Elegance. For a greater part of the previous decade, it was a word not generally associated with the designs of BMW passenger vehicles. Every new BMW introduction was punctuated by vociferous debate… In the case of the previous-generation 6 Series, for example, the majority of respondents either favoured the coupe and convertible’s progressive styling or lambasted former BMW Group design chief Chris Bangle for foisting fussy, indigestible shapes on the paying public.
The shell of the latest 6 Series Convertible is so meticulously detailed, and such is the astuteness of its interior design execution, which strikes that delicate balance between aesthetic excellence and ergonomic efficiency, that I kind of miss the old days. There is little doubt that the new Six is eminently elegant, but, as was the case with its 5 Series sibling, this BMW makes its statement with a whisper, not an exclamation.
It’s a design philosophy that traditionalists must simply accept…One needs to lean in closely to take in the subtleties of the design, such as the recesses at the bottom edges of the headlamp clusters, which serve to “visually elongate” the units and “broaden” or “flatten out” the front end. Note the ornate side strakes, which seem to mimic the contours of fountain pen nibs and subtle swage lines on the doors that guide one’s eye to the extended shoulder lines. The most controversial design cue of the 650i Convertible’s exterior is arguably the chunky love-them-or-hate-them tail-light clusters, but those chrome-finished trapezoidal exhaust tips, which jut from the rear valance but are fully integrated with the tail pipes, also caught my eye.
The interior features familiar 5 Series switchgear and controls but the facia and centre consoles are different, insofar as the stitched leather “collar” of the middle section sweeps away from the driver and gracefully blends into the top of the dashboard. The driving position has been much improved from the old car, but if a driver of slightly above average height manipulates the smartly-contoured driver’s seat into an ideal position, the rear legroom of the (ostensibly) 2+2 convertible all but disappears.
There are no fancy wind intrusion- or turbulence-reducing gizmos, but at least the soft top offers plenty of headroom, can open and close at road speeds of up to 40 km/h and there is a claimed 300 dm³ of luggage capacity when the roof is stowed. Furthermore, the 6 Series comes with all the technological and safety advancements that are offered on the Five, including a sophisticated head-up display (optional) and if specified, the rear reverse view camera is hidden underneath the boot badge and pops out only when required and recedes when deactivated. Oh yes, and don’t forget the Adaptive Drive system, which is an optional extra, but well worth the premium in my opinion.
That’s because the 650i Convertible, despite tipping the scales at about 2 000 kg and the fact that it should appeal primarily to, um, lifestyle-conscious consumers, is every bit a driver’s car when in Sport mode I had the opportunity to thread the newcomer around the meandering and tantalizingly tight Bainskloof Pass and found the sizeable convertible remarkably wieldy.
The 650i’s twin-turbocharged 4,4-litre V8 is mated with the marque’s familiar eight-speed automatic transmission – arguably the best combo for the multi-ratio ZF ‘box – and the exhaust system has been harmonically tuned to produce a meaty old-school V8 burble (a delight when pressing on!). The admirable torsional rigidity of the Six’s body showed itself when the car remained poised and rattle-free when encountering unexpected bumps at speed, and the steering, although light and quick in urban conditions, firmed up appreciably at higher velocities. What’s more, the overall ride quality has evidently taken a step in the right direction – there’s no more choppiness.
With a sticker price of R1 178 529 (on sale in May 2011), the BMW 650i Convertible is significantly more expensive than its Stuttgart-based rival, Mercedes-Benz’s E500 Cabriolet, but feels like a bigger, more sophisticated vehicle by comparison. As was the case with its predecessor, the 6 Series Convertible has few natural four-seater soft-top competitors, save for the exotic and pricey Maserati GranCabrio and aging Jaguar XK Convertible, and that makes it difficult to evaluate in its own right. In my estimation, however, this BMW is a very good, but not quite exceptional, addition to the market. Despite its pre-requisite all-round elegance and notable sophistication, the 650i hasn’t quite revolutionised its tiny segment… just garnished it.