James takes a look at BMW’s big V8 grand tourer, the 650i, to see if an old-school big power, big luxury approach still has what it takes in a new-school market.
It seems silly to me that the 2016 BMW 650i can’t be easily referred to as a ‘grand coupe’, because that would just confuse it with the four-door BMW 650i GranCoupe.
But it really is a grand coupe. With two-doors… and a ‘d’ in Grand.
The F13 6-Series is the third-generation 6er, that owes its grand-touring lineage to the iconic E24 BMW 6-Series of the late ’70s and early ’80s. Regular readers will recognise the big black two-door as the modern participant in our recent retrospective look at BMW’s personal coupe.
But here, rather than distract with the timeless lines of the E24, we’ll look at the 650i in a bit more detail, to see what it means for luxury touring today.
Priced from $231,615, the V8 650i is the greater of two non-M models in the range. The six-cylinder 640i is priced some $54k less at $177,615, before on-road costs.
Under the long bonnet is a 330kW, 650Nm, twin- turbocharged 4.4-litre V8. Rather than utilising BMW’s twin-scroll turbine technology, which sends exhaust gas pulses based on cylinder firing order to ensure a constant rate of flow into the turbo, the 650i’s V8 has a pair of turbos servicing the left and right cylinder banks separately.
The separate turbos allow greater airflow and faster spool times – which means less lag under foot.
Power is sent via the eight-speed ZF-automatic transmission to the rear wheels, in proper GT style. BMW states all of this is good for a 4.6-second sprint to 100km/h. Just under half a second off the pace of the monster 412kW/680Nm M6 coupe (4.2-seconds).
But while they may be impressive figures, and absolutely vital to the DNA of a grand tourer, outright acceleration and top-end power isn’t the predominant calling card of a car like the 650i. This thing needs to cruise, and look good doing it, and to that latter point, it most certainly does.
Long, flowing lines from the bonnet, across the low turret and onto the wide rear hips, the F13 is a truly beautiful car. Our only gripe is the Sapphire Black paint doesn’t really show it off to its full potential. Of the 13 standard and 11 BMW Individual colours on offer, we’d choose Mediterranean Blue or the stunning Jatoba Metallic bronze.
The M-Sport package is a no-cost option, and essentially standard equipment as the Pure Excellence and Pure Experience design packages both carry $2800 option prices. Being a sporting coupe, the M-Sport aero package, shadowline trim and 20-inch (style 373) wheels work well, although we’d like to have seen a colour other than black for the brake calipers.
The profile of the 650i is a shape that works here as a coupe, equally as well as it does as a convertible and as the four-door GranCoupe. The ‘GC’, arguably, is the best looking of the trio.
Inside, the GT theme continues, with plenty of luxury appointments around the cabin, not forgetting the soft-close doors.
The seats are sumptuous, particularly with our car's optional Exclusive Nappa leather ($3200) and the cabin is enveloping and comfortable. A particular standout is the soft, double-stitched leather dashboard. Everything is lovely and modern, in that clean BMW way, but not all together ‘new’.
The F13 was released in 2012, then facelifted in 2015, plus we’ve seen a ‘new’ 6-Series testing in camouflage so it is nearing the end of its life span. Which is why, style-wise, it can feel a bit generic and dated in some areas.
Even the key, on this quarter of a million-dollar car, is the older style BMW key. It feels light and cheap for a car like this, especially considering the current X5 SUV scores that lovely new metal lump with BMW’s Motorsport tri-colour detailing.
It’s a key. Surely BMW could program the new one for this car?
And there are plenty of touch points that come from the BMW parts supply catalogue, too. Buttons, knobs, general switchgear is the same here as it is on a 1-Series.
It’s the bottom up, rather than top-down filter of components – not limited to BMW by any means – that is a slightly disappointing trait of many modern brands. The rear-view camera for instance, is a lower resolution than what you’ll find on an X4 purely due to the timing of each model’s life cycle.
Despite this though, the cabin with its familiar BMW-ness has some elements that do lift the ambience. The knobs on the climate control, with their optional ceramic surround ($1100) look almost like heat-treated metal, and are much more pleasant to touch than what you would find in other BMWs.
The iDrive infotainment looks great on the big 10.2-inch screen, but as we have noted on many recent BMW reviews, the interface is starting to date. Thankfully, all 6-Series cars built after July 2016 receive the newest ID5 software, which does a lot to improve the look and feel of the system.
We will say though, the iDrive traffic navigation map is still the best in the game, but vehicle set-up and personalisation options still need some work. All ConnectedDrive telemetry features are included as standard equipment on the 650i.
You can personalise your 650i with a staggering array of colour, trim and equipment options, on top of an already well-equipped car.
There’s a 600-watt, nine-speaker Harman/Kardon sound system, DAB digital radio and even a DVD/CD player so you can roll out your favourite hits of the ’90s, or ’80s… or ’60s boxed sets. You can even upgrade to a 16-speaker, 1200-watt B&O system for $14,000.
The 650i also receives adaptive cruise control, head-up display, lane departure warning, blind spot detection and low-speed vehicle and pedestrian detection and braking. The BMW 6-Series has a five-star ANCAP rating.
The 10.25-inch instrument display is all digital and adjusts for whatever driving mode you have selected. The dials are crystal clear and you can easily forget this is a screen and not ‘actual’ gauges.
In the back, there’s room for two adults, but it is pretty tight, even considering the size of the car. Children, or more likely, grandchildren, will be fine… but who wants their sticky fingers all over the Dakota leather anyway.
Plus access isn’t very easy. The front seats are heavy to move forward and while there is a button to power them back and forth, the movement is slow. Think of the ’6 as a two seater with extra space for some shopping.
So forget the kids, slide in, get comfortable, embrace the luxury, ignore the foibles and head to your favourite ribbon of tarmac to let the 650i demonstrate its ultimate reason for being. This is after all, a grand tourer, it really should be grand at touring.
On the move, the big V8 is beautifully smooth. Power builds quickly, with peak torque available from 2000 to 4500rpm. Under moderate throttle, there’s no traction-testing change in acceleration, just a luxurious surge in forward movement.
Off boost, the engine could almost be described as docile, making it easy to potter the coupe in and around tighter urban confines. Even something as mundane as commuting is effortless in the ’six. It’s relaxed, not twitchy.
Big turbo V8s are the natural predator of fuel consumption, and here, transfixed like David Attenborough, we watched the prey devoured at a thirsty 17 to 18 litres per 100km. That’s a lot higher than the claim of 8.9L/100km, but in all honesty our driving behaviour in the 650 wasn’t really an exercise in fuel efficiency. Sorry.
In our defence though, the 650i’s V8 doesn’t come with an idle-stop system, where the ‘lesser’ inline six-cylinder in the 640i does.
Part of the upgrade from the 640 to the 650i includes the Adaptive Drive package, which includes dynamic damper control for the shock absorbers and anti-roll bars on the front and rear, which help mitigate any lateral movement.
The dynamic dampers have two settings, Comfort and Sport. Given the nature of the car, Comfort is the default and in a rare case, the more desirable of the two.
Like this, the 650i offers a compliant and supple ride. It deals with urbane obstacles like driveways and speed humps well, and supports the luxury cruiser nature of the big BMW.
Even on the open road, the softer setting continues to reinforce the role of effortless mile muncher. When highway narrows to sweeping B-roads, the softer ’six still shines. There’s no real urge to push the 1770kg coupe like a nimble sports car, but since there’s a sport button there so you might as well press it…
But now, on uneven surfaces, the ride is too sharp. Not uncomfortable or crashy, but just not in sync with the nature of the car. The rear tyres will skip over corrugations and edges, and with the more responsive throttle in Sport mode, it starts to become almost hard work to enjoy the 650i.
There’s a good solution though, you can change the Sport setting to maintain the Comfort tune on the dampers, but utilise the sportier driveline. Now it’s a best of breed solution with more entertaining performance dynamics and a more cosseting ride.
Line it up, bury the welly and the big BMW will step ever so slightly to the left, kick the rear tyres for a bit of theatric effect, and power away. Nothing scary, nothing brutal, just a wiggle and woosh – part turbo induction, and part fuel being whisked away.
The sound is lovely too. Like muffled fireworks, a rumble and a rustle, almost as if the car is trying to protect you from the harsh noise. Nail the throttle, pass 5000rpm, tap a paddle to change up and there’s a bass-line ‘whomp’ followed by a distinctive crackle.
It’s New Year’s Eve every day, your million-dollar view from across the harbour, seeing and feeling everything, but without the noise that will scare the dog.
Bottom line, the 6-Series is very much an old school GT. Big power, big comfort, big pricetag, providing a very specific platform for a very specific audience.
In some ways, it might be a platform that seems dated, especially in a world of hyper niche crossovers and electrified drivetrains. Even its shopping-list competitors are of the old-school breed. The Maserati Gran Turismo, Mercedes-Benz SL and even the Bentley Continental V8 are within a few option ticks and price percentage points of the BMW, but each offer a slightly more elevated High Street cache, rather than a heightened dynamic one.
The 2016 BMW 650i is a great machine but it feels a bit outclassed by these competitors, putting it essentially in a place by itself. A car for the BMW driver who wants a bigger 4-Series or a sportier 7-Series.
It is everything a Grand Coupe should be, but then for a $54k saving, so is the 640i. There is and will always be a place for a big BMW GT. Your choice as to which suits better is then only limited by price. Which for a true GT, we wouldn’t have any other way.
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