Philip Reed, Senior Consumer Advice Editor
Slide into the cockpit of the newly redesigned 2012 BMW 650i Convertible and you feel as if you've entered an exclusive club for discerning business executives. When you're not being caressed by leather, you're touching cool, polished wood.
At a base price of $91,375, the 650i convertible competes against the cars that represent the highest pedigree in the automotive world, though not directly. It's a bit of a tweener, a little more restrained than the rock-star convertibles beyond the $100,000 mark, yet more personal and expressive than more familiar convertibles. Of course, once you add a few options as in our test vehicle, the 650i convertible's price zooms to $105,025. All this elegance begs the question: Is this car more about appearance or performance?
The answer comes when you tap the twin-turbo 4.4-liter V8 and experience its 400 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque. The power delivery is as assured as a Don Draper sales presentation on Mad Men. Of course it's fast, doing the 0-60-mph dash in 4.9 seconds during Edmunds.com's track testing. But it's the feeling of all that power — the way it spools up like the engines of an executive jet — that's so exquisite. Even better, you don't have to drive the 2012 BMW 650i Convertible like an outlaw to have fun. The torque is lying in wait like an insider stock tip, delivered by an intuitive eight-speed automatic transmission (a manual is also available).
The list of convertibles in this price range is limited and BMW's 650i nicely straddles the worlds of comfort and performance. The 2011 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Convertible starts at a much lower $56,850, and the much pricier Maserati GranTurismo convertible starts at $136,300. While the BMW's interior is stunning — some might even find it overdone — the soul of this drop top lies in its performance and flexibility. While the 650i convertible's 4,560-pound curb weight means it won't carve a tight canyon road, it does feel exceptionally capable on sweeping mountain turns, threading through city traffic or pulling up in front of the best restaurant in town.
Besides, everyone knows a convertible is a fountain of youth. Roll down the top and you can roll back the years.
For 2012 the BMW 6 Series convertible gets the same twin-turbo V8 that's already in use under the hoods of the 5 and 7 Series sedans. In the 650i convertible it delivers 400 hp at 5,500 rpm, a 40-hp bump over its predecessor. Four calibrations for the car's dynamic personality are defined by Comfort, Normal, Sport and Sport Plus, which change the transmission's shift points and firm up the suspension. At low speeds, though, throttle inputs are difficult to modulate smoothly and we also felt a few rough shifts with the transmission in the Normal setting. But once you switch into one of the sport settings, the 2012 BMW 650i feels like a whole different car, and the transmission shifts seamlessly and manages the power efficiently, whether you let the eight-speed automatic shift for itself or control it with the shift paddles on the steering wheel.
At the Edmunds test track, the big, rear-wheel-drive coupe threads through the slalom at an impressive 66.4 mph. The upgraded 20-inch wheels with Dunlop SP Sport Maxx GT (245/35R20 front, 275/30R20 rear) performance tires (a $1,300 option) offer plenty of grip, delivering a far more neutral and agile handling balance than you have any right to expect from a 4,560-pound car.
Active Roll Stabilization, a $2,000 option which was on our test car, senses the amount of body roll and then counteracts it through hydraulic actuators in the sway bars, giving the driver a reassuring feeling of stability in the corners even when the car is doing serious work. The steering is electrically assisted, while the optional Active Steering incorporates rear-wheel steering to enhance both low-speed maneuverability and high-speed stability. Around town, the 6 Series steers with a heavy sense of stability, but it grows livelier and more communicative the faster you go.
During track testing the brakes haul the 650i down from 60 mph to zero in as little as 111 feet without fading over five runs. The pedal feels firm throughout and the heavy coupe stops with minimal dive and tracks in a straight line.
The handsome interior of this 6 Series has been liberally draped in napa leather with a rich two-tone Cinnamon Brown. The seats are fully adjustable with lots of thigh and lateral support, while this car's $1,500 Luxury Seating package adds front ventilated and active (massaging) seats.
With the top down, the sleek windscreen leans backward so dramatically that it poses an obstacle as you thread your way into the front seat. Once you're settled behind the wheel, the ergonomics and presentation of the gauges are mostly well designed and the ceramic controls (a $650 option) give a surprisingly nice touch to the buttons throughout the cabin. The navigation system and the onboard computer features are refreshingly intuitive and our iPhone paired easily with the Bluetooth connection.
As expected, the limited legroom in the rear seat restricts its usage to brief encounters. The trunk's capacity of 12.3 cubic feet doesn't seem large, but it held two sets of golf clubs even with the power-operated canvas top folded down (which restricts space to 10.6 cubic feet). While practicality isn't a high priority for the 650i convertible, its deep trunk allows for a trip to the supermarket and easily holds a week's worth of groceries.
The 2012 BMW 650i Convertible will certainly encourage aggressive (or let's say "proactive" driving), so the added safety features of the $3,900 Driver Assistance package may make for a wise upgrade. It includes Lane Departure Warning (the steering wheel vibrates if you drift across the line without using your turn signals) and Active Blind Spot Detection (a small triangle illuminates on the side mirrors when a car is lurking out of sight on either side).
We didn't find BMW's particular interpretation of blind-spot technology to be user-friendly, though. The lighted triangle was hard to see in bright daylight and not prominently displayed in the mirror. Fortunately the top and sideview cameras that are a part of this option package were a welcome feature in tight parking lots, while the head-up display that reflects a digital speedometer in the windshield lets you monitor your speed without taking your eyes off the road.
Design/Fit and Finish
Everyone we spoke with about this redesigned 2012 BMW 6 Series said the same thing: "It's so much better than the last generation!" The most frequent descriptor of the convertible's lines is "chiseled" and the Orion Silver Metallic of our test car highlighted the elegant curves nicely.
The interior materials were of the highest quality and a welcome replacement for some of its predecessor's sometimes questionable plastics. Designers seemed to pull out all the stops and included many nice touches throughout the cabin, such as the abundance of covered storage compartments. The roof is well lined and keeps the interior impressively insulated for a soft top.
Who should consider this vehicle
It's tempting to view the 2012 BMW 650i Convertible as a weekend toy in a stable of high-end cars. But that would be selling it quite short and overlooking its multidimensional appeal. With an impressive array of safety features (and even some cold weather options such as heated seats and steering wheel), this 6 Series is a perfectly rational device for daily driving even as it offers the promise of grand entrances and exits for someone who has already arrived. But probably the best use of this purposefully gorgeous vehicle is as a grand touring convertible, heading for some exotic destination, the top down and open to the elements, and stretching the legs of that fine V8.
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