Driven: BMW 650i Convertible

We think the PH office might have recorded a new 'Personal Best' carbon footprint for a few days towards the end of last month. We're very proud.

Things got off to a good start when Mercedes-Benz flew us all the way to California on a Boeing 747 (it was going that way anyway, to be fair) so we could trample over the countryside in the galumphing great 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.

Anyhow, South Africa turned out pleasantly. (Yes, it's a hard life...) It might seem a long way to go to drive a car, but it makes more sense to fly hacks to new metal than vice versa. And as the nice man from BMW GB explained: "It's going to be hot and sunny, not like Slough in January, and we do actually want you to enjoy this experience..."

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.

The region's coastal roads are particularly fine for looking at, but head inland and the rolling farmland and mountains are traversed by such enticing (and largely deserted) ribbons of tarmac that even a hardened lentilist would be making 'brrrm-brrrm' noises on his bicycle.

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.

However it sounds, the engine delivers power seamlessly up to its peak output at 6400rpm and, with 443lb ft available between 1750rpm and 4500rpm, the most obvious reward from booting it is a serious bit of pace. BMW reckons 0-62mph takes 5.0secs with the impressively seamless 8-speed auto gearbox, which for a car weighing 60kgs short of two metric tons is no mean feat.

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.

An impressive level of cabin refinement must have a bearing on how that performance feels, too. We had our roof down for the whole trip, and even at high speed the new convertible's cabin is remarkably hushed and turbulence-free - in fact conversation remains possible deep into three figures. Coupled with the new dashboard/fascia treatment, which brings a new level of opulence to the 6's cabin, and the cosseting new seats, it would be hard to find much to complain about on the comfort front. There's even a bit more room in the back, an area in which the last generation 6 already took some beating.

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.

With rear steering also fitted to our test car helping to sharpen-up the turn-in through tight twists and adding stability to high-speed lane changes, the overall effect is to leave the driver impressed by progress, but a little bit removed from the action. The Active Steering doesn't help much in this regard either as, although it's comfortably weighted and directs the car accurately, there's nothing of the tyre/tarmac interface feeding back to the driver (unless you've got the annoying lane-drift warning activated, of course). The brakes too, although sufficiently effective on the road, don't deliver eye-popping grab, and when slowing from very high speeds there's a definite sense they're working hard against the car's considerable weight.

Ultimately though, while technology employed to overcome the 6er's size and weight seems to define the driving experience from a 'sporting' perspective, that's probably rather missing the point. (As perhaps is the ever-present hope of enthusiastic motorists that every new BMW will be another 'ultimate driving machine'.)

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.

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (60) Join the discussion on the forum

  • fatboy b 07 Feb 2011

    Holy crap. I there's me thinking the 6-series couldn't get any uglier.

  • LuS1fer 07 Feb 2011

    fatboy b said:
    Holy crap. I there's me thinking the 6-series couldn't get any uglier.
    I agree. That is not a good-looking car.

  • Parrot of Doom 07 Feb 2011

    It reminds me of the Chrysler Sebring convertible. Which is unfortunate.

  • RLK500 07 Feb 2011

    It really is about time they started adorning their cars with appropriate names, that should be the "Crown Plaza 650ic".......

  • Guvernator 07 Feb 2011

    Strange world, I think it looks pretty decent, much better than the old one, although that colour isn't doing it any favours.

    Strange that, car manufacturers, especially BMW seem to be developing a habit of releasing their demo cars in the worst colours possible. Is that really a good idea considering those are the cars which will be splashed over the internet and car mags?

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