Driven: 2012 BMW 650i Convertible

By Seyth Miersma

May 05, 2011

—Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Cabo San Lucas is a wonderful, if slightly complex place to visit and to drive cars. Baja Mexico’s most famous resort town sparkles on the beach next to the Sea of Cortez, offering rest and relaxation to deep-pocketed luxury seekers the world over. It’s the kind of a place that real, honest-to-God 650i convertible owners might opt to vacation in, though they probably wouldn’t think to drive there. Despite being close to some pretty compelling driver’s roads, Cabo is also adjacent to loads of wandering livestock, slow moving local traffic, and, frankly, a lot of poverty and crime once you’re outside of the touristy bits.

The fact remains that this area of Mexico’s great variety of road type and surface make it a phenomenal place to test out a proper grand touring convertible like the 650i. We found buttery smooth new pavement and horribly cracked surfaces, long straight roads over miles of flat desert and quickly curving courses through undulating hills, desolate expanses and crowded city spaces. Just the mix of experiences, over 500 kilometers of hard driving, that this new 6-Series was designed to conquer.

At 400 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque, the BMW 4.4-liter V-8 found under the hood of the 650i may not quite have the same punch as when found in the X5M or X6M, but it’s a significant pugilist nevertheless. And certainly, when hooked up to the company’s always-in-the-right-gear eight-speed transmission, this powertrain is well suited to the rest of the 6ers grand-touring package. (The car will be available with a six-speed manual transmission, too, but BMW only brought automatics along for us to test.) The 0-60 sprint of under five seconds is fast enough, though that kind of acceleration number does little to describe the wavelike and momentous way in which the motor delivers power. We dug deep with the accelerator pedal, early and then often, to squeeze in as many torque-rich runs up to three-digit speeds we could in one day of test driving.

Power delivery is linear and virtually lag free, and happens to be accompanied by a matched exhaust note that would sound correct coming from the tailpipes of any number of harder-core sports cars. We were especially happy to find as much sonic splendor with the top down as with it up, and by the looks on the faces of many of the locals we passed, the 650i sounded as good from the road as it did from behind the steering wheel, too.

The better angels of our driving nature (and our natural fear of hitting someone’s goat at full-tilt speeds) may have kept us from maxing the Bimmer out at its electronically limited 155 mph top-speed, but we did make a few decent straight-line runs. Suffice it to say that we have no trouble reporting that the 650i has lots of pulling power from the century mark—even when moving over steep grades, we never caught this turbo motor out of breath. That high-end power, in combination with awesome low-speed tractability thanks to buckets of torque, makes the convertible well willing to answer one’s speed commands.

If a fabulous engine is one mark of a fine GT—and one mission accomplished for the 650i—then a suspension capable of performing under many different driving conditions is another. BMW’s Driving Dynamics Control is a major asset here, provided, of course, one uses it judiciously. Settings of Comfort, Normal, Sport, and Sport+ will not be unfamiliar to any Bimmerphile, and generally perform as advertised by altering settings for throttle, power steering, shocks, roll stiffness, and shift logic.

Our biggest gripe with the 650i’s DDC is with the Comfort setting, which we found to be too soft in the shocks/roll stabilization arenas to actually be comfortable. Where Normal did a fine job of smoothing out the rough spots in the Mexican tarmac (and boy howdy, were there some rough spots), Comfort made us float, wallow, and generally move too much vertically over the wheels. Stick with Normal for your laidback drives, Sport for your aggressive runs, and leave Comfort out of the mix altogether, we say.

The raciest, Sport+ setting is pretty entertaining. This setting enables the rear end of the 6er to get a little looser, by raising the threshold wherein the stability management system will intervene to, ostensibly, save you from yourself. In other words: you can’t completely turn the electronic nannies off. That last bit isn’t too big a deal, though, as the nature of the 6 convertible should rarely have drivers wanting to pilot it at 99 percent of its ability, and utterly in the raw.

The car’s lack of a hardcore edge won’t put off many prospective buyers here, as this BMW is really all about style, comfort, and easy performance. Even still, we’d love to see just a little bit more involvement programmed into the steering experience, even if it were just dialed into the more sporting of the adjustable settings. We found the power steering to be pretty overboosted in most settings and most driving situations, with a lightness under cornering loads that made us want to back off the throttle more than once. BMW could get away with this lack of steering weight if road feel were amped up, but we didn’t get much of that, either. Sensation from the tires was only okay with the wheel pointed dead ahead, and went downright numb when cornering lock was applied. Like any other annoyance, we quickly learned to live with this deficience in driver interface—it certainly isn’t hard to figure out that the car can be driven fast through the twisting sections of the road—but we were never so confident as we might have been with a more talkative tiller.

Honestly though, forget about the lack of steering feel. Put the top down, select Sport mode, and drive rapidly in huge style to the sunny place that makes you the happiest. Turn up the fairly excellent stereo—wind noise won’t bug your tunes much—and enjoy the fact that you’re driving a stunning convertible with all the power and grace that you want for drives like this. The 650i is a top-down express train to the good life. And if you live or regularly visit a place like Cabo San Lucas, where sun, sand, sky, and money get mixed into a cocktail of excessively good living, then this BMW should be on the shopping list.

VS: Mercedes-Benz SL550

The SL is as close to a natural 650i convertible competitor as Mercedes offers these days, though sharp-eyed shoppers will note that the BMW boasts two more seats than can the M-B roadster. Still, it’s probably fair to say that these two cars will be cross-shopped.

Leaving the seating capacity alone then, we still like the 650i in terms of the engine comparison here—with the blown 4.4-liter V-8 offering more torque (450 pound-feet versus 391 for the Benz) and more overall response.

Both cars are fairly beautiful but in a high-stakes segment, where newness often helps to make up the fashion-forward mind, the fresher look of the 6er should make waves.

Interior refinement, technology suite, and overall options richness all favor the newer, more advanced BMW, too.

VS: Jaguar XK Convertible

If your luxury convertible shopping list is limited to only beauty, it’ll be hard to pass on Jaguar’s XK, which is an absolutely stunning machine. But if you’re looking for a more complete package, or, frankly, at any other measurable area other than price (the Jag is a few thousand cheaper) the BMW will be hard to beat.

We love the XK’s naturally aspirated V-8, but it is a bit weak in the face of the 650i’s turbo firepower. The Jaguar has got those back seats that the SL was missing, but they’re not nearly so accommodating as the decent-sized set of the BMW. The 6er has also got more sophisticated adaptive driving dynamics, a better automatic transmission, and offers better fuel economy. Looks only go so far.

2012 BMW 650i Convertible 8AT
Engine: Biturbocharged V-8, 4.4-liters, 32v
Output: 400 hp/450 lb-ft
0-60 MPH: 4.9 seconds
Top Speed: 150 mph
Wight: 4531 lb
Base Price: $91,375
On Sale: Now