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BMW 6 Series Convertible review (2011 onwards)
Summary - All-new BMW 6 Series debuts in Convertible guise ahead of the Coupé's arrival in September.
We like - powerful engine works well with gearbox, great long distance cruiser, all kinds of high-tech toys available
We don't like - interior feels cramped, never shrugs off its size, lacks emotional involvement
The previous BMW 6 Series arrived amid uproar - Chief of Design Chris Bangle's controversial 'flame surfacing' imbuing it with an edgy drama, born of plenty of people not liking it very much.
That's not to say it was a bad car - far from it - but at point of entry it looked outrageous, all raw and predatory and inorganic, a riposte to the elegance traditionally expected from sporting cars. Even large ones.
But we're used to it now. So it's almost disappointing to declare that this all-new BMW 6 Series keeps the overall look and general proportions but tones down the controversy considerably.
It's neater and sleeker, sure - but no-one is about to hand out a prize for contributions to originality here, and the gnarlier character has gone. Has it been sanitised a touch too much?
Which just goes to show car designers can never win. Perhaps in compensation for the lack of visual excitement BMW has crammed the new car full of technology, and is launching the Convertible considerably in advance of the Coupé.
This also explains the location - South Africa in January guarantees sun. In the same way that the 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 now powering the 650i ought to guarantee fun.
The 650i is the launch flagship in a range of two - the lesser 640i we didn't get to drive makes do with a 320hp 3.0-litre twin-turbo straight six. The V8 provides 407hp. Both are paired with an eight-speed 'Sport' automatic.
An extended flex of your right foot will leave you in absolutely no doubt that BMW's quoted 0-62mph time of five seconds flat for the 650i is entirely accurate. Unruffled speed is of the essence, and then some.
Standing start traction in the dry is assured - properly floor it and you'll get the faintest squawks of wheelslip then tremendous forward thrust, accompanied by muted gargling from the V8 and upshifts that sound like distant canon fire.
Thwump. And the acceleration just keeps coming; this car measures out its performance so surely you'll never chance an overtake ever again - you'll simply know when you've got the space to make it.
It doesn't take much space, either. The gearbox is quick to kickdown when left to its own devices, responds swiftly when you flap a paddle, and 442lb ft of torque takes care of business at all other times.
The only real disappointment is that the top speed is electronically limited to 155mph. Typical.
Ride and handling
The new 6 Series Convertible might not look massively different to the old one, but its structure is 50% torsionally stiffer. The penalty is an increase in weight from 1,860kg to 1,940kg. Ouch.
However, the additional rigidity means it feels less floppy with the roof down. To the point where on a reasonably decent surface you can actually feel the suspension working, rather than the body flexing.
It becomes less convincing as the tarmac gets tougher, but since our test car was loaded with toys all we had to do was switch the adaptive suspension system from Sport to Comfort to regain some composure.
As part of the optional 'Adaptive Drive' system this also offers Sport+ and Normal settings, and is an upgrade over the standard Drive Dynamic Control (which does without the Comfort setting and active roll control).
As this suggests, BMW has clearly decided to throw technology at physics when it comes to managing the 650i's size and mass - also offering Integral Active Steering, which ups the agility by introducing a steering rear axle.
Plump for the whole package and you'll get a comfortable, highly competent cruiser - but despite BMW's best efforts it can't quite escape its bulk, so if you really want to go quickly the 650i begins to get disgruntled.
BMW interiors traditionally place a great focus on the driver, and in the new 6 Series the contoured centre console reflects this. The giant, contoured centre console...
This is now so massive it makes the front seats of what is not a small car feel claustrophobic - though that's nothing compared to the problems in the back where legroom is decidedly lacking.
But then, this is a 2+2 rather than a true four-seater, and all the obvious rivals are exactly the same. The build quality inside the BMW is also immaculate, which isn't something you can say about every competitor.
There are toys aplenty here, too - a flat-screen-style monitor, iDrive, full colour spectrum Head-Up Display, and the latest version of BMW ConnectedDrive.
Economy and safety
BMW ConnectedDrive covers a considerable gamut of integrated convenience technologies. This ranges from smartphone and internet connectivity - you can access email on the move, for example - to significant safety features.
This includes standard 'dynamic' stability control systems, optional Night Vision with pedestrian detection and Parking Assist, plus newer gadgets like Lane Keep Assist and Surround View cameras.
Moving on to the economy, well, a 4.4-litre V8 is never going to paint a pretty picture in this regard - let alone one with a pair of turbos nestled within the V of its cylinder banks.
For what it's worth 26.4mpg combined and 249g/km CO2 is an impressive achievement for a drop-top with this level of potency; at 35.8mpg and 185g/km the 640i is positively saintly by comparison, thanks in part to start-stop as standard.
A diesel will join the range when the Coupé arrives in September. Badged 640d and powered by latest and greatest version of BMW's familiar 3.0-litre turbo, this could well turn out to be the pick of the range.
The MSN Cars verdict
The new BMW 650i Convertible is great car in many important respects. It's fast, technologically advanced, and can crush continents with its consummate cruising ability.
But somehow it's not exciting. It left us cold - appreciative, yes, emotionally engaged, no. And at this end of the market emotion matters every bit as much as the price.
Which, at £73,480 for the 650i before you start adding options, isn't exactly small change, either. For the money we'd want something more evocative, while BMW seems to prefer highly effective.
|Need to know|
|Engines, petrol||3.0, 4.4|
|Engines, diesel||Coming September|
|Torque, lb ft||332-442|
|0-62 mph, secs||5.0-5.7|
|Top speed, mph||155 (limited)|
|CO2, tax||185-249 / 25-35|
|Ratings||BMW 650i Convertible|
|Ride & handling||****|
|MSN Cars verdict||****|
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