Yes, the 400-horsepower V-8 produces a 0-100 km/h sprint of 4.9 seconds, but I want you to forget about that – and for the moment don’t bother about all the lines and curves and creases in the sheet metal of the new BMW 650i Convertible, either. Instead, zero in on the soft-top roof. It’s quite the piece.
The so-called “flying buttress” design of the electrically powered, multi-layered canvas lid eases the transition of the roofline into the rear end, but it’s the operation of the top which is so fascinating. The heated glass rear window retracts independently from the roof itself. Thus, the top itself takes up less trunk space – leaving room for perhaps two sets of golf clubs.
Cargo room is nice, but there’s more. It’s possible to drive with the rear window down and the top up, for a bit of extra fresh air. Or, drive with the top down and the window up, the latter acting to cut wind turbulence. Opening the roof takes 19 seconds, closing 24, and either can be done at speeds up to 40 km/h.
The next question you probably have is about strength – not of the roof, but the chassis and body. In the old days, convertibles drove like wet noodles, but no longer. Moreover, BMW to be true to its brand has to take structural rigidity very seriously.
The new 650i shares its platform with the most recent versions of the 7- and 5-Series cars and, thus, BMW says the 650i is 50 per cent more rigid than its predecessor. As well, the doors, hood and front spring mounts are all aluminum, as is much of the front suspension. The front side panels, roof lid and trunk lid are made from reinforced composite. All this was, apparently, done in the interest of reducing the car’s weight and improving its balance and agility.
Even at all that, the “weight-optimized” 2012 convertible is 116 kg heavier than the old one. To be fair, the 2012 V-8 spins up 40 hp more than its predecessor and gets better fuel economy – 13.4 litres/100 km in the city, 8.2 highway using premium fuel.
The car is pretty comfortable, too. BMW says this one is a 2+2-seater, but who are we kidding? The contoured front seats are a delight, but sitting in the rear is for the small and the flexible. The cockpit looks and feels rich in what the Bimmer designers call a “sweeping style” matched only by its “Teutonic functionality.” Well, sort of.
BMW has yet to master controls that are utterly simple and intuitive, but the fight continues. The latest iDrive controller system is almost easy to use. The iDrive system’s central display is big and clear, though, and like the air vents and the controls for the audio system and air conditioning, it is angled towards the driver, cockpit-style. Controls and switches for the gearshift, parking brake, roof operation and Driving Dynamics Control are obvious and right there for the driver.
I could try to do justice to the curving design of the front passenger area, but let’s just say the cabin is beautiful. BMW has for years focused on interiors notable for their austerity, but not here. This one’s a beauty and worthy of the $106,800 price tag – up from $105,500 for the 2010 model (a 2011 Cabriolet was not sold in Canada).
The “gee-whiz” factor is all there, led by not just the striking exterior design, but also important things like the black-panel instrument cluster with its combination of circular instruments with modern displays. Note: the standard 10.2-inch display screen has an attractive galvanized chrome surround, but what matters more is that information is readable in bright sunlight.
And, of course, this latest 650i convertible is bigger – the wheelbase at 2.855 mm is 74 mm longer than its predecessor, while the car is 39 mm wider and 9.0 mm lower. Yes, the interior feels roomier and there is lots of headroom for tall people. Safety gear ranges from front to side airbags and BMW’s standard Roll-Over Protection System with its two high-strength aluminum roll-bars hidden behind the rear head restraints.
No one will be surprised to read that this is a delightful car to drive. The 4.4-litre V-8 with twin turbos is a monster of responsiveness and the eight-speed automatic is a smooth and quick shifter. The double wishbone front axle and the multi-link rear axle, made mostly of aluminum, feels tight and responsive.
BMW offers something called Active Roll Stabilization and it can be combined with the standard Dynamic Damper Control. The idea is to allow drivers to dial in their handling choice, taking advantage of electronically controlled shock absorbers that adapt to the road surfaces and the driver’s style.
This convertible is a grand touring car, though, not a full-on sports car. It feels best in the big, sweeping corners. On long, straight stretches, the ride is solid and comfy, too. The electric power steering is precise enough and, if you want, there is optional Active Steering with its new steer-able rear axle. BMW also equips the car with Driving Dynamics Control, allowing the driver to choose settings of Comfort, Normal, Sport and Sport+.
Naturally, there is no end to the electronic toys beyond the chassis do-dads. The standard HiFi audio system is fine, but you can get a Premium offering with 12 speakers and a digital amplifier, among other things. The head-up display is back and the display is clearer than before. Ultrasonic sensors help you to park and, if you must have it, a rear-view camera is optional. The latter is slickly integrated in the trunk lid under the BMW “roundel” badge.
But, despite all its merits, the 650i Cabriolet remains a tough sell in Canada, so you should be able to get a deal on this grand touring car.
2012 BMW 650i Cabriolet
Type: Grand touring convertible
Price: $106,800 ($800 freight)
Engine: 4.4-litre V-8, turbocharged.
Horsepower/torque: 400 hp/450 lb-ft
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 13.4 city/8.2 highway; premium gas
Alternatives: Jaguar XK, Mercedes-Benz SL-Class, Porsche 911 Cabriolet