BMW 650i Convertible Review

Jay Shoemaker
by Jay Shoemaker

Chris Bangle will be remembered as the most influential automobile designer of the early 21st century. All of the hip cars of our times have Bangled butts and complicated interfaces. The BMW 650i convertible is arguably the finest expression of Mr. Bangle's "flame surfacing." Viewed from the front, the vehicle resembles a shark. In grey or dark blue colors, the 650i has a distinctly ominous presence. If you did nothing more than stare at the front end of this car, you'd feel it was $80k well spent. Unfortunately, eventually, you will walk around to the back …

The 650i's back end is the Bimmer's most badly Bangled bit. The chopped roofline of the soft-top narrows to a slit for the rear window, with dorsal fins protruding back from the rear edges. I'm not sure quite what visual impact Bangle's boyz intended, but the design sure makes backing-up or checking for cars on your flanks an exercise in trust in your fellow man. If you raise the 650i's trunk, step back and imagine what the vehicle might have looked like with a more conservative tail line, you get the feeling Chris snatched pretension from the jaws of greatness.

As soon as you drop into the 650i's driver's seat, all is forgiven. The cockpit's curves (if I can say that) are irresistible: a graceful arcing line flows from the dash through to the doors, like a prima ballerina crossing the stage. The dash envelops the drop top's occupants, making them feel an organic part of the car. Initiate the 5.0-liter V8 via the ubiquitous "start" button, grab the 650i's chunky transmission lever and engage forward progress. Oops. Why did I just run over those garden tools? Must be the active steering, which changes the ratios to suit the speed.

Over the last decade, many commentators have [rightly] criticized BMW for graduallly surrendered steering feel to traditional American luxury buyers' tastes for automotive cotton candy. In this application, active steering makes a sticky situation worse; there's almost no meat on the Bimmer's bones until you crest 45mph. The 650i's generously padded steering wheel and instantaneous turn-in make aggressive maneuvers at speeds under 45mph a detached, video-game experience. And then you come to love it. While the driving experience is somewhat aloof, the 650i soon feels as if it violates the laws of physics (can I say that?).

The 650i's top is almost sturdy enough to make you forget it's a convertible– until you try to view something out the back window (which can be raised and lowered independently from the top for ventilation). The 650i convertible's extra gear adds nearly 400lbs. to the coupe. A hardtop 650i coupe can be nervous as a colt on a hot tin roof; run flat tires delivering a jittery unsettled ride. Surprisingly enough, the convertible is more mature and comfortable and GT-like, muffling the suspension's sharp reports with bump-smothering weight. Even better: there's little difference in acceleration. Both machines sprint to 60 in the low fives.

With the chopped top fully stowed, slit window and fins out of sight, the Bimmer's bootylicious back end makes perfect sense. The effect on the driving experienced is equally profound. The burble of the 650i convertible's exhaust put me in the mind of a million dollar speedboat. The iDrive put me in the mind of strangling somebody. From a design perspective, BMW's infamous mouse-driven controller is an ugly wart defiling the interior's masterful architecture and style. From an ergonomic POV, it's slow, cumbersome, counter-intuitive, distracting, annoying and intrusive.

In fact, BMW seems desperate to take control out of its drivers' hands. The 650i's steering wheel couldn't be lowered to my taste. When I extended it to compensate (if you know what I mean), it automatically raised itself to a less comfortable position. The climate control turns itself on when you start the car whether you want it or not. BMW has replaced the annoying "ding, ding" sound to remind you that you haven't performed a task to the cars' liking with an even more cloying "bling, bling" sound that resembles a mad Bavarian harpist. Of course you must assent to everything BMW before you are permitted to operate any of the iDrive controls by bumping the wart.

The BMW 650i convertible is a feel-good machine of the first order, with plenty of forward waft and aural woofle. Once you get used to the fact that the steering provides less useful feedback than the company's PR department, it's easy to pilot the lean-free machine though the corners at tremendous speeds– should you be so inclined. But this car is a laid back cruiser. It's just too bad I tired of arguing with it all the time. A car this expensive should be deferential to its driver's needs. Ultimate driving does not allow for unjustifiable arrogance.

Jay Shoemaker
Jay Shoemaker

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  • Rashettle Rashettle on Nov 02, 2007

    I walk up to a dealership and am looking straight at the front of a 650 convertible. I see the horrible but just can't replace kidney grille and the headlights that look like anime eyes. I think i'm looking at just another BMW (bad made worse). Then I start walking around and I see the driver side. Wow, would you look at this somebody stole the door. The salesman sneaking up behind me answered, "No that's the real door?" But it couldn't have been a BMW door. The line below the handle was inline with line in front and behind the door. I actually thought for a second that BMW had learned something. Stupid me. I got my hopes up that they had fixed the indescribable trunk shape where it's curving in then suddenly juts upward. But they didn't. But it is fast and handles so well you might say. Yes it is a very good performing car. This is because you need it to get far enough away from everyone else on the road that they can no longer see this thing. They salesman then said jokingly to me, "I think your a little young for this car." I said, "I have two many eyes for this car."

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