Bear with us for a moment as we discuss convertibles. It's a bit odd given that much of the country sits firmly in the grasp of one of the coldest winters in recent memory, but there will be use for an open-top car soon enough. By the time that day comes, the 2012 BMW 650i Convertible should be here, too.
The arrival of the classy, new open top turns BMW's usual strategy of introducing new coupes before its convertible counterparts on its head. But when faced with the prospect of introducing the second-generation 6 Series convertible later this year, BMW made the wise decision to bring its launch forward while delaying the introduction of the new third-generation 6 Series coupe until the fall.
The switch in plans is no last-minute affair, as reflected by the code names BMW has given each of its new 6 Series derivatives: F22 for the convertible and F23 for the coupe. A third 6 Series model, a four-door coupe previewed by the German carmaker's GranCoupe concept, and code-named F24, is also under development. It won't head Stateside until at least a year after the 6 Series convertible as a rival to the new second-generation Mercedes-Benz CLS.
It's 650i or Nothing for Now
When it arrives in the spring, the new 2012 BMW 650i Convertible will be available with just one engine, a twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8. Yep, it's the same motor that's already in use under the hoods of the 5 and 7 Series sedans. In the 650i convertible it delivers 400 horsepower at 5,500 rpm, a 40-hp bump over its predecessor.
In an urban environment, the 2012 BMW 650i Convertible is a wonderfully refined and relaxed drive. With a substantial 450 pound-feet of torque available at just 1,750 rpm, the turbocharged V8 requires just a small application of throttle to serenely cruise along at legal speeds. The delivery of power to the rear wheels is extremely linear, without any real hint of the forced induction, and mechanical refinement superb, with only a subtle mechanical hum evident over the wind licking off the top of the windscreen.
The smooth qualities of the engine are similar to the slick action of the 650i's eight-speed automatic gearbox. It's quick to match your driving style and, when required, can be operated manually via paddles behind the steering wheel. Despite lacking the automatic stop-start system that will be standard on the 640i, the eight-speed automatic also helps in bringing about a slight reduction in fuel consumption. BMW's official figures put it at 22 mpg in combined driving.
Needs Room To Roam
It is out on the open road, though, where the full effect of the 2012 BMW 650i Convertible's new engine really becomes evident. Those solid reserves of torque, which make it so serene while cruising leafy avenues, also endow it with explosive straight-line acceleration on empty highways. BMW claims a 0-62-mph time of 5.0 seconds, a tenth faster than the old 650i convertible could manage.
But it is through the gears where the new open top really delivers. There are no official figures to back it up, but BMW claims the 4th gear 50-75-mph split betters that of the old M6 convertible, a car that was most assuredly in no need of power. Top speed, as before, is limited to 155 mph.
As well as adopting a new engine, the second-generation 6 Series convertible also sits on a new rear-wheel-drive platform. It's a heavily reworked aluminum-intensive chassis that's clothed mostly in steel (the hood and doors are made from aluminum). BMW claims the next chassis offers a massive 50 percent improvement in overall stiffness.
The 2012 BMW 650i Convertible's on-road character is determined by BMW's DynamicDrive system, which alters the setting of the springs, shock absorbers, antiroll bars, throttle mapping, gearbox shift points, weighting of the electromechanical steering and, on our test car, the optional rear steer system. It's all controlled by a button on the dash that offers a choice between Comfort, Normal, Sport and Sport Plus modes — the latter of which also delays the intervention of the stability and traction control systems.
Handles Well for a Big Fella
We found the Normal mode best suited to most conditions, although there's no doubting that Sport mode turns the new BMW into a surprisingly adept performer. The new chassis, much of which is shared with the latest 5 Series, shines through, offering a surprising amount of feedback. And even with that big engine sitting up front, the inherent balance makes it feel alive and responsive to every movement of the wheel. All this in an open-top car that weighs more than 4,200 pounds.
The 2012 BMW 650i Convertible is deceptively quick over winding mountain roads. The abundant front end grip and terrifically secure rear end allows you to thread it effortlessly through tightening-radius corners at speeds that might have you feathering the throttle in some open-top rivals. The inclusion of rear-wheel steer ensures excellent response as you turn in and with hydraulic motors acting on the antiroll bars there's precious little body roll as lateral forces begin to build.
For such a big lump of a car, overall agility is very impressive. Weight it seems is no match for BMW's vast array of dynamic enhancing systems. Despite the firm qualities of the springs and dampers in Sport mode, the 2012 BMW 650i isn't overly harsh or unforgiving. Only hard struck corrugations prompt a shudder through the chassis, and even then they are well controlled; the upmarket open top settles superbly after initial shocks, requiring just one extra compression to dissipate energy.
A More Becoming BMW
Along with classy, new styling that imbues the 6 with a much more elegant appearance than its bullish-looking predecessor, BMW has also increased the external dimensions of the 6 Series convertible, adding 3 inches to its overall length and 1.5 inches to its width. The moderate growth is the direct result of adopting new rear-wheel underpinnings, which are shared with the latest 5 Series. They also provide a 3-inch increase in the wheelbase to put the 6 Series at 112.4 inches between the wheels. The front and rear tracks have also grown considerably, the front up nearly 2 inches while the rear is up 2.4 inches.
The positive impressions continue inside where the new 2012 BMW 650i Convertible receives a uniquely styled dashboard that uses an angled center console to provide a more driver-focused layout than that of the old model. It is clearly evident through the attention to detail lavished on the instruments, controls and overall design that BMW has taken a good deal more time developing the interior of its new open top than it did with its predecessor. The materials used throughout are a good deal classier and more desirable than the sometimes questionable plastics of old.
The roof, a similar fabric affair to that used on the old 6 Series convertible, is superbly engineered, being fully electric, abundantly lined, well sealed and big on refinement. The whole structure folds down into a compartment behind the cabin in just 19 seconds at speeds up to 25 mph. 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.
A unique feature is the glass rear window. Unlike on every soft-top rival, it is not integrated into the roof. Rather, it sits vertically within the rear bulkhead and can even be opened when the roof is up to provide an airy feeling without the harshness of the sun from overhead.
Aside from the intrusion of the heavily raked windscreen, which makes getting in and out somewhat of a body-contorting affair, we've few qualms with the comfort of the new 6 Series — at least, not up front, where broad seats and generously sized footwells combine to provide more accommodation than the old model. Even with the roof up, there is still a lot of space.
Sadly, the same can't be said of the rear. The two individual seats are generous in terms of width by open-top standards, but despite the 3 inches brought to the wheelbase, they lack for legroom when the front seats are set to accommodate an average-size adult. As a result, they're really only suitable for short journeys or as an extension of the trunk.
Just in Time for Spring
We're guessing that few will be able to reward themselves with a new luxury convertible this spring no matter how cold it is right now, especially one that starts at $91,375. If you're keeping track, that's nearly $6 grand more than the previous 6 Series, a car that wasn't known for its affordability.
Then again, if you're shopping in this range an extra $5 large might not matter. You'll probably want things like better handling, a little more motor and maybe some extra legroom. The 2012 BMW 650i Convertible delivers on all those things, at least in the front seats.
What might help this car even more is its more mainstream sense of style. Few are likely to consider this one of BMW's more striking designs, but it's also not ugly either. The odd proportions of the previous car made it look as if BMW was trying too hard. Some might say this version isn't trying hard enough. Doesn't feel like it from behind the wheel, though.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored press event to facilitate this report.