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BMW 645Ci Convertible review (2004-2005)
Bodystyle: 2dr convertible
Engine: 4.4-litre V8
Fuel type: Petrol
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Date of test: March 2004
What is it?
BMW's large, luxurious grand-touring coupe, the 6 Series, has spawned an open-top rival. This is the first-even 6 Series convertible, and is likely to make an even bigger impact than its already jaw-dropping coupe sibling. Styling, like so many newer BMWs, represents real boundary-pushing bravery, from the edgy-yet-rounded nose, to the rounded rear topped by a huge bootlid-cum-spoiler. Be in no doubt, it's very different from any rival, and possesses huge impact. But beauty? Not a natural sort, but prolonged exposure resolves initial doubts, and makes the competition appear, well, staid.
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Where does it fit?
Those rivals include the Mercedes SL 350, Jaguar XK8, Maserati 4200 GT and, perhaps, the Porsche 911. Unlike some of them, most notably the Mercedes, the BMW possesses four seats, not two. Unlike many others, it's entirely feasible to carry those four in fair comfort, so long as the front passengers are prepared to compromise a little. BMW GB is confident that the 6 Series will sell around 850 units in convertible form, on top of the annual 1,700 coupes, but admits its position is helped somewhat by the age of its main rival, the XK8. When a new Jaguar model arrives in 2005, things will become much more competitive.
Is it for you?
It can feasibly seat four. It has a 350-litre boot with the roof up (2342 litres with it down). The 333bhp 4.4-litre V8 engine offers a choice of three gearboxes - manual, auto and paddle-shift semi-auto. There's a bewildering range of options, from active anti-roll bars, to 'head up display' instruments (they're projected on the windscreen), to an in-dash television. But what'll be of interest to most people is the hood - quite rightly. It's fantastic. Rejecting a folding hard-top in the quest for space and styling, BMW has developed the best folding soft-top roof in the world. Key figure? It raises or lowers in 20 seconds, at speeds up to 20mph to save looking like a fool at the traffic lights. But does a lot more besides?
What does it do well?
Such as add to the car's looks - rather than detract from them - offer total isolation from the elements and zero wind noise, even feature an independent vertical rear window which can be raised with the roof down to act as a wind deflector (which is most effective, even at high motorway speeds). Or, ingeniously, lower when the roof's up to enhance air circulation inside. It works fantastically well. As does the car's chassis, which is as stiff and as sharp as the coupe, no mean feat. It demolishes poor roads with total composure, proving unfussed and competent no matter how much of a hooligan the driver is. Grip is strong, the steering accurate and informative, and even flooded roads or high winds don't knock it off its arrow-straight path at speed. The engine? Fantastic, there's no other word. Quiet and smooth when you want it to be, but with a glorious-sounding, rich and smooth burble when you're in the mood, it's extremely rapid too and utterly delicious.
What doesn't it do well?
It doesn't handle with the driver-led interaction of a Porsche 911, but then it's not that sort of car. Less of a sports car, more of a GT; there's negligible body roll and utter composure at all speeds, but the extra edge offered by the Porsche is filtered out. Ride quality can also seem a little unsettled over rougher roads, due to the stiff run-flat tyres, but again this is less of an issue at speed. Perhaps the biggest quibble will be i-Drive. Instead of a plethora of buttons, BMW replaces many functions with a central computer mouse-like controller. It's bewildering at first, which will deter many, but does gradually become more intuitive. Take time to learn it and it's satisfying - but there will be continual frustrations until you do.
What's it like to live with?
This is a big car, which will be an issue when parking, but the benefits are that large boot and four-seater capability. Standard parking sensors also ease things; it's one of the best systems on the market. The interior is also built to a very high standard, with indulgent, plush materials. Even the carpet is thick and as soft as the leather-clad seats. Fuel economy of under 25mpg in automatic guise (oddly, less for the manual) is not exactly fantastic though, and while equipment is extensive as standard, get tempted by the options and you'll end up spending a lot more. But as with other newer BMWs, a five-year all-inclusive servicing and maintenance package is offered for a small sum, and depreciation will never be vast due to this car's desirability and low annual sales. Just get used to turning heads for many years to come.
Would we buy it?
For long-distance touring, the BMW 6 Series Convertible is a fantastic partner. Smooth, rapid and refined, it's also an open-top in seconds yet a roomy lugger for essentials such as the inevitable booze cruise. It turns heads, is satisfying to drive and, while it may not be as driver-focused as a Porsche 911, it's still satisfying to drive. The engine is exceptional (it's even won an 'engine of the year' award) and, once you've mastered i-Drive, the interior environment is satisfying. We'd buy it instead of a Jaguar XK8, without a doubt, and would also reject a Maserati 4200 GT in its favour. Mercedes SL 350? Different cars really, but the BMW may get the nod through extra drama, four seats and that engine. Porsche 911? If we were looking at this, we probably wouldn't be in the market for a 911, they're that different. So it looks like BMW's done itself proud. Acclimatise yourself to the looks and you'll be proud to own one.
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