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Luxury ride was loaded with high-tech goodies

The 645Ci was available as either a hard-top coupe or soft-top convertible. BMW Credit: BMW

Whether you're a fan of Chris Bangle, the former BMW head of design, one thing has to be admitted, his cars are eye-catching. Case in point: the 645Ci.

Offered in 2004 and 2005, the 645Ci was available as either a hard-top coupe or soft-top convertible and was built on the same platform as the 5-series sedan. But this wasn't just any rag-top.

For one thing, it featured an unusual "fin structure" convertible design (also seen on the Saturn Sky/Pontiac Solstice), which had a vertical rear glass window. According to BMW stylists, the point of this design was twofold: it was aesthetically intriguing, and allowed you to electronically raise or lower the rear window independent of the top itself.

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But that's not all. The 645Ci was brimming with high-tech gadgetry and bits and pieces. Not the least of which was BMW's infamous i-Drive, which has been the subject of tremendous criticism and controversy over the years. In the 645Ci, this system was dumbed-down and made a little more user-friendly, and some of the controls were duplicated elsewhere -the stereo volume, for example. A voice-activated command control was also offered as an option.

Other high-tech goodies included an adaptive cruise control that regulated the distance between you and the car in front during highway driving, headlights that moved with the car during turns and an active suspension system that featured electronically controlled sway bars. If you wanted bells and whistles, the 645Ci had them in abundance.

And, of course, it also had its fair share of leather and wood inside the car, letting you know right out of the gate that you were ensconced in an upscale automobile.

It also seated four adults, but there wasn't a lot of elbow room in the back seat. The top took about 20 seconds to deploy.

At the heart of the 645Ci was BMW's ubiquitous 4.4-litre V-8 engine, with its variable valve timing system and a variable intake manifold. It developed 325 horsepower at 6,100 rpm and took the 645Ci from zero to 100 km/h in less than six seconds.

There were three transmission choices: a six-speed manual, six-speed automatic, and six-speed sequential shift. The presence of the manual transmission made the 645Ci unique in this segment of the market; very few upscale luxury convertibles come with a clutch. Interestingly, this particular engine was utilized throughout BMW's lineup and was also employed by niche British car maker Morgan in some of its models.

Safety duties were handled by reinforced A-pillars, driver and passenger front, side, and knee airbags, and automatic pop-up roll bars that were deployed in the event of a rollover. All of these features were managed by the vehicle's Advanced Safety Electronics control system.

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It was probably irrelevant to the well-heeled buyers typically interested in this type of automobile, but combined fuel economy for the 645Ci convertible equipped with the manual transmission was 12.8 litres/100 km.

No safety contretemps to report from Transport Canada, but the U.S National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has one, and it's fairly significant. According to the agency, some 6-Series models of this year could roll away if parked on an incline without the emergency brake being applied. Apparently, the automatic transmission's "Park" setting may be faulty, and dealers will make the necessary repairs. This problem may also be present in the X5 and 5-Series of the same vintage.

There are three technical service bulletins on file with NHTSA, which, considering the technological and engineering complexity of the 645Ci, is noteworthy. As well, these three are more in the form of service advisories than mechanical or engineering glitches.

They include a heads-up that the 645Ci prefers "top tier" premium gasoline only, a warning that this vehicle features nitrogen-inflated tires, and a note about the crankcase ventilation system in cold weather.

No red flags from Consumer Reports magazine, although the sound system is apparently less than it could be. Over all, CR gives the 645Ci a good - but not its best - rating for predicted reliability. Some comments from owners include: "The car was not made to putt-putt around town" and "the back seat is too small."

Market research company J.D. Power has some concerns about comfort, powertrain quality and features accessories quality, but most of its ratings for this upscale two-door are positive. The model gets this organization's top marks for overall performance and design, and close to the top for initial quality and vehicle dependability.

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The 645Ci had a base price of almost $100,000 before extras and taxes when it was new, and now seems to be going for anywhere from about $30,000 for the coupe, to just under $50,000 for the convertible.

2005 BMW 645Ci

Type: Luxury coupe/convertible

Original Base Price: $99,000; Black Book Value: $43,150-$49,500; Red Book Value: $36,350-$40,575

Engine: 4.4-litre V-8

Horsepower/Torque: 325 hp / 330 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed manual/automatic

Drive: Rear-wheel-drive

Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 14.3 city/8.6 highway; premium gas

Alternatives: Audi S4 Cabriolet, Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet, Mercedes CLK AMG 55, Jaguar XK8

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