Luxist Drives and Waves Auf Wiedersehen to the BMW 650i Convertible
BMW hasn't really done well with the big money, mass-market coupe lately. The Z8 did fine, thank you very much, but that was a limited edition. The 8 Series on the other hand, one of our favorite cars to this day, didn't do anywhere close to fine. And the car that could have been said to replace it, the 6 Series, certainly hasn't had a bad life but it hasn't done any blitzkrieging of market share either. The current 6, which first pointed its rotund snout our way in 2003, is about to be replaced by a model that will complete BMWs return to more conventional design. We drove the 650i and had a long, top-down talk about why it was going away and what we might want from its successor.
The 6 Series is a curious beast with a curious clientele. It isn't exactly pretty, but it is slick – and that word might describe many of its buyers. No offense to any Sunday School teachers who own the car, but the few 6 Series owners we've known were all male and all had more than a bit of the rake in them. When we asked a colleague if he knew anyone who owned a 6 Series, he replied, "I don't know those kinds of people." As a percentage of sales it must be the BMW most likely to get the Big Flashy Rim treatment. It is the most talked about BMW in hip-hop, where it is simply called "The 6." It is one of the top rides in the official fleet of Ed Hardy and Affliction wearers. In these ways it's less like a big BMW grand tourer and more like a bizarro Porsche 911. So if you do teach Sunday School and you do own a 6 Series, you might be the only one out there...
And no one could tell you how it got that way, even though we concede that it does look the part. When we see a blacked out 6 pull up to valet we have a good idea of what to expect, even though it's not like the design itself screams G-Unit. The best we can guess is that the 6 is substantial. The same way the 7 Series was really picked up by the hip-hop set when the Bangle-ized redesign traded svelte for brawn, the 6 has a weightiness unlike anything else in its segment, and folks who like to play the heavy tend to gravitate to cars that look the heavy part.
On the other hand, while the 6 is substantial it is also soft. Penned back when flame surfacing was the ethos for BMW's small cars and large, flowing curves guided the big cars, the 6 is lozenge up front and Matisse in back. They are the two most interesting points on the car, for connecting those ends is a sheath of metal that is practically featureless save for a scalloped section between the shoulder line and rocker panel. That's the heavy bit, see...
But to go back to segments for a second, there's also the fact that the 6 doesn't really have one. The former CLK, now E-class Coupe, has a completely different personality. The Audi A5 is a smaller, finer and much less expensive proposition. The Jaguar XK is more for people who, like the ads, use the word "gorgeous" a lot. They all come in convertible versions, but they all occupy a different corners of the same block and, among each other, aren't likely to have buyers cross-shopping. Those looking for the E-Coupe's sunlit front porch aren't likely to accidentally stop at the tequila, cigars and tinted windows at the 6's condo.
The front and back are where the 6 has got it goin' on. From dead-on you'll catch the four ridges leading off the kidney and headlights that flow back and form the character lines of the car. From a slight angle, and on-high, you'll catch the substantial curve of the front end that gives the 6 a schnoz like no other car. Unique it is. Compelling it might be. Pretty... hmmm.
In back there's that trunk. The Bangle era at BMW is dead (long live Chris Bangle!), and while his Frankentrunk lives on with other carmakers this is the last BMW creation to wear an original incarnation. It isn't that we dislike it, but this was its most intense application. Every time we see it – seven years on, even – we still think, "Wow, what a funky trunk." The new 6 that will arrive next year retains the overall line, but tones it down heavily – after all, it is one of the features that made this car the icon it is. Nor is it particularly roomy behind that decklid, but we suppose there's the 5 Series if you need somewhere to put the Vuitton trunks.
The champagne merino leather interior with walnut amarone trim interior of our car was one of the benefits of BMW Individual, a division that allows you to go beyond the standard options list. It is well done, restrained, and unlike the exterior, it is nothing but intersecting curves. It is, though, a $7,700 option by itself that helps boost the cost of the $85,500 car to nearly $100,000. As far as our fingers and skin could tell, it was worth every penny. We never got tired of falling into the front seat. Nor of listening to the stereo, which was stupendous.
On the go, the 6 does a three-step when you floor it: there's an immediate little burst of acceleration from the naturally aspirated 360 horsepower of the 4.8-liter V8, another little burst of acceleration a fraction of a second later when the six-speed transmission downshifts, and then another blink of an eye when the double VANOS valve timing kicks in and thows the car into it's giddy-up mode. Another sonorous note: the exhaust. It's glorious, and you have time to play with it: with sixty mph coming up in 5.4 seconds the 6 is fast enough to keep you mindful, but you won't scare yourself or unthinkingly attract the long arm of Johnny Law.
The only bit of handling that raised an eyebrow was the car's stiffness – or rather, lack thereof. With the top up the 6 is composed over all manner of surfaces. Put the top down and run it over poorly surfaced roads, that's when things go a little Bronco Billy behind the front seats. The rear end flexes and bucks enough to make you go, "Oh, you didn't like that, did you?"
But you won't be doing that kind of thing anyway, would you? The 650i is a "Look at me!" car, not a "Watch me!" car. It is a grand tourer, emphasizing the 'tourer' when it comes to driving style and the 'grand' when it comes to the car's design and the kind of entrance you expect to make. You might take a whip to the M6, but this car here is for sunny climes and devil-may-care days. Set your speed, leave one hand on the wheel while the other clasps that of your well manicured accomplice, and forget about anything but good times.
We enjoyed our time in the car but we won't miss it going – not because anything's wrong with it because it's a fine boulevardier, but because there wasn't anything that was "Oh yes, this is so right!" about it. That's unacceptable for a BMW, and the company knows it. The next 6, whose shape has already been caught in spy shots around Germany, will return to the kind of sleek svelte that BMW owns.
It will also get its reflexes tuned to be more the kind of sports car that you expect when you get into any car with a blue-and-white roundel posted front-and-center, and that is what can really set this car apart. On the options list for the current 6 there is listed a manual transmission for $250 more. Ignoring the alternate universe realization that you now have to pay for a manual transmission, what we really hope is that the next 6 Series makes us want to check that box. Come on BMW, we know you can do it – and then maybe we can be bad guys, too...