A Coast-Cruising Chariot for Those With the Means
Just this morning as we waited 26 seconds for the 2012 BMW's 650i Convertible's power-retractable soft top to deploy, we realized that this seeming eternity doesn't really matter. After all, Newport Beach Nancy won't be burdened by the top's lethargy. She is, after all, a woman of leisure. Not to mention she can operate the top at speeds below 25 mph.
Perfectly suited to the job for which it is intended, the 2012 BMW 650i Convertible is neither sports car nor utility machine. It is a powerful, comfortable, top-down statement of status — one that just happens to be a rapid Grand Touring pleasure craft.
Fully redesigned for the 2012 model year, the new 650i Convertible is no longer one of the ugliest cars on the road.
Underneath that new very-likable skin is a shortened version (4.5-inch-shorter wheelbase) of the platform BMW uses for the 5 Series sedan, which happens to use the same platform as the larger 7 Series sedan and of course the 650i Coupe. This means it's fitted with the same aluminum multilink suspension front and rear, 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 engine and eight-speed automatic transmission as the others. Even the 650i's steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters are shared items.
But this is not a problem. This is some of the best hardware in the automotive world. The motor, which is good for 400 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque, is state of the art for the class. Smooth and refined, but also explosively powerful.
Take into consideration that the 2012 BMW 650i Convertible weighs 4,560 pounds (180 more than the 550i sedan we tested last year) and its 13.1-second quarter-mile time at 107.4 mph is truly impressive. Sixty mph requires just 4.9 seconds (4.6 seconds with 1 foot of rollout) — the same as the 550i sedan.
And it will do burnouts. Big, smoky burnouts. Who says a leadfoot can't wear Manolo Blahnik?
For Ned and Nancy
Still, it's not the straight-line acceleration numbers that are most striking. Certainly, any car that runs a low 13-second quarter-mile is quick, but it's the 650i's ability to gracefully and effortlessly move through traffic that Nancy appreciates most.
The 6's adjustable dampers at all four corners combine with (optional) active antiroll bars to perform a two-fold task. First, they allow Nancy the suppleness she expects from her six-figure boulevard cruiser, but they also allow the car to be stiffened up for Newport Ned. Now don't get the wrong message. Ned is no Bill Auberlen, but he expects better chassis response than Nancy.
Probably the most impressive feat this advanced setup can produce is allowing true independent wheel movement for comfortable cruising while still minimizing body roll in corners. Ned will tell you he likes that kind of thing.
Damper and other tweaks are made using the Driving Dynamics Control switch next to the shifter. Four settings are available: Comfort, Normal, Sport and Sport Plus. Moving up the scale from Comfort to Sport Plus increases throttle response, stiffens the dampers, increases roll control and makes the transmission calibration more aggressive. The stability control threshold is also relaxed in Sport Plus mode.
To us, "driving" is a fully engaging experience where man and machine attack the road with full commitment. But unless you count tea and crumpets, and maybe the pool boy, Nancy hasn't ever attacked anything. And "driving," to her, is an experience so removed from full engagement that she'd be offended by the very notion. To Nancy, driving is a dismissive, comfortable escape. And that, friends, is exactly why she will love the 2012 BMW 650i Convertible. That is, as long as she keeps it in Comfort or Normal mode.
For the rest of us there's Sport and Sport Plus.
The nuances of switching among the 650i's various dynamic modes are clear to those who look for them. Throttle response transforms from sleepy to acceptable when you switch from "Normal" to "Sport." And in Sport Plus mode the suspension tightens up nicely without getting overly stiff.
Disappointingly, cowl shake is perceptible with the top retracted, especially in the stiffer suspension settings. But, honestly, we're not so sure Ned or Nancy will notice.
What they will notice, however, is the Jaguar XK Convertible a few lanes over that looks equally exclusive and offers British pretension in place of the Bimmer's Germanic stoicism.
As we see it, the Jaguar XK Convertible is the 650i Convertible's only one real competitor. The Jag rides on a slightly shorter wheelbase (108.3 vs. 112.4 inches), offers equally useless backseats and is powered by a 5.0-liter V8 producing 385 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque. It's also several hundred pounds lighter, weighing a claimed 3,924 pounds. It starts at an identical base price of $90,500.
Ned, on his more frisky days, might think he wants a Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet, which will outrun the 650i in any contest of speed and costs about the same. The 911, however, is a decidedly more focused driving machine and Nancy won't sign off on that deal if she'll ever have to drive it. The Mercedes-Benz SL550 is also a consideration, but is as ubiquitous in Newport as Civics are in Irvine.
The Straight Scoop
Despite the 650i's optional 20-inch wheels and massive summer Dunlop tires, its 66.4-mph slalom speed puts it behind cars like the 911, the SL63 AMGand the Audi S5.
The same is true on the skid pad, where we measured 0.90g lateral acceleration with stability control off and the chassis in Sport mode.
Steering performance is hit or miss. Precise steering response is matched with a lack of feeling for what's going on at the contact patch. Wheel movements are translated immediately into directional changes, but grip limits remain a mystery until they are exceeded. Steering effort changes depending on which dynamic mode is selected, but effort and feedback are two different pieces of the steering puzzle.
Nancy doesn't even know what a contact patch is, but she'll appreciate the 650i's brakes. Our testing showed the big Bimmer capable of stopping consistently from 60 mph in 111 feet. They'll save her pampered keister.
Speaking of Nancy's keister, it's going to enjoy the 650i's heated and cooled driver seat, which is a very likable combination of size and shape. It's also 20-way adjustable, including height, so everyone, even Ned can find their sweet spot.
There's a distinct sense inside the 650i's cockpit that the driver is of primary importance. Every display and switch on the center stack is canted slightly toward the driver and cradled by the leather-wrapped console. It's a nice feeling that's appropriate on a car with standard oak trim. Contrasting orange stitching was surprisingly well-suited, too. Our test car was fitted with the optional $650 ceramic controls, which add a black glazed finish to the iDrive, audio and ventilation controls.
Standing proud of the dash is the massive 10.2-inch central display for the navigation, entertainment and telephone controls. Optional as part of the $3,900 Driver Assistance package is a new full-color head-up display that offers guidance information from the navigation system as well as status messages from the optional lane departure and night vision systems.
Yes, optional night vision — a feature Nancy will never use and Ned will love to show his friends during house parties.
Even so, the 650i's interior is a stunning place to spend time. Everything that moves does so with a sense of function and deliberate precision and the whole space is assembled with the craftsmanship of a fine instrument.
And while the backseat isn't large enough to be of much use, the trunk is. With the top down there's a nominal 10.6 cubic feet of luggage space that expands to 12.3 cubic feet with the top up.
In the End
Our test car, fitted with nearly $14,000 in options, is so loaded that it's actually easier to talk about what it doesn't have. Integral Active Steering, Active Cruise Control and Night Vision are the only options of consequence missing from the car you see here. All in, our tester tallied $105,025, including destination.
Unsurprisingly, the 2012 BMW 650i Convertible's option list is so comprehensive that one can actually wind up with strangely competing features like a trunk pass-through ski bag and 20-inch summer tires. In a convertible.
Whatever. This is a chariot for those with the means, most of whom will be far less concerned with bizarre option combinations than they will with the way the 650i makes them look and feel while behind the wheel. And when measured using that yardstick, the 650i Convertible is a supreme success.
Just ask Nancy.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Price and Build Your Own 2012 BMW 650i at Edmunds.com