2012 BMW 650 Expert Review:Autoblog
To say that the second-generation BMW 6 Series caused a bit of a scene when it hit the world stage in 2003 would be to underplay its shock value. The Dingolfing, Germany-built coupe and convertible's styling seemed to win admirers and ruffle traditionalists' feathers in equal measure, but regardless of how you feel about its aesthetics, the 6's long model run has been a success, resulting in nearly 118,000 units sold.
Despite this victory (and despite what BMW officials tell us), there has been a clear bit of design capitulation in the halls of Bavaria, as Chris Bangle's controversial surfacing treatments and high trunk lines have been smoothed out in newer models in favor of less polarizing designs throughout the BMW empire.
So it is with the 2012 6 Series range, which launches with the 650i convertible model shown here, a model that's due to hit showrooms this April (just in time for top-down season). With North America enduring a hyperborean winter, it was only appropriate that we head to more temperate climates for some quality top-down running. BMW evidently had the same thought, so they sent us to Cape Town, South Africa. Famous for its finned and pointy-teethed population coursing offshore, we couldn't think of a more appropriate spot to sample the 6 Series' reborn shark nose look.
Photos copyright ©2011 Chris Paukert / AOL
There's no point on trying to get around it – the first topic of discussion with the new 6 is bound to be its appearance, if for no reason other than how radically (conservatively?) it departs from its forbearer. In the metal, the 6 Series convertible looks much lower, flatter and more angular than the car it replaces. This is particularly true at the rear, an inevitable result of its more conventional trunklid and 5-Series-like taillamps. Up front, the headlamps are more conservative, too, without the droopy lower edge and eyebrow turn signals of the outgoing E63/E64 model. The new light fixtures bookend a nose with a bit more forward thrust to the leading edge of the hood, which leans over a wider twin kidney grille. Contrary to expectation, however, the profile of the new 6 Series actually has more surface character than its predecessor, with an additional crease that plunges dramatically from the leading edge of the side vent. And the lower stance isn't an illusion – at just 53.7 inches tall, overall height has been given a haircut by a fraction of an inch, accentuating the 6's chopped-top look. You can judge the looks for yourself, but an informal poll among the journalists at the launch revealed something of a split between those who came to appreciate the previous model and the more cautious new look, with most favoring the 2012 design.
In a way, the crisper look of the new 6 Series almost feels like it could be an evolution of the 1989-1999 8-Series, had that GT lived long enough to progress to present day. The body panels are of varying construction – steel, aluminum (doors, hood) and plastic composite (roof, trunklid and side panels), so fitment of the pieces with materials of different properties must have been a task for BMW's engineers and paint experts, who have done flawless work.
At 192.6 inches long and 4,500 pounds, this big boy shadows competitors like the Mercedes-Benz E Class Cabriolet and Jaguar XK in nearly every dimension – it even outstretches the Bentley Continental GTC. Thanks in part to its new structure derived from the 5/7 Series chassis, it's 2.6 inches longer than before, and at 74.5 inches, it's marginally wider, too. The new model is thus a bit porkier than the outgoing E64, so it's helpful that the 650i Convertible has more brawn: 400 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 450 pound-feet of torque at 1,750 rpm from its twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter N62 V8. That's 40 hp and a whopping 90 lb-ft more than its predecessor. It also has two more ratios in its automatic gearbox – eight cogs are on offer from the well-liked ZF 8HP70. Interestingly, a six-speed manual is also available (though it was unavailable for testing), and in a reversal of fortunes, the three-pedal setup will be sold Stateside and not in Europe. Apparently, those on The Continent are growing increasingly enamored of high-performance automatics, while there were enough U.S. enthusiasts grumbling for a self-stirrer that BMW has obliged (North America is the 6-Series' biggest market anyhow).
When blurring the coastal mountain road scenery surrounding Cape Town, there are plenty of reasons to slacken one's pace – if only to take in more of the panoramic vistas, vineyards and beautiful people vying for eyeball time. Despite this, we can't quite bring ourselves to back out of the 2012 BMW 6 Series convertible's new V8 engine long enough to stop and smell the king protea flowers (though we do oblige a family of wayward baboons who've decided that the middle of the road is a perfectly acceptable spot to shade one's self from the waxing sun).
In truth, we're not really hammering mercilessly on the topless 650i – it's clear from just a few minutes in that this BMW remains a very much grand tourer and not a sports car. Besides, we're once again getting adjusted to driving on the other side of the road, something that requires a fair bit of thought – particularly given the road network's relatively narrow lanes and the Sixer's wide derrière.
If it weren't for the road signs warning of the possibility of leaping springboks or the fact that more than one out of every ten cars we pass seemed be a derivative of the original Volkswagen Rabbit, visiting motorists could be forgiven for thinking that they are driving in an unfamiliar pocket of Northern California, wine country and all. It just has that sort of feel, with meandering, well-maintained roads, picturesque mountains, cascading rock fields and coastal views.
Aside from its wide carriage, the 650i couldn't be much better suited to this sort of driving, as its ample power, big brakes and posh ride suit the roads well. Just as importantly, our test car's optional Integral Active Steering proves predictable and accurate – a welcome departure from earlier BMW forays into the variable-rack realm that resulted in disconcerting turn-in speed and erratic feel. We're still not sure we'd pony up for the technology (there's not a ton of feedback), but now that it incorporates rear steering, there's a clear dynamic benefit – BMW engineers tell Autoblog that models so-equipped can change lanes much faster – by six or seven mph – and there's a significantly tighter turning circle, too. All test cars were equipped with grippy 19-inch 245/40 Dunlop SP Sport Maxx GT run-flat summer tires, but we'll get all-season rubber as standard fit, so we'll have to wait until we get one back on U.S. soil to see how the ride and handling balance shakes out.
As with other BMWs, the 650i has a center console rocker switch that allows the driver to set the Driving Dynamics Control system to Comfort, Normal, Sport or Sport + settings to better suit the motoring mood. Toggling between the settings alters the throttle map, suspension firmness, steering effort, transmission shift schedule, as well as active steering rate and active roll control if the car is so-optioned.
Regardless of the mode we have the DDC rocker set to, the rear-drive 650i is well-behaved, cornering flatly on South Africa's lilting roads at anything short of stupid velocities, the ZF's paddle-shifters respond smartly when it comes time to pass one of the region's ubiquitous soot-spewing diesel trucks. To be fair, South Africa's motoring populace reveals itself to be the very model of courtesy, with most drivers pulling onto the shoulder and indicating when it is safe to pass so that we're never trapped behind slower traffic on single-lane roads for long. (Just be sure to double-flash your hazards in appreciation upon completing the maneuver). Even though the transmission works seamlessly in full automatic mode, using the paddles is a treat, if only because the V8 issues an unexpected yet welcome burble at shift points – even at modest speeds. Plant the skinny pedal in the carpet and you'll find that 60 mph arrives in 4.9 seconds, and it won't be terribly long before you're bouncing against the modest 130 mph limiter (if you spec out the optional Sport package, the governor is relaxed to 150 mph).
While the official EPA fuel economy figures haven't been released yet, BMW promises the new powertrain will be more efficient, but that's not saying a great deal, as the outgoing car was practically an OPEC Club Gold member, ringing up 15 miles per gallon in the city and 23 mpg on the highway.
With such indulgent exterior proportions, it's no surprise that the 6 Series' interior is a suitably grand place to be. BMW notes that despite its lower overall height, there's still more headroom front and rear than before. That said, the rear seat is still firmly in the "occasional use only" category thanks to limited legroom.
Dominated by a massive freestanding 10.2-inch transflective display, the dashboard mixes high-quality leathers and plastics with matte chrome accents for a mature, driver-centric environment. Everything is within easy reach and is self-explanatory – at least for those with previous iDrive experience.
Our tester was outfitted with the latest generation of BMW's optional head-up display, and it's a peach, combining crisp 3D graphics, a wider array of vibrant colors and more driver-selectable information, from engine and vehicle speed to navigation directions and ancillary system telltales like the lane departure warning and night vision (when equipped). It works fantastically well, even with the top down in direct sunlight, and we found it preferable to taking our eyes off the road to look at the center stack display.
Speaking of direct sunlight, despite pleasant ambient temperatures, there was no denying the intensity of the rays this far south of the equator – even with the BMW's reflective leather seats. We love driving top-down no matter the season, but in the name of science – and in a vain attempt to keep our pale, wintered skin from peeling – we whirred the soft top into place (24 seconds to close, 19 seconds to open) for our final leg of the drive. Once again, we're glad that BMW has chosen to forego the added cost, weight and complexity of a folding hardtop, as the multi-layer canvas lid is a very refined piece, with excellent sound insulation and a unique top-up look with its vertical power rear window and flying buttress construction. What's more, the top can be operated at speeds of up to 25 mph, a trick we have yet to see with a folding tin top.
With all of the improvements, it's no surprise that the sticker price on the 650i Convertible has swelled to $91,375 (the outgoing model commanded $87,725 including destination and gas guzzler tax). That's a lot of scratch, but we don't see the typical 6 Series buyer balking at the increase – especially now that the car continues to deliver the big GT experience in a more refined package with broader aesthetic appeal.
Photos copyright ©2011 Chris Paukert / AOL
New Car Test Drive
All-new 2012 grand touring coupe and convertible.
The BMW 6 Series is all-new for 2012. Longer and wider than last year's versions, the 2012 BMW 650i Coupe and Convertible are sleeker than before. The 2012 BMW 6 Series models boast fresh styling, serving to announce a powerful new twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 engine.
Smaller, lighter and more powerful than last year's engine, the V8 in the 2012 BMW 650i models produces 400 horsepower. More important is its 450 pound-feet of torque, providing exceptionally strong response over a wide powerband, with peak torque available from 1750 to 4500 rpm.
This is a welcome improvement because the BMW 6 Series is more grand touring car than sports car and it is not light. A powerful engine is needed to deliver the expected acceleration performance, and, in fact, it does just that. Whether in the Coupe or Convertible, we found power delivery immediate and enthusiastic, without turbo lag.
BMW says its 2012 650i Convertible can accelerate from 0-60 mph in 4.9 seconds whether equipped with the 6-speed manual transmission or 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters. That's very quick indeed, and the Coupe should be at least as quick. Though topping 4,200 pounds, the BMW 650i boasts features to minimize weight, including lightweight seats with integral seatbelts and crash-activated anti-whiplash head restraints, lightweight aluminum doors, hood and front spring mounts, reinforced composite front side panels and trunk lid. The 650i Coupe weighs 4233 pounds, while the 650i Convertible weighs a hefty 4531 pounds.
A heavy car with a powerful V8 means big gas bills. The 2012 BMW 650i Coupe and Convertible earn an EPA-estimated 15/23 mpg City/Highway with the automatic, 15/22 mpg with the manual gearbox.
We found the 2012 BMW 650i coupe and convertible enjoyable to drive. They cruise well at high speeds and are comfortable and competent. They are not sports cars, however, too big and heavy to careen around corners with the gusto of lightweight BMWs of yore.
While navigating quick left-right chicanes on the less-traveled roads of Northern California, our 650i Coupe felt balanced and composed despite its size. The Convertible is heavier and feels more at home on the highway.
The BMW 6 Series competes most directly with the compelling Jaguar XK and the less-expensive Mercedes-Benz E-Class coupe. If you like BMWs, want a sumptuous cruiser and aren't concerned with price or fuel economy, the 2012 BMW 6 Series is an excellent choice.
The 2012 BMW 6 Series is composed of the 650i Coupe ($83,875) and Convertible ($91,375). Standard equipment includes 19-inch alloy wheels, adaptive xenon headlights, LED foglights, parking sensors, power-folding mirrors, a large tilt-only sunroof, an adaptive suspension, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, leather upholstery, 16-way power front seats, driver and passenger memory functions, auto-dimming mirrors, dual-zone automatic climate control, cruise control and a rearview camera. The iDrive system is also standard, as is Bluetooth and a nine-speaker sound system with CD player, HD radio and an auxiliary input jack, a navigation system and voice controls.
Options include 20-inch alloy wheels with performance tires ($1,300), Active Roll Stabilization ($2,000), Integral Active Steering ($1,750), Ceramic Controls ($650), Active Cruise Control ($2,400), BMW Apps ($250) and Night Vision with Pedestrian Detection ($2,600). The Cold Weather Package ($750) adds a heated steering wheel, heated front seats and a ski bag. The Driver Assistance Package ($3,900) adds automatic high beams, lane-departure warning, active blind-spot detection, side- and top-view cameras, parking assistant and full-color head-up display. The Luxury Seating Package ($1,500), adds front ventilated seats, active front seats. Convertibles and Coupes are available with a Premium Sound Package ($1,800), while the Coupe alone gets an optional, top-of-the-line Bang & Olufsen sound system ($3,700).
The BMW 6 Series is one of the more elegant big cars BMW has penned. Much of the car's previous styling, attributed to former head of BMW design Chris Bangle, has been replaced with fluid lines. The raked windshield, so steep as to be slightly in the way climbing on board, communicates a willingness to rush through the air at great speed. The nose's twin kidney grilles are sleekly integrated into an almost round nose, while a gaping intake running across the nose portrays shark-like aggressiveness, validated by its powerful drivetrain.
Gone is the enormous, shelf-like rear-end. The new LED taillight clusters are like two eyes-peeled squints across the bluff rear face. And demonstrating that BMW's sense of humor is alive and well, the little BMW logo on the trunk is in fact a small peek-a-boo door, opening to let the rearview camera peer out when you're in reverse.
Cockpit design and layout on the 2012 BMW 6 Series is much improved over the previous generation, and materials and finish are top-notch. The handsomely stitched dashboard cover surrounds BMW instrumentation of traditionally businesslike placement and conciseness. The extra-large analog tachometer and speedometer keep the focus on the business at hand. The premium steering wheel is thick, leather-wrapped, and provides 12 fingertip adjustments for audio, phone and adaptive cruise control.
As with other BMW interiors, all functions are angled ever-so-slightly toward the driver. Even the controls next to the gearshift, for the parking brake, roof operation and selectable driving modes, are mounted on a recessed surface in the driver's side of the console, discouraging mutinous decisions. The large central display screen has effective technology that makes it visible in bright sun, which is especially useful on convertibles.
The new 6 Series employs the fourth-generation iDrive control system. Unlike earlier iterations, it is no longer a mindlessly complex obstacle to the driver. To the contrary, this system has at last become the driver's ally. Also available to the driver are controls regulating the car's ride motions and steering feel, the latter's adjustability made possible thanks to the 650i's advanced steer-by-wire electronic guidance. Our test car was also outfitted with the BMW Connected app, which allows drivers to access Facebook, Twitter, Pandora and paid music subscription service MOG accounts through a late-model iPhone or iPod Touch on the iDrive display. Blackberry and Android smartphones are out of luck.
The Bang&Olufsen sound system includes a speaker system designed exclusively for the unique shape and space of the 6 Series coupe. We found the sound quality impressive, but it seemed like an expensive option to us.
Front seats provide a blend of comfort, snug fit and firm lateral support, crucial in sporty driving. Cooled and heated seats work quickly and effectively and provide welcome relief from extreme temperatures. In the rear, legroom is adequate for average-sized adults, although taller passengers will feel cramped, especially in the coupe, which offers less headroom than the convertible with the top up. On the latter model, lowering the soft top takes about 20 seconds, and raising it takes a tad longer.
Trunk space measures 16.2 cubic feet in the coupe and a surprisingly roomy 12.3 cubic feet in the convertible (10.6 with the top down). Both versions have pass-through openings for long items.
A new rear-wheel drive architecture, heavily composed of aluminum, makes for a chassis that BMW says is 50-percent stiffer than the previous 6 Series. While navigating the 650i Coupe through quick left-right chicanes on the less-traveled roads of Northern California, our closed-topped 6 Series felt balanced and composed despite its size, leaving us less likely to relegate this car to freeway cruising than we would its heavier, topless sibling. Power delivery is immediate and enthusiastic, without a hint of delayed-reaction turbo lag.
Ride stiffness and steering response can be adjusted by selecting one of four settings: Comfort, Normal, Sport and Sport-Plus. The Normal setting delivers a balance of alert steering feel and shock-absorber damping ideal for everyday driving. The Sport setting immediately elevates and stiffens the steering feel and hardens the ride quality for heightened road feel in more vigorous driving. It also increases the 650i throttle mapping to provide more a more directly responsive gas pedal.
Sport-Plus goes a step further, partially reducing the amount of automatic stability control and allowing aggressive cornering of the sort expected on a racetrack. BMW offers optional rear-wheel steer, which helps in parking and supports vigorous cornering. And in a nod to performance as theater, in both Sport and Sport-Plus modes, a tiny spritz of fuel is shot into the exhaust, which produces a race car-like boom with each paddle shift.
In Comfort mode, the 650i forsakes sharp BMW driving dynamics for a soft, floaty ride, numb road feel and elastic steering. While this might be fine for long-term leisurely cruising on the Interstate, it seems strangely out of place coming from a car company so keen on performance.
The 8-speed automatic transmission exhibits fast, almost imperceptible shifting, and delivers peak fuel efficiency. No small issue. This heavy car's fuel is in the Gas Guzzler territory and may incur $1000 or so in federal tax.
The 6 Series brakes have their work cut out for them hauling this two and a quarter-ton beast to a stop. But BMW has provided massive 13.77-in. and 13.6-in. discs front and rear. The brakes also come into play in the electronic stability control system, braking individual wheels to balance the car and eliminate wheel slip. In emergency stops, full brake pressure is applied automatically, and there is a provision for automatically drying the brakes in wet driving. Finally, 650i brakes have a regenerative feature which captures electric energy during braking and transfers it to the battery, reducing alternator drag.
The BMW 650i has a full inventory of safety provisions: lane-departure warning, active blind spot detection, rear- and top-view cameras, automatic high beams, parking assistant and a full-color head-up windshield display, with optional night vision, pedestrian detection and adaptive cruise control, which monitors and adjusts the interval between you and cars ahead. For those who would rather rely on their wits as opposed to myriad computer systems to drive, some of these gadgets can be left off the option list, or turned off.
The 2012 BMW 650i is a car to be seen in. It has big-bucks clout and motive power to back it up. Beneath the glamour, this is an acutely engineered car that delivers high levels of safety, occupant comfort and driving pleasure.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Ted West reported on the 650i Convertible from upstate New York; Laura Burstein reported on the 650i Coupe from Northern California.
BMW 650i Coupe ($83,000); 650i Convertible ($90,500).
Options As Tested
20-inch wheels and performance tires ($1,300); Cold Weather Package ($750); Driver Assistance Package ($3,900) includes side-view camera, top-view camera, parking assistant, head-up display, automatic high beams, Lane Departure Warning, Active Blind Spot Detection; Luxury Seating Package ($1,500) with active front seats, ventilated front seats; Premium Sound System ($1,800); Integral Active Steering ($1,750).
BMW 650i Convertible ($90,500).
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