2012 BMW 650i Convertible Review
A cool new suit makes the BMW 6-Series drop-top stylish once again.
- Just plain fast
- Sharp handling balanced with a smooth ride
- Dead sexy
- Price makes for an exclusive club
- Small back seat
- Gas won’t be cheap
In the exclusive world of luxury convertibles, a car is like a new suit. It had better have the right label and the right cut or you'll look like you don't belong. The BMW 6-Series convertible has always had the right label, but with an aging design, the cut of its jib, so to speak, hasn't been, well, cutting it in recent years.
For 2012, BMW is remedying that problem by giving the 6 an elegant new design — inside and out — as well as a powerful new engine. Consequently, the 6-Series is at the forefront of automotive fashion once again.
The BMW 6-Series traditionally has been offered as a convertible or coupe in standard and high-performance M versions. And 2012 won't be an exception. For the first time, however, BMW plans to offer an all-wheel-drive version, and a 6-cylinder version may come as well.
Priced at $90,500, the 2012 BMW 650i convertible comes well equipped. Notable standard equipment includes Nappa leather upholstery, rearview camera, Dynamic Cruise Control, a hard-drive-based navigation system with real-time traffic, AM/FM/CD stereo with HD radio, Dynamic Driving Control, Bluetooth connectivity, a power tilt/telescoping steering column, BMW Assist telematics system, xenon adaptive headlights with auto-leveling, and P245/40R19 run-flat tires on alloy wheels.
Options include a Driver Assistance package with automatic high beams, lane-departure warning, blind-spot detection, side- and top-view cameras, and a heads-up display; a 16-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system with a USB port; Integral Active Steering with rear steering; 20-inch wheels with performance tires; Active Roll Stabilization; NightVision with pedestrian detection; and BMW Apps, which can access Facebook, Twitter and Web radio, as well as certified third-party applications.
Under the Hood
The 2012 BMW 650i is powered by a twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 engine that produces 400 horsepower and 450 lb-ft of torque. It is offered with a 6-speed manual transmission or, for no charge, an 8-speed automatic with steering-wheel shift paddles.
The 650i also employs brake-energy regeneration, which disconnects the alternator during acceleration and charges it during deceleration, thus saving fuel. Fuel economy ratings are 15 mpg city/22 highway with the 6-speed manual and 16/24 mpg with the automatic.
When it arrives, the M6 will use the same twin-turbocharged V8 engine that makes 555 horsepower in the current X5 M and X6 M.
The design of the 2012 BMW 650i's cockpit puts the driver at center stage. The dashboard is angled seven degrees toward the driver to make the controls on the center stack easier to reach. The front seats have 20 standard controls, allowing anyone to find a comfortable driving position and remain supported in fast turns. There is plenty of front headroom and legroom, too, though the 2-passenger rear seat will only work for small kids, unless the occupants up front are rather short.
Among BMWs, the 6-Series may have the highest-quality interior materials. Soft-touch surfaces abound, the Nappa leather is supple, and the Gray Poplar or aluminum trim add to the appeal. The look and feel is even better with the available $1,500 leather-covered dashboard.
BMW's iDrive control interface is standard, and it comes with a large 10.2-inch dashboard screen. Given the numerous navigation, communications and entertainment possibilities, it eliminates the need for a sea of dashboard buttons. However, the tradeoff is that drivers have to dig into the system's menus to find the right function. A series of buttons surrounding the main rotating control knob make accessing the various controls easier, and we found it fairly easy to use after a bit of a learning curve. Commonly used functions — such as navigation addresses, phone numbers or radio presets — can be even easier to access thanks to eight programmable buttons. The system also includes a 12-gigabyte hard drive that can hold thousands of songs.
The standard soft-top is also of high quality. When up, it shuts out wind and road noise as good as any hardtop we've driven. It's easy to use, too. It lowers in 19 seconds, raises in 24 second, and can be operated at speeds up to 25 mph. Why a soft-top and not a retractable hardtop? A retractable soft-top takes up less trunk space than a hardtop. Even so, the trunk is still on the small side. But it will fit a set of golf clubs. A Cold Weather package adds a rear-seat pass-through with a ski bag, as well as a heated steering wheel and heated seats.
On the Road
BMWs have earned a reputation for sharp handling that's balanced with a smooth ride. The 2012 BMW 650i delivers in this regard, thanks to a solid body structure and plenty of suspension technology. Standard Dynamic Driving Control electronically adjusts the shock absorbers, automatic-transmission shift points, stability control, power-steering assist and throttle response between Comfort, Normal, Sport and Sport+ settings. We found the 650i to be well-controlled in any setting, but Comfort allowed a little float over broken pavement, while Sport and Sport + made bumps more intrusive on passenger comfort. Still, the ride never became harsh. We'd suggest leaving it in Normal for most situations and using the Sport modes during aggressive maneuvers.
Some optional technology can make the sporty handling even more responsive. Active Roll Stabilization firms up the anti-roll bars to make the already flat cornering attitude even flatter. BMW's Integrated Active Steering electronically varies the steering ratio to make it quicker and more responsive at low speeds and slower and more stable at high speeds. It also comes with rear steering, which turns the rear wheels up to three degrees in the opposite direction of the fronts at low speeds to reduce the turning circle and steers the rears with the fronts at speed to increase stability.
With its nearly perfect weight balance, quick steering and inherent agility, the 650i is a fine grand tourer that is just as at home cruising the boulevard as it is carving up twisty canyon roads. While the car is pleasingly solid, there is a bit of cowl shake, especially with the top down.
The twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 engine makes great sounds and even better power. It vaults the 650i from zero to 60 mph in just 4.9 seconds and tops out at an electronically limited 155 mph. We did detect a slight hesitation before power delivery. It's not annoying, but it didn't seem to go away no matter which Driving Dynamics mode we chose.
Although we didn't drive the standard 6-speed manual, we did drive the 8-speed automatic and found it to be smooth and responsive, though occasionally hesitant to downshift without a serious stab at the throttle.
Right for You?
Smooth, powerful and stylish, the 2012 BMW 650i will appeal to well-heeled drivers who want a sporty and chic everyday driver. Those looking for more performance would be better served by the similarly priced Porsche 911 or one of the hotter Corvettes. Drivers looking for a more laidback approach will want to consider an Audi or Mercedes-Benz drop-top.
(As part of an automaker-sponsored press event, BMW provided MSN with travel and accommodations to facilitate this report.)
Kirk Bell has served as the associate publisher for Consumer Guide Automotive and editor of Scale Auto Enthusiast magazine. A Midwest native, Bell brings 18 years of automotive journalism experience to MSN, and currently contributes to JDPower.com and Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com.