DRIVEN: BMW 650I CONVERTIBLE
PH extends Open Season to South Africa to try out the new 6 Series Convertible
CLS 63 AMG. Not to be outdone on our return, BMW flew us straight down to South Africa (a 777 this time, so disappointingly under-engined), with the implicit instruction that we guzzle as much of that proud republic's four-star as necessary to find out what we thought about their redesigned 6 Series convertible.
With the rest of the team back at PH HQ in Teddington swanning around in a variety of Open Season-themed beasties including the Jaguar XKR, Porsche 911 Turbo, Ferrari California and Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe (and the latest - yet to be announced - addition to the PH long-term fleet also arriving with a thunderous, and slurpily thirsty roar), you'll understand why we feel the planet must be reeling from our all-out assault on its environmental underpinnings. Maybe we should plant a tree.
Well, it would have been hard not to, especially (for fellow 'Africa virgins' at least) after waking in a luxurious Cape Town hotel on day two without having been burgled, kidnapped or macheted in our beds. (PH Hint no. 349: Don't read the Daily Mail for travel tips.) In fact, after a hearty breakfast we got stuck into a couple of hundred miles of some of the finest roads and most spectacular scenery that I've ever had the pleasure of taking from behind a steering wheel.
Fortunately the 6 Series convertible makes nice brrrm-brrrm noises all by itself thanks to the twin-turbocharged 407hp V8 that BMW has decided to launch the model with. Sometimes, anyway. Perhaps the car is a little too refined for PH tastes, as most of the time the engine is barely audible with the roof down. But sticking your foot in the carpet does elicit an aural reward in the shape(?) of a throbbing woofly-burble.
That said, as PH has recently handed back a 500hp V10-powered old-shape M6 from the PH long-term fleet, and our driving companion on the trip is used to racing a 600hp+ Porsche 911, we couldn't in all honesty say the 650i's acceleration felt electrifying. It's unarguably strong on paper though, so perhaps it will feel more urgent against the UK's more constricted roadscape. We played with the gearbox's manual shifters a little before giving in to the greater experience and smoother technique of the unit's own internal control systems. Seemingly, there's little point or pleasure to be had from trying to out-do the auto.
As a sporty driver's car though, the 650i may leave you a little cold. No question, the chassis is extremely competent and can cover ground in a manner that belies its bulk. The car corners flat and confidently at high speed, it seems profoundly grippy, and demonstrates an underlying poise and stability that is always reassuring on the road - especially when Sport mode is dialled up on the Dynamic Drive Control system, hardening up the dampers and increasing roll stabilisation.
Because whatever the 650i may lack in ultimate visceral driving appeal (compared to, say, Jaguar's similarly priced XKR cabriolet), as a rapid (when required) soft-top boulevardier the new BMW takes some beating. Switch the suspension back to comfort, dial in something suitable on the radio, relax into an interior that combines club-class comfort with a refreshingly contemporary design feel, and waft. At a grand or so short of £75k, it isn't cheap, but neither does it feel like it. And if you are, there'll also be a 640i model at launch with BMW's twin-turbo six and 320hp.