Journalists on this site have complained about how ugly and technologically complex recent BMWs have become. To that list I would also add a jarring ride, an overly aggressive throttle tip-in and jerky transmissions. Don’t get me wrong. In the main, the propeller people’s products still do exactly what it says on the tin: ultimate driving. But these defects make it difficult to drive most Bimmers smoothly, as one can an equivalent Mercedes, Audi or Cadillac (CTS). So when my BMW buddy nagged me to check out the 2008 650i coupe, I wondered: why bother?
The 650i is considerably less aesthetically offensive than its predecessor; Bimmer’s booted bling for a more brand faithful return to understated elegance. They’ve enhanced the 6-Series’ strongest feature– its front end– by subtle tweaking the lower front bumper. The air intake is significantly wider than previous, and the borders at the bottom emphasize the car’s extra wide stance. Above, new LED lights form “eyebrows” over the headlamps, ditching Dame Edna’s glasses for a more austere look.
The biggest improvement lives where the 650i needed it the most: the rear. The “Bangle butt” rear deck has lost some of its mass and rises less steeply from the body. It’s also been slightly sculpted to bring an element of shape and style to what was once a blunt and hideous tail. As a result, the entire car gains coherence and loses affectation. It’s less stunt and floss and more Stirling Moss.
I’ve always appreciated the 6-Series’ curvilinear dash, which envelops the driver like a good cockpit should. BMW now offers an extended leather package (included with the pearl effect cow hide) that covers the 650i’s dash and console with phenomenally plush leather. As an interior accent, it makes the world’s best seating material. The chairs still have annoying limitations to their range of adjustments, but the aforementioned leather and new active headrests helps make them incredibly comfortable.
BMW added a lot of bright work for 2008, with chrome accents on the steering wheel and transmission. Combined with Chateau red seats and carpets, the overall effect is twenty first century bordello. The audio system is superb, but the costly, non-adjustable heads-up display is set too low in the windscreen for easy viewing. The 650i's steering wheel is still pleasingly plump with shift paddles like those found in the 335.
I don’t know why BMW felt compelled to ruin a perfectly good shift knob design. The new electronic shifter is no goofier than iDrive, but not less either. Thankfully, BMW has rendered the iDrive multi-function wart superfluous except for navigation. You can now use six buttons (wasn’t eliminating buttons the point of iDrive?) to program functions which the wart made tortuous (e.g. changing the radio station). Plus, you can press the main HVAC controller and get into the same menus as iDrive. Can we skip to the bit where the wart evolves into history?
The 650i driving experience has gone from the ridiculous to the sublime. On the standard setting, the coupe eases away from rest like a limo. Even with the 19” run flats included with the sport package, the 650i’s ride quality is both firm and velvety. Unlike the previous 6– which provided lingering reminders of each and every impact– the refreshed model detects and dismisses road imperfections with casual ease. A new feature called “comfort stop” helps to minimize twitchiness whilst braking. Put it together and the new 6 has finally found its true métier as an interstate-compatible boulevardier.
That said, it still has stones. The “make your passenger’s head bob like a Halloween apple” setting is summoned via sport mode. Push the button and overly aggressive and jerky shifts are yours for as long as you can endure them. The button also summons the full Monty from a 4.8-liter V8 packing 360 ponies and an equal amount of low down grunt, accelerating this 3,800 pound two-door from rest to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds.
Equipped with the optional active steering system, the 650i’s helm is still somewhat remote, but a lot less clinically detached. Turn-in is more predictable, adhesion limits are high and the learning curve for carving the curves is a lot less steep. That said, one quick bend and you’ll know this heavyweight is meant for long distance love rather than a teenage nervous breakdown. The 650i’s exhaust note signals the car’s sporting character (or lack thereof); it’s authoritative from outside the car and muted and refined from within.
In short, the 2008 BMW 650i is a thoroughly modern GT, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better one. There is nothing under $100k which compares, except perhaps the Jaguar XK coupe, which offers less performance and features. The 650i is not just better than been, it’s been transformed into a truly desirable ride. Once again, BMW has proved that evolution trumps expectation