By Jim MacPherson
On paper, the changes BMW made to the 2012 6-Series coupe and convertible seem underwhelming. Both the length and wheelbase are up by about three inches. The engine has been given 11 percent more power and the styling has been refined.
Minor tweaks? Hardly.
The result is a new 6-Series that has been transformed. Always technically impressive, it’s now much more fun to drive.
The new design is clearly based on the previous generation’s proportions and look, but the 2012 model is more stylish. It's sleek, muscular, and appears poised to pounce from any angle.
Thanks to a new engine and new eight-speed automatic transmission, this more powerful look doesn’t deceive. Replacing the last generation's 4.8-liter, 360-horsepower V-8 is a smaller, yet more powerful, 400-horsepower 4.4-liter twin turbocharged V-8.
You probably wouldn't know the engine was turbocharged thanks to its good throttle response and the ample power readily available at any speed. However, a smooth launch from a stop takes practice. Anything above a light touch on the throttle can produce a neck-snapping surge.
The eight-speed automatic transmission’s performance is close to perfection. A six-speed manual is offered at the same price.
The 650i convertible BMW loaned us had an interior that can be best described as a work of art. The design, materials and assembly were unassailable and front seat room and comfort were both top notch, despite the low seating position.
What was assailable was the rear seat room and comfort levels. As with the last edition of the 6-Series, the back seat is barely adequate for small children when the front seats are set for six footers. Few cars this size offer such little room.
The ride and handling can be adjusted by the driver. The settings are for comfort, normal, sport and sport+ operation. The comfort mode actually produced a little float over one pavement swell taken at speed. The normal setting exercised greater ride control and the two sport settings produced some exceptionally abrupt responses to sharp pavement breaks. Sport+ almost turns off the stability control, allowing for more entertaining cornering on a closed course.
Handling is excellent. Corners are taken with little lean thanks to the car's optional Active Roll Stabilization and the run-flat tires' grip is exceptional. Still, the 6-Series is too big and heavy to be considered an agile sports car. Rather it’s an excellent grand touring machine, able to swallow the miles effortlessly. Interstates and twisty secondary roads are handled with equal levels of competence. Only a slightly numb on-center feel from the electric power steering merits a minor demerit.
The power top in the 6-Series convertible retains its multi-layer folding fabric construction, complete with the flying buttress design at the back window when raised. Lowering the top is easy thanks to a pushbutton with no manual clasps to release. Raised, the top provides the noise and temperature control expected in a coupe. Aiding in this is the exceptionally solid body structure.
More power, a better design and a significantly upgraded driving feel, make this new 6-Series more competitive than ever. The other cars in the family fleet will probably have to adjust to playing second fiddle.
BMW 650i Convertible
Starts at: $90,500
Engine: Twin turbocharged 4.4-liter V-8
450 lb-ft of torque
Next Week: Audi A6