2012 BMW 650i review

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Going into this test drive, I did not have high hopes. Frankly I wasn’t even that excited about testing this car. My last experience in a BMW 6 Series did not go well. To say I was unimpressed would be an understatement. This one looked like more of the same, just in a different wrapper.

The Walkaround

At least it’s an attractive wrapper. The new 6 strikes a much nicer pose – in my opinion – than its predecessor. A last gen car was on hand to compare and my opinion is substantially more favorable. It shares the more upright grille of its 5 Series and 7 Series cousins, and the back isn’t as objectionable as before. Having said that, I’m not 100% sure it will have the same staying power as the E24 version from the ’80’s. Looks, however, are always an exercise in subjectivity. Undoubtedly you’ll form your own opinion.

Inside

Moving to the interior, they’ve moved the 650i into an upper level category. Now the interior materials compare with the 7 Series, vs the 5 Series as before. While interiors have never been a BMW hallmark, this one is pleasing. I’m still not convinced it matches the price tag, but that’s something I’ve noted in every BMW test I’ve ever written. They seem to prefer to put their money into the mechanicals, which is fine by me.

Everything is screwed together tightly and the controls fall readily to hand. Seats are comfortable and adjust to any body type and position, with just enough snugness to remind you that BMW emphasizes performance above all else. The seats were the standard fare ones, not the active ones that work to squeeze your kidneys every time you go around a corner. Gauges are the traditional simple BMW affair – tach, speedo, temp, and fuel. They’re brightly lit and easily readable at a glance. All the expected luxury items are present and accounted for.

BMW has installed their latest and greatest version of iDrive, which according to them makes things simpler because frequently accessed controls now have a shortcut button near the iDrive controller. Maybe it works better, maybe it doesn’t. I don’t look forward to driving BMW’s to play with electronics – I look forward to see if they live up to being The Ultimate Driving Machine. As a side point though, the optional ceramic controls for the iDrive system are a very cool touch.

Mechanicals

Thankfully, they’ve installed a real engine this time. The 650i is powered by a twin turbo V8 good for 400hp. It also features BMW’s variable valve timing system to even out the powerband from idle to redline. Gear changes are handled by an 8 speed automatic, with manual override of the gear selection from the shifter or from paddles mounted behind the steering wheel.

Peeking out from behind the rims are some serous braking hardware, reaffirming this cars mission as a driving tool. The calipers wouldn’t look out of place on an Italian exotic. One noticeable missing option is colored calipers. Hardware this serious looking should be displayed proudly. After all, at this point you’re already into this car for $95,000 (test price), what’s a few hundred more for some bling?

The typical BMW safety systems are present to save you from yourself – ABS, stability, brake force distribution, adaptive Xenon’s, and so on.

Driving

Now for what you really want to know – the drive. Fire it up with the start/stop button in the dash and the 4.4L engine rumbles to life. You can select different modes to change the 650i’s behavior – Comfort, Normal, Sport, and Sport +. My test drive was conducted entirely in Sport. This is a BMW afterall.

If you have any experience with turbo engines then you’re probably familiar with turbo lag. In the 650i, however, there’s almost none present. There’s just the slightest split second pause when giving it gas when starting off, but after that the turbos are unnoticeable. Also sharing a split-second pause is calling for gearshifts manually. Whether using the paddle mounted shifters or the selector on the console gearshifts need to be planned about 500 RPM before your desired shift point. Downshifts are rev matched to aid smoothness.

The V8 will move the 650i with startling urgency. The BMW rep I spoke with before the test drive said 0-60 arrives in 4.5 seconds. The 650i never feels like it is wanting for power. Neither will you whether playing stoplight grand prix or entering the highway. If you choose to keep your foot in it, the V8 pulls like a freight train – never letting up even beyond highway speeds.

Stopping is equally capable. With extra large hardware, stopping from any speed is drama free. Smash the pedal in a panic and the 650i feels like someone threw a boat anchor out of the back. The only drama is from your spine deforming under the braking pressure. If you smash the pedal in a panic stop, BMW has installed extra LED lights on the tail that come on in addition to the regular lights, making it clear to the driver behind you that you’re stopping NOW.

Put the 650i in a turn and there’s a lot of confidence baked into this chassis. You never feel out of control. There’s excellent communication and you understand what is going on under the wheels at all times. Note too this car had the standard steering setup – not the optional ‘active’ system that is said to reduce feel.

This is a convertible so the entire test was conducted with the top down. Wind buffeting is commendably low. Even on the highway turbulence is very well controlled. Kudos to the aerodynamicists in BMW’s employ. Also of note the structure is as rigid as a rock. No flex was detected even on Michigan’s blown out roads.

Final thoughts

Here’s the thing though – in many BMW’s I’ve driven there’s always a certain playfulness built into the car. It wants you to push it, it wants you to drive it, there’s an encouragement to explore the upper limits. But not in this car. It’s very capable, it’s very confident. It has all the right moves. But at a certain point you lose interest in pushing harder. It just doesn’t want to play. It’s entertaining, but once you hit maybe 6/10th’s there’s just no valid reason for exploring further. The car certainly doesn’t egg you on. I would attribute this to a 4500lb curb weight. The engine note is a few decibels too quiet as well. Part of the fun of having a performance car is being able to hear the engine rev. Even with the top down, there’s not a lot of aural excitement.

I suppose I should put that in context. I like performance, I love performance driving, and I like cars that work with their driver. Many past BMW’s come to mind that would fit that description. Now, if what you’re looking for in a car is a competent and sometimes entertaining cruiser, there will be a lot to like here. There’s also just enough high performance hinted at here to make me anxious to see what BMW has in mind when the inevitable M6 is released. But ultimately, for this enthusiast, I’ll have to find that excitement elsewhere.

 Used with permission from Chris Horner www.LensArtwork.com

Chris Horner

About Chris Horner

Chris Horner is an award winning freelance photographer based in Charlotte, North Carolina. He specializes in fine art images and commercial photography.