Location: Gold Coast Hinterland, QLD.
We’re hard on the brakes and deep into the corner in the new BMW 650i Convertible, enjoying that glorious V8 metallic drivetrain whine as we flick the paddles to go from third gear to second. All of a sudden, the darkening sky, which has threatened to pour down on us all day, finally carries out its threat.
The heavens open. The water is streaming across these windy roads. But unusually, we’re not soaked. No, it’s not because the roof is still up – we’ve had the canvas ceiling stowed away for most of our drive.
There’s one word which describes why we’re still bone dry: Aerodynamics.
You see, the way the air flows around this car means the heavy drops of rain simply do not enter the cabin. Amazingly, even the back seats are completely free of water. To investigate, we put our hands up to the airflow, trying to see at what the air (and rain) is doing.
About 100mm above the windsield’s top edge, you can feel the rain. Below that, there’s nothing at all. Put the windows up and the gap from windshield to rainy-air grows further – about 150mm overall.
It’s a surprising aspect to this big beast, and one that we certainly weren’t expecting. Comforting to know, too, as when you buy a drop top, the last thing you want is to be caught out by intermittent showers, but this new 6 Series Convertible proves that it’s not an issue. You can drive in the pouring rain and not have drenched clothes afterwards. That is, until you stop.
The process from open to closed takes about 19 seconds, and from closed to open around 24 seconds. The best thing is you can still drive while you do it; up until 40km/h the roof will still activate.
Eschewing the standard black canvas, BMW 6 Series buyers can now opt for a new textured finish which looks quite like a high-end denim – it especially suits the darker colours.
The other thing the roof does remarkably well is insulate the cabin from noise. With the roof in place, the interior remains quiet and unflustered. And if you still want access to fresh air without blasting your wig off – as well as enjoying that exhaust note – the vertical back window is electrically operated and can be raised and lowered with the roof up or down.
Behind the rear window are two “fins” which are part of the folding roof, but add the coupe shape of the side profile, Some convertibles look odd with the roof up, however the 6 Series is balanced and in proportion.
The 6 Series designer took inspiration from a speedboat we’re told, and from the top (say, looking down from a balcony) it’s truly evident, and not just airy-fairy designer-speak. It probably explains why we didn't get wet with the top down - waterflow is very much like airflow. There’s a big flat bow, with V creases along the bonnet. The tail is shaped to mimic the stern with curves on each side arching inwards. Even the doors have a curve that sweeps upward at the front, clearly paying tribute to the side profile of watercraft.
It’s an inspired design and one that doesn’t polarize like the last BMW 6 Series did. Inside it’s the same story with flowing design, but nothing offensive.
Leather swoops across the dashtop and down into the centre console, and if you order the optional Nappa leather, which is far smoother and more tactile, for around $3000 (definitely tick that box), it also features on the door tops and centre armrest.
The centre stack is typical BMW, with the familiar eight favourites buttons, as well as climate control, stereo volume and a whopping 10.2-inch LCD high res screen. The clarity and accuracy of the sat-nav is second to none, although the positioning of the screen (tilted forward with nothing behind it) is a little odd and slightly incongruous with the flowing theme of the car. The standard satin chrome screen surround can be optioned with a ceramic finish also.
The 650i comes loaded with features: Rear view camera, front and rear parking sensors, high beam assist, Bluetooth (phone and audio streaming), mobile internet (using your phone), cruise control, dual-zone climate control, Professional Hi-Fi system (which sounds brilliant) plus iPod connectivity. You can also option digital radio and an automatic park feature which will park the car without steering assistance from the driver.
The comfort seats fitted to the 650i are brilliant, with both heating and cooling, and there’s little need to adjust them to find a comfortable position. The 640i – which will be launched in August – comes with sports seats as standard, though 650i buyers can option them at no cost. If it were me buying, the comfort seats offer enough support, even in hard cornering, not to warrant the sports seats.
Like all 2+2s, though, the rear seats are almost useless for adults, however tweens and kids just out of booster seats will fit with no hassles. Boot space is good for this segment, with the standard 350 liters only losing out by 50 litres when the roof is stowed.
Fit and finish, as you’d expect from a $250K car, is superb. Even across harsh, gnarly bitumen, there wasn’t a rattle to be heard, and scuttle shake is completely non-existent. Seriously. This car is commendably stiff, and one that is evident in the 650i's handling.
For such a big drop top, the BMW has immense reserves of grip and resists understeer even in the wet. At no point during the launch drive did we feel like the car's weight was getting away from us, with good turn-in and an extremely planted back end, despite that 600Nm being put through the rear wheels.
In fact, the wet weather did little to reduce grip, with the 19-inch Michelin run flats cutting through the water with impressive fortitude. Only with the DSC off, second gear, a tight hairpin and massive bootfuls of throttle saw the back end coming out, and it was easily corrected with minimal movement of the steering wheel.
The steering, despite being electric rather than hydraulic, is better than you think. There are four drive modes which are part of Adaptive Drive, a user-selectable drive programme that tailors throttle response, automatic shift patterns, suspension damping and steering. Comfort, Normal, Sport and Sport+ comprise the list of choices, and they give the driver the choice to turn their GT into a sports car, or have it somewhere in between.
Crisp, direct steering inputs feature in Sport and Sport+ mode (the main difference being the DSC is backed off in Sport+) while cushier, lighter steering is what Comfort mode is all about. If you like to be engaged, then Sport+ is for you, with good feedback and sharper response, while Comfort is for those who will be cruising rather than participating in spirited driving. Normal setting straddles the middle ground between the two.
The eight-speed automatic is superbly smooth in Comfort mode and sharpens up noticably in Sport+ mode, plus you can shift manually with paddles attached to the steering wheel. While upshifts happen on demand, downshifts can hesitate, often a little too long - if you leave it in Sport mode by shifting the lever to the left, you'll find it downshifts in preparation for the corner and needs little manual override.
Braking is very good, with excellent pedal feel and feedback and very little fade, despite repeated punishment over hours of driving. The 650i has 374mm front discs and 348mm rears, while the 640i makes do with 348mm discs for both front and back axles.
The other area the 650i excels in is its ride. It may use run-flat tyres, but in Comfort mode, you'd never know, with a lot of that jittery feeling dialled out of the car. At the same time, putting it into Sport or Sport+ increases the handling ability and firms up the ride, but it maintains a level of compliance that surprises. Its larger footprint helps here - it has a 70mm longer wheelbase than the outgoing 6 Series, as well as a 70mm wider rear track.
There were some downright nasty sections of cracked tarmac where plenty of tree roots had tried to come back to the surface, and in most GT cars it would have either crashed across it or shook your fillings loose. The 6 Series Convertible just showed utter apathy for the bumps.
It still let you know there was something under you, but its adaptive suspension adjusts over 400 times per second according to road conditions. BMW tells us that the front suspension "reads" the road and sends the info to the rear suspension, so that it's prepared for what's ahead.
For example, a pothole will be sensed by the front suspension, and the rear will soften up in preparation for the hit. In our experience, it's job done by the suspension gurus at Munich.
Under the bonnet is a 4.4-litre, twin-turbocharged petrol V8, and like all big capacity BMW engines, it's a peach. Smooth, powerful and efficient, BMW is still at the top of its game when it comes to drivetrains. Producing 300kW and a meaty 600Nm from a staggeringly low 1750rpm, there's grunt available virtually across the rev range.
We loaded the engine by picking a deliberately high gear while climbing a very steep hill and slowing to under 40km/h. Once you flatten your right foot there is a hint of turbo lag, but then a wall of torque launches you forward and it doesn't let up, all the way to the redline, all the while making a glorious bellowing rumble that is unlike any garden-variety V8 you've heard. In fact, with the top down, it's not unlike the BMW X5M and BMW X6M twins with its deep note and that brilliant "whump" as it changes gear under load. Five seconds flat is all it takes to go from 0-100km/h, and don't forget this is a heavy car - at 1940kg, with a driver it's over two tonnes. The 650i Convertible is powerful and quick, no matter which way you cut it.
The thing is, it's not the juice-muncher you expect. ADR testing revealed a combined cycle of just 10.7-litres/100km, and while our launch route drive easily added four litres to that, while on the highway it dipped below that; around 8L/100km. Thanks BMW's EfficientDynamics program for that.
With things such as electric steering, an electric oil pump, a decoupling airconditioner compressor and regenerative braking, EfficientDynamics eliminates ancillaries that draw power from the engine by switching them off when not required. It's a clever way of ensuring power is not drawn from the engine, which in turn keeps fuel use low. In fact, Australia gets the full EfficientDynamics package available, except for low rolling-resistance tyres; after all, 17-inch wheels would look rather underdone on the 6 Series.
Other methods used to help efficiency are plastic in place of metal for the fenders and bootlid, which not only saves weight, but also contribute to a perfect 50/50 weight distribution. That probably explains its formidable handling.
Compared with Mercedes-Benz's SL-Class, the 6 Series is a much sharper steer, but it also gives you more bang for your buck, with the closest competitor on price being the SL350, which is only a V6, though the SL does have a folding hard top.
Jaguar's XK Convertible is probably closest in terms of quality and drive, however has none of the technology that the 6 Series gains as standard. Likewise the Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet, which is down on power and features, but is probably regarded as a more engaging drive, and is hardly relaxing in the same manner as the 650i Convertible.
While it may be slightly more expensive than some of its rivals, the BMW 650i Convertible has an impressive list of features and technology to balance the money equation. It has a depth of ability that belies its cruise-the-boulevards look and manages to combine luxury with sports in an excelling fashion.
If this is how good the 6 Series Convertible is, we can't wait for the Coupe.