Full-size high-end luxury convertibles that don’t have budget origins are not as common as you might think (or like). E-Class Cabrio? Too cheap. A5 Cabrio? Same problem. So if you’ve $90,000+ burning a hole in your pocket for a topless two-door what should you get? Obviously Astons and Bentleys are out of your price range in this down economy (we all must economize after all), and you have trouble justifying the stretch to the Maserati GranTurismo Convertible’s $132,000 base price, that leaves BMW and Jaguar to battle in this broom-closet sized market. Whatever is the almost-wealthy shopper to do? Let’s find out
On the outside, the old 6-series wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, but the new model seems to be a universally good looking car according to my usual band of “Joe six-packs”. Up front the 6 wears BMW’s new corporate pedestrian friendly schnoz easily identified by the dual large grills, and overall high and flat leading surface. Continuing along the side we find sharper lines and new sheet metal give the new 6 a lower, wider look (without actually being much lower than the outgoing model) that is accentuated when the convertible top is lowered. Speaking of that top, the 6-series continues to sport a folding canvas top instead of the trendy folding hard tops. Supposedly the decision was several fold: the canvas top is lighter, changes the weight balance of the car less when it is down, it’s faster to lower/raise and can be done at speeds up to 25MPH (and of course, it’s cheaper). Of course, Jag’s XK convertible looks like sex, so on the looks front despite the BMW being very attractive; my vote is for the XK.
BMW has taken great strides with the new 6-series interior in both style and finish. The cockpit is far more “driver oriented” than the previous generation convertible and the parts all scream high-rent. The new large, high-resolution iDrive screen is the dominant feature on the dash, perched high and just about in your line of sight (in a good way). While other iDrive displays have been positioned in dedicated binacle or well-integrated into the dash, the 6’s iDrive gives the appearance of a pop-up screen without the pop. The look is well executed and makes the dash seem less “bulky” than other BMW products. This reduced bulk is needed as the high belt line and overall large proportions conspire to make average sized men feel small behind the wheel. I don’t know about you, but I don’t usually like feeling small. The $1,500 optional stitched dashboard (as our tester was equipped) visually puts the 650i’s interior in the same class as the Jaguar XKR and Aston Martin’s “budget” coupés.
Luxury cars are all about the gizmos, the 6-series continues to wear it’s crown as the reigning gadget king. The aforementioned wide-screen 10.2 inch iDrive display is as close to perfection as I have seen. People complain about iDrive being hard to use, but I find it fairly intuitive. If you are a person familiar with technology at all, you will acclimate to iDrive quickly. If however you’re trading in your old 1970s S-class convertible as part of your new life in a Floridian retirement home, you might want to bring a 14-year old with you when you need to change the AM radio station. For the rest of us, iDrive is far more elegant in look and function than Mercedes COMMAND, more feature rich than Infiniti’s setup, a decade more modern than Lexus’s nav software, more reliable than SYNC, and easier to use than Audi’s MMI. Aston Martin? They’re still stuck in the last century. Jaguar’s system is more agreeable to my tastes than COMMAND, but still a step behind Audi’s MMI and iDrive until Jaguar decides to put the XJ’s new touch screen in the smaller kitty.
New on the scene for iDrive is the new iPhone/smartphone app. I’m not entirely sure why you would need to tweet or Facebook post while you are driving, but iDrive does make it easy to accomplish both, while blasting down the freeway topless. The system will not only read your posts to you, but it will even pull information from iDrive’s phone history, navigation system and even the car’s thermometer to generate slightly personalized canned posts like “It is 65 degrees and I am driving my BMW” or “Headed to 123 Main Street” or “Spoke with Jane Doe on the phone”. While Facebook is a novelty, the web radio app is the feature that makes the $250 option worth considering. The radio app allows you to select from RadioTime.com’s list of streaming internet radio stations (Pandora lovers look elsewhere). The radio streaming worked surprisingly well even over the maligned AT&T network on my iPhone 4. The only complaint I have about the way BMW’s app works is that [on the iPhone at least] the app must be loaded and the active app in order for the car to sync, so while you can Facebook post while driving, you have to leave the app to read your text messages or control anything on the phone. For that last mile, BMW’s app allows you to continue navigating to your destination if you’ve had to park several blocks away and you can glance at your last known fuel level and distance to empty numbers.
Other than the overtly “techy” gadgets, the list of safety features and optional gadgets on the 6 is extensive. The pricey option list includes goodies like a $2,600 night vision system, $3,700 “Drive Assistance Package” which gives you a plethora of cameras, a new full-color heads up display, lane departure warning and the very trendy self-parallel-parking feature, a $1,500 seat enhancement package that gives you active seats and seat ventilation, $650 to replace the plastic knobs with ceramic, and a whopping $3,700 for the Bang & Olufsen sound system. Strangely enough BMW has not decided to create a side impact airbag system ala Volvo’s C70, a shame when the rich seem usually prepared to spend big on features to save their backside (or brain in this case).
At 400HP and 450 lb-ft, the 650i’s new 4.4L twin-turbo engine is up 40HP and 90 lb-ft compared to the outgoing 4.8L naturally aspirated engine from last year. While there is a hair of turbo lag, thanks to the twin hairdryers torque gets to the boil by 1,750 RPM and stays on strong all the way to 4500 RPM where it tapers off gradually. The new engine sends power to the rear (or all four wheels with the optional AWD) via a new 8-Speed ZF transmission. The combination of the turbos, increased oomph, and extra cogs results in the 0-60 time dropping from a quoted 5.4 to a quoted 4.9 putting the 650i in the same class as a few BMW M products I could mention and 0.4 seconds faster than the 385HP Jaguar XK’s quoted time. Of course with BMW quoted times aren’t worth much and the 650i is no different clocking in a cool 4.69 second 0-60 sprint time after time. Despite a not-insignificant weight gain due to the loss of the aluminum front end the 2011 sported, the new 6 is one seriously fast beast. The only downside to the turbo charged nature of the 650i seems to be the exhaust note, the 650i just doesn’t sound as nice as the Jaguar XK or XKR’s 5.0L V8 and this is likely due to the turbos in the exhaust stream. While the 4.4L turbo is powerful, the 650i seems to lack the urgency of some new Mercedes products with their new twin-turbo V8. Fear not speed lovers, an M6 is on the way which will surely put those fears to rest.
Out on the road the 650i convertible is a heavy car and it shows, not in the handling but the feel. The 650 just doesn’t feel as connected to the road as the Jaguar XK, likely due as much to the electric power steering as the 4,531lb curb weight. While come may complain about this, I can’t say I expect my over-two-ton convertible to be a corner carver, the 6-series is very much a GT and in this role it shines. The optional sport package (as our tester was equipped) includes active suspension, active anti-roll bars, and some seriously wide 275-width rubber out back (the fronts remain 245s). Still despite the added tech, the XKR is still the better driver’s car. The Jag is (and feels) considerably lighter on the road, the 6-speed ZF transmission is far more eager to do your bidding and the steering is far more connected and direct, not to mention the XKR’s 5.0L V8 plays one of the most amazing sound tracks available on our shores. Our readers know I’m an AWD fan and even if the 650i wasn’t loaded with all my favorite gadgets, I’d buy it over an XKR for the AWD’s year round drivability.
When it comes time to buy your fourth car (BMW tells us most 6 series buyers have at least 3-4 cars in their stable), what should you buy? This depends on what you’re after. If you care about modern gadgets and technology in your topless GT, the 650i is the hands-down winner. The 650i also slots neatly between the slightly slower Jaguar XK and the considerably faster XJR in terms of performance and price (depending on options). If however you’re after the a more engaging drive, better exhaust note and exquisite exterior style, the Jaguar XKR is the ride for you, it just won’t tweet your friends about it.
BMW provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.
Statistics as tested
0-30: 1.72 Seconds
0-60: 4.69 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 13 Seconds @ 109.8 MPH
Average Fuel Economy: 17.2 MPG over 383 miles