Reviews

BMW's $92,000 Sexy Convertible


(Bloomberg)—The U.S. release of the all-new BMW 6 Series convertible is like a promise to buyers: Winter really will end.

Abetted by southerly climes and convertibles, spring blooms!

Consider this: Every time you've gone on vacation to someplace like Miami and rented a sorry Chrysler Sebring "sun machine," you were actually dreaming of the BMW 650i. It's the kind of car for those who believe they can have it all.

By nature convertibles are exercises in compromise. Either they're small and fun but have no space, or are too big and lumbering. The 6 is an exception.

First, it's sexy. Honed and a tad bit dangerous, its lines are long and flaunting, undeniably special. Good thing, because when you're ponying up at least $92,375 for a plaything, it better not be mistaken for a Chrysler.

The previous generation coupe and convertible were released in 2003 and 2004 respectively. They were the rare BMWs under head designer Chris Bangle's aegis that really looked good. I remember a long weekend in the Hamptons with a pre-production convertible that felt fresh and stylish. Even the guys in their Ferrari 360 Spiders were checking it out.

More Heroic

This time the convertible is being released before the coupe, and the 2012 model is wider, longer and has a lower roof. Aesthetically that's a big bonus, making it even more heroic.

The older 6 had an odd protrusion growing out of its trunk — a foible Bangle was infamous for. It's gone now, and the twin tailpipes have grown into mean rectangles.

The front is better too, with a reworked hood and headlights and a sharper nose which creases over the twin kidney grills. Overall the car is leaner and more directed.

What it doesn't lose is space. It will hold four reality- sized adults, even on spirited trips that last several hours. It's a happy refutation to cars like the Porsche 911 convertible, with rear perches that look like seats but are mostly an optical illusion.

Competitors in the four-passenger regard include the spacious Maserati GranTurismo Convertible, which has Italian cool and a price tag of some $136,000, and the Mercedes-Benz E550, which starts around $66,000, but which I frankly find rather ugly.

Highway Speeds

Sports-car punch? No worries there, with the 650i's 4.4- liter V-8. Horsepower is 400 and torque is 450 pound-feet. The motor is both direct injected and turbocharged.

What that means is a 0-to-60 mph charge in 4.9 seconds and the general ability to off-handedly punch through traffic at highway velocity. The engine sounds good, too.

BMW chooses to limit the top speed of its vehicles, and the 650i's last call is 130 on regular models and 155 for those equipped with a sport package.

The failing, if there is one, is to maneuver around tight roads at speed. The 650i drives like a wide car (and is, at 6.2 feet, or 1.9 meters) and you're also managing 4,500 pounds (2,041 kg). It has a complement of advanced technologies to prevent mishaps, including an optional system which helps corral body roll.

Still, on the narrowest lanes I found it best to relax my foot away from the gas and savor the landscape. The shiny rims protrude from the tires and would be all-to-easy to scrape.

Wind Noise

The windshield is high enough that it keeps the breeze from funneling into your face, and you can still hold a normal-voice conversation. Buffeting is worse in the back seat, but helped by rolling up the windows.

Top up, the car is quiet, and you can raise or lower it while driving up to 25 mph.

The car I tested had an eight-speed automatic transmission which can also be commanded with behind-the-wheel paddles. The U.S. will also get a six-speed manual and, for the first time, we'll be offered all-wheel-drive versions, sure to be popular in the Northeast.

Dare you drive the convertible in winter? Absolutely. Just be sure you're not on performance summer tires.

The final winning bit is the interior — next to the 7 Series sedan, it's the best I've seen on a recent Bimmer. The beautifully stitched, leather-covered dash lavishly curls around the driver. Controls are distinctly canted toward that occupant as well.

The navigation screen is big (10.2 inches) and graphics beautifully rendered. It sits on the front console looking like an attached iPad.

Orders for the 650i are being taken now, with deliveries expected in May. The coupe version will go on sale in the summer. (The convertible historically outsells it by 10 percent.) The even more powerful M6 will come along later.

The only question is, can we really afford to wait that long?

The 2012 BMW 650i Convertible at a Glance

Engine: 4.4-liter, turbo and direct-injected V-8 with 400 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque.

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic or six-speed manual.

Speed: 0 to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds.

Gas mileage per gallon: 17 city; 25 highway (estimated).

Price as tested: $103,375.

Best feature: Seats four in a hot convertible.

Worst feature: High price; hard on gas.

Target buyer: The free-spending sun-worshiper.

Jason H. Harper writes about autos for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.

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