The BMW 650i may not technically be a supercar, but when it comes to comfort, performance and the latest in-car technology, it’s rather hard to fault this 4.4-litre twin-turbo beast.
The BMW 6 Series is essentially the grand tourer version of the BMW 7 Series and as a result, it comes with a great deal of BMW’s latest technology but in a bodyshape engineered for excitement. Unlike the old 6 series, the new model is a looker.
Our test car was a black, top of the range 650i, equipped with pretty much everything you could think of. The main party piece, however, is the 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8, which delivers an exceptional 300kW (at 6400rpm) and 600Nm of torque (at 4500rpm).
If you think those figures look rather well constructed by BMW's marketing department, you’d probably be right. It’s likely that this masterpiece of an engine is not running anywhere near its full capacity and hence not under much stress. Remember, this is more or less the same engine that gets 408kW and 680Nm of torque in its M application (BMW X6 M).
Even so, in its current form, the $248,300 BMW 650i has 80Nm more torque than the previous generation BMW M6. It dashes from 0-100km/h in five seconds flat, just 0.2 of a second slower than the old M6 (almost certainly deliberate).
Comparing it with its direct replacement, the new 650i has 30kW more power and a staggering 110Nm of torque for extra pull. Plus its 0.8 of a second faster to 100km/h. That’s an enormous improvement from one model cycle to the next, given the price has only risen $3200.
Herein lies the new 6 Series’ biggest selling point: it’s about as advanced as a car can get in 2011. The Germans are known for their engineering feats, but the 650i is unlike any car most have ever driven. It’s more like an artificial intelligence system with a car wrapped around it.
To get a full taste of what this car can do, you really need to spend a week in it, but here are some highlights. Its 3D satellite navigation system displays major structures in their true form (down to incredible detail) and even supports full transparency display as you drive through major CBD districts.
It comes with a full-colour head up display (HUD) that integrates seamlessly into the 650i’s computer system, showing not only speed but also satnav instructions, warnings and other information.
Blind spot assist system will give you a visual warning if there is a vehicle in your blind spot, and just like the lane departure warning system, it shakes the steering wheel to warn you of potential danger (aircraft pilots can liken this to a stick shaker warning of a stall).
Essentially, the steering wheel will vibrate if you try to merge into a lane without indicating, or if there is a car in your blind spot. It’s fast enough to make you reconsider your move. If you’re not fond of indicating, you can of course turn the system off.
It has built-in TV and internet (as you do), so if you happen to be stuck in traffic you can watch some motorsport, catch up on the day’s news or check your email (or visit CarAdvice). Unlike the COMAND system found in the Mercedes-Benz line-up, the iDrive has full Bluetooth internet tethering support for the iPhone (as well as other smart phones).
It has five cameras built into its body so it can see a lot more than you. In fact, it can show you what’s coming up in front (for when pulling out of a car park) and rear.
Or, give you a bird’s eye view of what’s around you as you try and park. This feature does have the tendency to make you wonder if there is a satellite watching you.
It has active cruise control, so it will know if there is another car in front of you and slow down to match its speed (and speed up again when it's all clear).
Its suspension is so sophisticated (it can adjust more than 400 times per second), that if the front wheels hit a pothole the information is sent to the rear-wheels, which will then adjust in time to minimise impact.
I can keep going, but you get the point. It’s a giant, comfortable and luxurious gadget that just happens to drive extremely well.
Behind the wheel, the 650i is a pleasure to drive. It takes just seconds to get comfortable thanks to the full power assisted steering and seat controls. Once you've settled in, simply press the start button and the 4.4-litre V8 comes to life.
BMW’s Driving Dynamic Control in the 650i gives the option of Comfort, Normal, Sport or Sport+. I suspect many buyers would leave the car in Normal or Comfort, which is perfectly fine as the 650i becomes a docile, comfortable cruiser with power when needed. Nonetheless, if you’re thinking about buying this, Sport+ is where life starts.
When engaged, the throttle response changes instantly, the suspension feels stiffer, the steering wheel becomes more precise and (although this may be entirely psychosomatic) it even sounds louder. Although you can never truly turn off all the nanny controls in the 650i (even with stability control completely turned off, the car is smart enough to save you in case you really screw things up), in Sport+ the BMW knows you want to have some fun, so it lets the rear end get a little loose when required.
Ride and handling are superb. Be it on the highway or around a set of twisty mountain roads, the 650i simply adjusts its settings to match your driving style. The eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifts is always in the right gear for efficiency when driven normally and when in Sport mode it’s waiting in the right rev range to extract the most out of the engine.
The V8’s power delivery is smooth and without lag, its acceleration and performance is not as raw as a traditional supercharged V8 (e.g. Jaguar XKR) but provides effortless power across the entire rev range. BMW says it uses just 10.7L/100km, during our week-long test drive (where most of the time we were engaged in Sport+) it returned much better than expected figures of 12.9L/100km (a similar driving regime in the Jaguar XKR would get you figures in the 20Ls/100km).
Many have criticised cars like the 6 Series for being just too overwhelmed with technology (myself included), far too many buttons to press to get it to do what you want. To some, that Clarksonian school of thought may be true, but it’s very intuitive and requires just a little patience.
Don’t get me wrong, you can buy a Jaguar XKR for similar coin and have a raw and beautiful performance car, but if you love the technology and admire state of the art engineering, it’s hard to look past the German offerings.
During our week with the BMW 650i, Brisbane was blessed with a great deal of rain, which in our opinion is the best way to test a convertible. The heavy duty fabric roof folds away in about 24 seconds (and closes in 19 seconds) but the best bit is you can do it at speeds of up to 40km/h. So despite it being a tad slow, the fact that you can utilise it when moving makes a hell of a lot of difference.
The aerodynamics of the car are so well designed that even with light to moderate showers, when driving along at speeds of around 60km/h or higher, hardly any water gets in the cabin (but it does make for a great scene as the uninformed, hiding under their umbrellas, do happen to stare at you with bewilderment).
When the weather is perfect, the 650i is the ideal cure for pretty much anything. It’s the sort of car you get into, open the roof and let your soul come to life. Taking it for a drive around some scenic roads is the perfect way to enjoy your weekend, away from the busy stresses of life. Come Monday, you simply put the roof back on and drive it to work. A proper dual-purpose machine. If you’re torn between picking the Coupe or Convertible, I’d say the convertible is the way to go, just for the option of having that open-top lifestyle when the times calls.
The rear seats are actually usable and we managed to fit two tall adults in the back relatively easily. It's not the ideal car if you have to consistently transport more than two people, but it can easily do the job when required.
Having spent a week with a BMW 650i Convertible, it joined an elite group of just a few cars that we definitely didn't want to give back. If you've got a quarter of a million dollars to spend, there are a lot of options out there. Nonetheless, if you want the latest in-car technology, a comfortable and luxurious cabin and a masterpiece for an engine, your choice of cars is extremely limited. The only reason we would hesitate in recommending a 650i is because we'd love to wait it out for the new M6.