You don’t clip an apex in a 650i. You hustle it around a corner. This is what I told myself as I slipped into the off-white leather of the our 650i convertible test car for the first time. It was mile one of a 700 mile week of living with a $107,000 BMW. The kind of car that most of us don’t think of owning new or even second hand. And the 6 Series isn’t the kind of car BMW enthusiasts generally flock to or even pine for.
The E24 6 Series in the 80′s was a stylish icon of excess wrapped around a capable chassis and classic BMW drivetrains. Yet there were many (and still are) that felt the E28 5 Series was the better car. The same could be said for the E31 8 Series versus the E34 5er and even the previous generation E63 6 Series versus the E60 5er. It’s clear BMW meant to end that tradition with the new F12 6 Series Convertible. This would be a big coupe that would be carved out of the traditions of the early 70′s E9 CS.
Gallery after the break.
Gallery: 2012 BMW 650i Convertible →
The previous 6 Series was a dog. It’s not that it wasn’t fast. It was just unattractive – basically the death sentence for a luxury convertible. Sure Chris Bangle and Andrian Hooydonk could wax poetically why the design was avante grade and clearly the way forward. And in some angles you could see their point. But when it came down to the man on the street, it simply didn’t inspire. The F12 6 Series convertible changes all of that. It’s taught and purposeful while still being attractive and easy to like. In short it succeeds in doing exactly what the previous 6 Series tried and could not achieve.
We first tested the Coupe earlier this year and found it to be a revelation in comparison to the previous 6 Series Coupe. Could the drop-top version pull-off the same result? Clearly they have the look right. But can it stand-up to the traditions of the great GT cars of the past?
The moment you step into the cabin and put your hands on the buttery leather of the steering wheel you realize BMW has nailed it. Even the thickness of the leather on the armrest is exudes luxury. In fact everywhere you look you see leather, wood or metal. Every touch-point reminds you and reinforces the difference between near luxury and luxury. There’s nothing ‘near luxury’ about the 6 Series convertible. This is modern luxury like BMW has never achieved before.
The enormous infotainment screen dominates the interior as much as the massive center armrest and transmission tunnel. They combine to give the car a very personal feel the moment you slip into the seats. BMW designers have crafted an interior that doesn’t throw away the previous 6 Series shape but instead adds to and adjusts it to create something uniquely inviting.
Ah the seats, well appointed and adjustable in almost every way. Yet there was something that prevented me from ever getting quite comfortable in them. As in the coupe, the lower cushion was flatter than any other BMW I’ve ever driven and didn’t allow for my preferred driving angle. It wasn’t uncomfortable (I did 500 miles in a single day without any issues) but it was a slight disconnect from the typical BMW seat set-up.
So how do you properly test a convertible GT like the 650i? This car is made to go across countries in total luxury and style at high rates of speed. All with the top down of course. They’re designed to allow for the driver to put in a day’s drive and be perfectly fresh the moment he or she step out.
So a proper test it was. And the plan was simple; go across the midwest from Chicago to eastern Michigan, back to Chicago and then up to northern Wisconsin. All in 24 hours.
The day started out sunny but a cold 55 degrees. No matter, the top simply had to be down. So that meant heat turned up to 80F along with the heated seats and steering wheel as hot as possible. With the windows up and jacket zipped up to my chin, I was off.
Our test car was equipped with the widely used 4.4L twin turbo V8 paired with BMW’s 8 speed automatic. We’ve praised both in the past but it’s worth noting again how good a combination this is. The V8’s abundance of torque and surprising efficiency (I saw over 25 mpg on the highway) coupled with the auto’s quick shifts and effective manual control makes it the swiss army knife of drivetrains. In short it can do it all while maintaining that restrained and stylish character.
With the top down, accelerating through on-ramps was as much about soaking up the sound as appreciating the cornering. The thunder of the V8 is made all the better by the unique boom of base coming from the exhausts at each shift point. The sound (something we reported on with the X5M) is one of our favorites characteristics of BMW’s combination of the twin-turbo 4.4L V8 and the 8 speed auto.
The 650i convertible isn’t has a rewarding a driver’s car as the Coupe. It’s impossible to be. First the chassis has more flex and less of the quick reflexes that so surprised us with the Coupe. An obviously difference since it’s missing the structurally important roof the coupe has. But it’s also clear that BMW engineers made the convertible a bit more comfortable when it came to the suspension set-up. The coupe had a bit more eagerness to the turn-in and composure at the limit that the convertible (even in sport + mode) couldn’t quite match. This is no slight against the convertible though, its calibration feels perfect for what and who it’s intended for.
But none of that should come as a surprise to anyone. If you want an enthusiast oriented two door, don’t buy the one with the roof missing. What the convertible excels in is an effortless driving experience with traditional BMW traits. And it’s in that regards it’s as close to perfection as BMW has ever gotten.
Like with the 650i Coupe, BMW has learned from past missteps and produced a beautiful car that delivers in ways it’s predecessor did not. The 650i Convertible has a stance and a look that works as well as any big coupe from Munich since the 3.0 CS of the early 70′s (sorry E24 fans). It looks effortless while being utterly stylish and purposeful.
Driving across three states with the top down and the sun up, the 650i the perfect chariot. With 400 hp and 450 ft lbs of torque on tap the car seemed capable of about anything. But unlike an M3 or even a 1M, the 650’s demeanor meant that you never had to be reminded of that. The performance was there when you needed and faded to the background the moment you didn’t care.
Likewise with the suspension set to comfort, the ride and handling were as relaxed as you’d want one moment and ready to attach corners the next. It’s not quite the dual personality of an M5. Instead think of the 650i Convertible as an extremely well rounded convertible GT. Capable of anything a gentleman of means would need while getting him there in the style required. Graded on that scale, it’s almost perfection.
Almost. Steering feel (yes those two dreaded words) still isn’t where I’d like it – even in a car this big. It’s overly isolated and doesn’t allow the driver that last dose of enjoyment rounding a corner. Sure this kind of isolation is good for many cars in this market and price-range but BMW should hang their hat on those performance attributes that made them successful.
Even in a 100k convertible the brand can’t forget that last piece of the puzzle that often makes good cars better. Or in this case a great car exceptional. It’s one of the key differences between the wonderful 650i Coupe and the convertible tested here.
Does it mar the overall results? Barely. The 650i Convertible represents BMW firing on almost all cylinders. A gorgeous car with a monumental engine and insanely smart and effective 8 speed automatic, the 650i is the best large convertible from BMW ever. It exudes a confident personal style inside and out that is perfectly in-tune with the character of the car and the market for which it’s intended.
As the miles flew by with the top down and the sun setting, I couldn’t help but reflect on what was likely one of the most enjoyable highway drives I’ve been on in years. Style, comfort and speed when I needed it. Power and just enough engagement when required. And of course the open sky above. Seems like the definition of a great open top GT car doesn’t it?