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BMW 650i Convertible - First Drive

Running the Baja Peninsula in Munich’s big drop-top.

Karl Funke
Sep 13, 2011

I never knew you could drive so fast in Mexico. The long, dusty desert roads are punctuated with speed signs, but according to the locals they merely represent speed suggestions. If you have a little expendable income, discreetly slip the Federale 500 or 600 pesos—the equivalent of about 40 or 50 bucks—and he’ll generally send you on your way—with or without a gracias Senior.

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And so it was we found ourselves blasting up the La Paz-San Jose del Cabo highway—Mexico 1—top-down, the wind in our hair and in an unmitigated state of bliss, unhindered by the emasculatory fear of the dreaded California Highway Patrol. Not that we were speeding or anything.

But were one inclined to do so on a Mexican thoroughfare, hitting the 650i’s electronically limited top speed of 130 mph would be no big thing, since the car is powered by BMW’s twin-turbo 4.4-liter V8 of which we’ve grown so fond. Power tops out at 400 hp and peak torque of 450 lb-ft at 1750 rpm, making this power unit capable of slinging the 650i drop-top, via a six-speed manual gearbox or the nigh-seamless eight-speed automatic, to 60 mph in less than five seconds—a factory-claimed 4.9 to be exact. Which might not be so impressive in the world of fast cars until you consider that this one weighs more than 4,500 pounds. (That figure might be even higher if it had a folding hard top, as on the Z4, but BMW opted to keep a power soft top on the 6 for just this reason.)

And yes, you can have your 6 Series with a six-speed manual transmission, although the eight-speed Sport auto is included as the standard gearbox (and no, you won’t save any money by going with the manual). Interestingly, the company claims no difference in curb weight between a manually equipped or automatic 6 Series. But according to EPA estimates, the automatic offers improved fuel economy to the tune of 16 and 19 mpg city and highway, respectively, compared to 15 and 17 mpg with the stick.

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In any case, the auto gives you two more forward gears and the option of shifting your own gears with paddles mounted on the steering wheel. They aren’t the generic push-pull doodads of old, either, but are arranged exactly like you’d expect in an M car—right paddle for upshift, left paddle for down. The brevity of the gear changes can be altered using the Drive Select (Driving Dynamics Control) switch on the center console, allowing four different modes—Comfort, Normal, Sport and Sport+. Each mode also alters the chassis dynamics, (i.e., stability control and the suspension’s active damping and throttle response in ascending levels of aggressiveness).

One thing we’ve always appreciated about a BMW, any BMW, is the driving position: low in the cockpit, elbow supports at either side should you require them, adequate access to any necessary driver control. Outside of the brakes, throttle and transmission controls, virtually all other vehicle functions, including the dash-mounted audio and climate controls, are accessible through the new-generation iDrive knob and switch cluster, located centrally on the center console. Please trust us when we say the new iDrive has ceased to make the iDrive moniker itself a dirty word.

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So there we were, flinging this two-and-one-quarter-ton beast over the mountains en route to inland Baja, marveling at the way the chassis and its Dynamic Damper Control and Active Roll Stabilization (this latter system is an extra-cost option) adjusts that veritable slug of Bavarian mass to the hairpins and varying road surfaces at speeds liable to make other drivers green with envy. Or maybe just green. Thankfully, my drive partner’s constitution was suited to the task. Active Roll Stabilization automatically calculates the amount of body roll from situation to situation, and said roll is counteracted by hydraulic actuators in the front and the rear antiroll bars to keep the body as level as possible.

Also optional on the new 6 Series is the Active Integral Steering option, as seen on the latest 7 Series. It’s a rear-wheel steering mechanism that turns the rear wheels contrary to the front wheels in low-speed situations to increase the car’s maneuverability—in a crowded parking lot or on a narrow street, say. At high speeds, driving speeds, the rear wheels turn in the same direction as the fronts for better overall tracking in bends and turns.

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Out of the hills now and on to a long, downward slope, it was time to really lean into the throttle and let the turbos sing. (OK, maybe we were speeding a little bit.)

“Is that a Charger up ahead?” my partner abruptly asked, pointing. (The Federales drive Dodge Chargers.) So it was, and I was on the brakes: lightweight floating calipers clamping 13.7- and 13.6-inch discs front/rear, sized adequately in proportion to the 650i’s considerable girth. The brake system is central to the stability control (DSC) system, incorporating Dynamic Traction Control, Cornering Brake Control, Dynamic Brake Control, fade compensation and, of course, ABS. So like the roll stabilization system, the brakes adapt themselves for optimal performance in every conceivable situation.

But I was late on the pedal, so even the consistent greatness of BMW brakes—they’ve literally saved our asses on other days, in other BMW cars—wasn’t enough to haul us down into the likely suggested realm of speed. And so whipped past the Fed, cringing, punching a 4,500-pound hole through the Baja atmosphere and trailing a long tail of Mexican dust. He never even looked up.

I’ve come to really like Mexico.

2012 BMW 650i Convertible

Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive

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4.4-liter V8, dohc, 32-valve, twin-turbocharged

Eight-speed automatic

Double wishbone front axle, multi-link rear, electronically controlled dampers

13.7/13.6-inch vented rotors (f/r)

Length/Width/Height (in.): 192.8/74.6/53.7
Wheelbase: 112.4 in.
Curb Weight: 4,531 lb

Performance Peak Power: 400 hp @ 5500 rpm
Peak Torque: 450 lb-ft @ 1750 rpm
0-60 mph: 4.9 sec.
Top Speed: 130 mph (limited)
MSRP: $91,375

By Karl Funke
177 Articles



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