Review: 2012 BMW 650i Convertible

The Good: Quicker, roomier, and more fuel-efficient; tons of standard equipment
The Bad: Cramped rear seat, higher sticker than the Mercedes E550 Cabriolet
The Bottom Line: A near-perfect balance of luxury, performance, and safety

Make: BMW
Model: 650i Convertible
Model Year: 2012
Body Type: Two-door, four-passenger
Price Class: Premium

Up Front

The newly redesigned BMW 650i offers a near-perfect balance of luxury, performance, and safety. It’s blander-looking than the previous-generation 650i, with its controversial Chris Bangle styling, but for many people that will be a plus. In every other respect, from roominess to fuel economy to quickness and handling, the new 650i is a major improvement over the outgoing model. However, the new Mercedes E550 Cabriolet has a hot new V8 engine and lower sticker price that make it a formidable rival to the Bimmer.

One of the big improvements in the 650i is a powerful new engine: a twin-turbo, 4.4-liter, 400-horsepower (40 hp more than before) V8 that generates an incredible 450 lb.-ft. of torque. The V8 in the Jaguar XK can’t match that power, but the 2012 E550 Cabriolet comes close: Its new V8 is rated at 402 hp and generates 443 lb.-ft. of torque.

As a result, the Mercedes is now about as quick as the Bimmer. The 2012 650i Convertible does zero to 60 in 4.9 seconds, compared with 5.0 seconds flat for the 2012 Mercedes E550. Top speed in both cars is electronically limited to 130 miles per hour (rising to 150 mph in the 650i if you opt for the sport package).

Another improvement in the 650i is its automatic transmission, a lightning-quick eight-speed that’s more efficient than the seven-speed in the Mercedes and the six-speed in the Jaguar XK. The BMW transmission’s advantage is an extra-tall top gear that boosts fuel economy at cruising speed. Equipped with the automatic, the 650i is rated at 16 miles per gallon in the city and 24 on the highway, slightly better than the 2012 Mercedes E550 (15/22) and Jaguar XK (16/22) convertibles.

Driving enthusiasts will be happy that the new 650i drop-top is also offered with a six-speed manual transmission, something not available on the 2012 Mercedes E550 and Jaguar XK. However, the automatic is quicker and more efficient than the manual transmission, which is why the 650i’s mileage falls to 15/22 with the stick shift.

BMW’s new drop-top starts at $92,375, including a $1,000 gas-guzzler tax—well above the 2012 Mercedes E550 convertible (starting price: $65,675), about comparable to the 2012 Jaguar XK ($91,375), and well below the $104,525 Mercedes SL550 Cabriolet.

The 650i Convertible doesn’t yet have government crash-test ratings, but safety is a selling point. Greater use of high-strength steel has made the car’s body 29 percent stronger than before, and standard safety gear includes stability and traction control, active head restraints, pop-up roll bars, and front, side, and knee-protecting air bags. Options include night vision ($2,600) and lane-departure and blind-spot warning systems (part of a $3,900 Driver Assistance Package).

The BMW 6 Series hasn’t been selling well in recent months, but that’s largely because BMW introduced the 650i Convertible in May, before the redesigned 650i Coupe, which is due out this fall. Compared with the same period in 2010, total U.S. 6 Series sales fell 43.3 percent in July, to just 560 units, and fell 15.7 percent, to 1,672, in the first seven months of the year. Convertibles have accounted for about 75 percent of 6 Series sales so far this year, BMW says, so total sales should pick up once the coupe arrives.

Behind the Wheel

In every respect but its weight, the new 650i is an engineering marvel. Curb weight is a very hefty 4,531 lb., but front/rear weight distribution is a nearly perfect 50.4 percent/49.6 percent (48/52 with the top down). The tortional rigidity of the car’s body is about 50 percent greater than in the previous model, which improves handling.

BMW achieved this combination of balance and greater rigidity through sophisticated use of advanced materials. In addition to more high-strength steel, the doors, hood, and front spring mounts of the 650i Convertible are all made of aluminum, while the front side panels and roof and trunk lids are made from reinforced composites.

I drove the new 650i back-to-back with the 2012 Maserati Gran Turismo Convertible, which weighs 166 lb. less. The BMW is not only noticeably quicker than the Maserati, but feels lighter and nimbler. The BMW’s electronic steering requires far less effort than the Maserati’s steering, which may not please driving enthusiasts but makes day-to-day travel much easier.

My test 650i Convertible came with active roll stabilization ($2,000), which keeps the heavy car under control during hard cornering and on rough pavement. Acceleration is very linear and smooth; you’re barely aware of how quick the car is. Despite the twin turbos, there’s no hesitation when you punch the pedal to the floor. As in other BMWs, you have a choice of four chassis settings (“comfort,” “normal,” “sport,” and “sport-plus”), and “sport-plus” dramatically increases throttle response.

The cabin has a functional, cockpit-style layout, with instruments that are angled slightly toward the driver, and a nifty new 10.2-in. display. BMW’s iDrive electronic controls have continued to become less and less complicated as they’ve evolved, and the big screen is another step forward in improving their ease of use.

At 192.2 in. by 75.4 in., the new 650i is slightly longer and wider than the previous model. The front-seat area is roomier than before, but the rear seat only accommodates two passengers and remains very cramped. When I had an adult passenger in the seat behind me, I was uncomfortably scrunched up against the steering wheel to provide enough room in back. Surprisingly, the Mercedes E550, which is shorter and narrower, about matches the interior space of the 650i (and has an equally cramped rear seat).

As in the previous 650i, the rear window retracts into the rear bulkhead rather than being integrated into the convertible top. That means the window can be lowered with the top up, for a open air experience, or raised with the top down to decrease air turbulence in the cabin.

The ragtop goes down at the push of a button in 19 seconds, by our count, and up in 23 (including closing the windows). Trunk space is a voluminous (for a convertible) 10.6 cu. ft. with the top down, enough for two 46-in. golf bags and slightly more than in the Mercedes E550 with the top down. Space rises to 12.3 cu. ft. with the top up. There’s a pass-through between the 650i’s rear seats for stowing long objects.

Buy It or Bag It?

The 2012 650i comes well-loaded with standard equipment that includes a navigation system, rearview camera and parking distance alert, dynamic cruise control, brake dryers, Xenon headlights that swivel into corners and curves, keyless entry, a sport suspension, and BMW Assist road service. There’s also no extra charge for the automatic transmission.

As a result, the 2012 650i sells for an average of $97,708, including options, according to the Power Information Network, which is only a bit over five grand more than its base price. That price makes the 650i a bargain next to such premium rivals as the $140,800 Maserati Gran Turismo.

As I’ve already noted, the 2012 E550 (starting price: $65,675) is far less expensive than the 650i (though the base price comparison is a little misleading because the BMW comes with more standard equipment). The E550 is nearly as quick as the 650i, much lighter, has a beautiful and similarly roomy interior, and offers the marvelous Aircap and Airscarf systems to keep the cabin comfortable during top-down driving. The E350 ($58,595) is slower but otherwise offers similar features at an even lower price.

Bottom line: The new BMW 650i Convertible is a terrific car, but test-drive the Mercedes E550 Cabriolet before buying.

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