lead up the buttoned down-looking rear end, with its angular and menacing taillights and trapezoidal dual exhausts.
If anyone thought BMW had started to lose focus on its core mission of “the ultimate driving machine” in recent years, with the automatic-only X5 and X6, bizarre 5 series GT, and the mediocre looking and performing X3, rest assured. The new 6 series is a true drivers car that is worthy of the “ultimate” moniker.

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