BMW 650i 2011: Luxury, elegance and pedigree

Strong points
  • Fabulous engine
  • Mechanical and electronic sophistication
  • Impeccable finish
  • Good handling
  • Excellent performances
Weak points
  • Heavy vehicule
  • Little feedback from steering
  • Very high fuel consumption
  • Back seats in name only
  • Some controls are irritating
Full report

In general, when a new coupe and cabriolet are launched, the hard top model is marketed first, followed by the soft top version a few months later. Not so with the new BMW 6 Series. In an effort to take advantage of the lucrative spring cabriolet market, BMW has introduced the convertible first.

Here at home, you have to wonder if the torrential rains that drenched most of Canada in May and June might have had an impact on convertible sales overall. Whatever the case may be, this newcomer has a lot to offer, including a brand new shape and a fabulous V8 engine.

An impressive look

The lines of the last generation of this convertible were very controversial, coming as they did from the design philosophy of the equally controversial Chris Bangle. He has since retired and a new team has taken over the styling department. Nader Faghihzadeh designed the car this time.

It has a lot in common with the first generation that came out in 1976. Lower, wider and with a more aggressive front end, this cabriolet has a mean look to it. However, so imposing is its size that if you didn’t know better, you’d swear it was a big American car. The headlights have a slender shape and wrap around on the fenders, giving the vehicle more character. Even more significantly, the requisite front-grille nostrils are bigger and there are small deflectors on the lower section of the bumper, simultaneously giving this beast a more aggressive and sportier look. The upper section of the side panel is raised and extends toward the tail end.

Although removable hard tops are extremely trendy right now, the brass in Munich nonetheless chose to keep the soft top. This decision gives the vehicle a more unique silhouette, in addition to offering a little more trunk space when the top is down. The back section  of the roof is made up of two decidedly unstylish buttresses that are no doubt used to make the silhouette slimmer.

Sophisticated and complex

All of the vehicles in this category, the 650i included, are racing to have the most sophisticated electronics. The passenger compartment is overflowing with gadgets of all kinds, including i Drive, which is a system that helps control components such as the audio system, the climate control and the GPS. BMW was the first manufacturer to market this control mode and the complaints have poured in. Over the generations, i Drive has become much more user-friendly, but you’ll still need to be patient to tame it. There’s one thing that bugs me about this car: the number of controls that seem illogical. For example, to open the roof, you have to press the button, then lift to close it. My personal logic dictates rather to push to close and lift to open. Maybe I’m wrong, but I stand by this criticism.

The dashboard is much more interesting for the driver since most of the controls and instruments are oriented toward the left. The two main dials haven’t changed much and still feature white numbers on a black background encircled in elegant chrome detailing. The hub of the steering wheel is new and is much bigger than it used to be. Its grip is comfortable and, thanks to the multiple adjustments at your disposal, it’s very easy to find a good driving position. Of course, the quality of the assembly and finish are impeccable. Although it’s is a four-seat cabriolet in name, the rear seats are suited only for smaller people, and it’s hard to get in when the top is up. Note that our test car’s dashboard was covered in fine leather and enhanced with red stitching. The other surfaces were covered with a very nice marbled black lacquer.

Now that’s what I call an engine!

We could rattle off a long list of unconventional technical components, like the various luxury features or the completely transformed silhouette, but the true star of this cabriolet is the engine. This 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 engine produces 400 hp and 450 lbs-ft of torque. It’s paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission, making it one of the most modern drivetrains out there. For those of you that are more hands-on, you can also order the car with a six-speed manual gearbox. In both cases, you’ll need only 5.1 seconds to go from 0-100 km/hr. interestingly, this engine takes up so much space under the hood that the engineers had to attach reinforcement bars to a crossbeam situated in the front of the engine.

This rather heavy and cumbersome car won’t give you much in the way of feedback. In other words, don’t let the remarkable engine and its prodigious output fool you: this is no sports car. It like driving a boat, an impression magnified by steering that seems detached from the road. On an unrelated note, the car can be programmed to sound a warning when you exceed a certain speed.

In short, luxury rules and despite exemplary handling, the 650i isn’t really a car for thrill seekers. Basically, it’s a beautiful aristocrat with the mechanics of a sports car.

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