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Review: 2012 BMW 650i Convertible

Kamil Kaluski January 3, 2012 BMW Reviews, Road Test Reviews 27 Comments

In a perfect world, vehicle evaluations would occur in the environment the vehicle was designed for: a VW Jetta at a sorority house, a Range Rover at Short Hills Mall, and a Toyota Corolla in the left lane of a four-lane highway going 50mph. When I was told that I would have the 2012 BMW 650i for a weekend I knew exactly where I had to go with it.

Wikipedia, for the lack of better sources, defines Grand Tourer better than I can:

(Italian: gran turismo) (GT) is a high-performance luxury automobile designed for long-distance driving. The most common format is a two-door coupé with either a two-seat or a 2+2 arrangement.

The term derives from the Italian phrase gran turismo, homage to the tradition of the grand tour, used to represent automobiles regarded as grand tourers, able to make long-distance, high-speed journeys in both comfort and style. The English translation is grand touring.

Grand tourers differ from standard two-seat sports cars in typically being engineered as larger and heavier, emphasizing comfort over straight-out performance. Historically, most GTs have been front-engined with rear-wheel drive, which creates more space for the cabin than mid-mounted engine layouts. Softer suspensions, greater storage, and more luxurious appointments add to their driving appeal.

And grand touring we shall go! Sort of. It was 1AM on mid-December Sunday night. It was the first freezing night of this rather warm New England winter and the 650i I was provided with happened to be a convertible. I don’t like convertibles. Drop tops are heavier, more complex, louder, have limited visibility, and they give me weird feelings of being exposed and vulnerable (I’ll explain this to my shrink one day). Regardless, I packed up my brown leather overnight bag, donned my best GAP® jeans, casual Dr. Marten’s, and a decent looking, yet comfortable, brand-name sweater I got for my birthday. A fancy watch timepiece completed my look, which was that of a working-class preppy guy in someone else’s car… I wasn’t fooling anyone.

In my life to date, I have owned six BMW automobiles, and as of the past few years I’ve been really falling out of love with this brand. Starting with the E65 7-series, the vehicles became more “styled” rather than engineered. The mechanicals have become unnecessarily complex, interiors became awkward, and the whole brand seemed to have gone away from making the ultimate driving machines. The M.O. became bringing joy to wannabe snobs who could almost afford to make their lease payments. The truth hurts.

BMW knows it too, and they want to change that. Is this car the beginning of this change?

Before my tour I decided to get familiar with the high-tech features of this vehicle:

  • There are cameras all around to help with slow-speed maneuvering, allowing top or rear views. Proximity sensors will display the distance to obstruction. I wish there was more front camera coverage as it was difficult to see where the front-end of the car actually ends.
  • Sleepy/drunk/busy/careless driver lane departure assistant is another nifty feature. It vibrates the steering slightly when the car crosses a lane without signaling, alerting that you are driving like a stereotypical BMW owner. It’s awfully nice of the company to admit that there is an image problem and provide an awesome solution.
  • Working to actually reduce accidents and further minimize stereotypes is the “car in your blind spot” detection system. If there is a car in your blind spot, and you ignore the indication on the mirror while still attempting to change lanes, the wheel will vibrate, nudging you to remain in your lane. Thankfully that feature can be disabled for when you just want to cut someone off.
  • The HIDs headlights on this car were the best I’ve ever experienced. The projection and cut-off patterns were perfect. The LED fog-lights were even better, with a very bright white light illuminating the area directly in front and on the sides of the car. This was my first experience with LED lights; low price (compared to HID) very white natural light, lower power consumption, smaller/lighter packaging – consider me sold on the technology. The BMW “angel-eyes” on this car, and the plethora of new 5-Series I have seen on the road are as bright as typical headlights. I think they use those as “city lights” in Europe.
  • Ahh, the dreaded, hated by auto-journos, iDrive is… the best infotainment interface in business. Everything about it was easy and intuitive to use. No touch-screen, just a perfectly located knob with a few buttons. AM/FM (HD)/Sirius radios, CD, hard-drive, and iPod interface (which didn’t recognize my old iPod) should provide enough entertainment choices. If not, then connect your iPhone, use the “apps” feature and stream Pandora, amongst other things. Again, everything was super easy to use. When steering wheel controls were used, an additional display popped-up on the gauge cluster. My mother would be comfortable using the system.

From the driver’s seat:

  • The seat itself is again, one of the best I have recently “used”, better than a Bentley Continental or the Ferrari California. Unlike in the E90, the seat can be lowered enough to allow plenty of headroom for anyone over 6’6”. The adjustable headrest does not push on the back of your head like most modern cars (Ford is worst). Lumbar support is superior, inflatable and adjustable for height. Side bolsters are adjustable too, and can most likely fit a participant of The Biggest Loser before and after the transformation. The bottom cushion extends as it does on any BMW sport seat. Heating and ventilation are options that should be standard.
  • Visibility is not great. The beltline is high resulting in windows, which are not that tall. The side mirrors are small too, and with the top up the blind spots are huge. Get the optional camera and blind spot detection system mentioned above, they will pay for themselves and should really be standard.
  • Gauges, warnings, and information displays are very easy to use and see, especially by anyone who has driven a BMW in the last twenty years. It’s probably best in business.
  • The controls for the climate system are separate from the iDrive. Knobs and big buttons, all turned towards the driver make it easy to use. Unlike some other manufacturers, this is a true “set and forget” system. On my long drive I was never uncomfortable,  and never had to touch the controls. The opposite is true in a car like the Acura TSX, where I found myself constantly adjusting the system.
  • Once located around the shifter, the window switches are now on the armrests. The 650i had two additional buttons, one for lowering all windows are once and one for the rear window. The rear window can be opened with the top raised for ventilation (think old station wagon and pickups), or raised with the top down where it works as a wind blocker. More cars should have a rear window that opens.
  • Best cup-holders of any BMW, ever. Also a nice cell phone holder and 12v receptacle in the center console storage space (don’t call it an ashtray). The small glove box-sans-light is complimented by large door pockets, and a huge center console storage.

Grand Tour, part I, the highway:

  • Despite the premium sound system, audio quality was merely ok. This was probably due to the convertible top packaging, and the smaller speakers.
  • The silly paddle shifters aren’t needed. Too many gears in this 8-speed transmission, and the 8th gets locked out in sport mode.
  • Comfort mode allowed the bimmer to, at times, achieve an old Cadillac-like float, without the ill side effects. The ride was hampered only by the no-profile dub tires, which at times transmitted some of the bigger road irregularities directly inside to the cabin. A set of nineteen inch wheels would probably give more comfort without diminishing handling.
  • Road noise through the fabric top, while not bad, was noticeable, especially when passing big trucks. Why BMW went with a metal folding top on the 3-series and not on the 6-series is beyond me. Nostalgia perhaps? Having said that, the car looks pretty cool with the top up.

Grand Tour, part II, the Merritt Parkway:

(insert TopGear Car vs. Something Race finale-like music)
  • Sport mode, engaged! The steering wheel feels tight. It presents itself slightly more firmly when turned. As mentioned before, eighth gear is locked out, and the shifting gets faster. Those are the most noticeable changes. The iDrive screen informed me of suspension changes, but I must admit those were not as transparent. In SportPlus (fasterer mode?), the stability control allows for sliding of the rear end, but I wasn’t in the mood to experience that.
  • Top down!
  • Windows up! Rear wind-blocker up! (like the pansy that I am)
  • Heated seat on highest setting! I miss the Mercedes-Benz Air Scarf, which blows hot air onto the driver’s neck.
  • Steering wheel heat on! You can even feel it through a set of leather gloves.
  • Heater blower on high! Directed at feet and dash.
  • LED fog-lights on!! No rear-fog light which would complete the “I’m a tool effect”.
  • Side windows up!!! I hate when people do that but it’s damn cold!
  • Rear window up!! I also hate the wussy rear deflectors, if you have a convertible; you must drive like a man!!!! But it was sssoooo cold!!!
  •  “Classic vinyl” on satellite radio on!!! Because I couldn’t access the “drive” playlist on my iPod. And I’m off…

I was freezing within two minutes. Stopped just eight miles later, it was time to put on a jacket. I hate driving while wearing a jacket and I was really expecting not to be cold. Four miles later, I was cold again, specifically my lower back. I actually didn’t know if my lower back was frozen from the back draft or burning from the heated seat, but either way it was the opposite of comfort.

No matter, I still drove the entire 30-mile length of the Merritt with the top down. I was freezing, and I probably looked like a complete tool [Ed. Note – Probably?] to other people on the road, but damn was it fun! Predictably, the big Bimmer was overall quite good. There were no surprises in its chassis tuning, be they good or bad. The BMW 650i was simply a proper fun-loving machine, kind of like… the Bimmers of decades ago. Furthermore, after my three-hour journey I felt relaxed, happy, and wanted to keep going. And that, right there, is the difference between driving and grand touring.

The 6 Series starts at $74,000 for the six-cylinder 640i, and goes up to $93,500 for the all-wheel-drive 650i convertible (a BMW first). That’s before options, of course, and before the next-generation M6 arrives to push the price well past the century mark. My well-equipped 650i stickered at $104,000.


That’s a lot when you consider that a not-much-bigger-inside, loaded M3 convertible, or an Audi S5 can be had for a lot less. But the truth is that none of those can be considered proper Grand Touring vehicles like the 650i.

This updated 6 Series should instead be compared to similar products from Maserati and Aston Martin, and that’s when it practically becomes a bargain.


  • alewifecove

    Saw one in the city yesterday. Fugly as all get out. Still cannot accept the 6 moniker on that barge

    • I think it looks better than the previous generation, but yea, especially the font could use some help. It drives great tho.
      I think that the new 5-series is gorgeous.

      • alewifecove

        Compared to the last few generations yes. I like the proportions of grille. More classic looking.

        Still wish I had that 2002 again…

  • dculberson

    Did you turn the heat all the way up? I've driven in the winter with the top down a lot and it helps to crank the temperature setting all the way up. Granted, I wasn't driving a BMW 650, but I can only assume its heat would be even more plentiful than a Miata's.

    ps. $104k? WOW. That's only 30 times as much as my most expensive car…

    • All the way up….

    • FuzzyPlushroom

      …and 520 beat-assed, smoky Volvo 745 Turbos.

      I'm obviously nowhere near the target demographic.

  • M44Power

    "…as of the past few years I’ve been really falling out of love with this brand. Starting with the E65 7-series, the vehicles became more “styled” rather than engineered. The mechanicals have become unnecessarily complex, interiors became awkward, and the whole brand seemed to have gone away from making the ultimate driving machines. The M.O. became bringing joy to wannabe snobs who could almost afford to make their lease payments."

    Bravo. This sums up my feelings exactly and why I can't even bring myself to learn the new model's chassis codes. They have become statements of modern design and lifestyle branding- the antithesis of how the brand established itself. I've owned BMWs for 15 years. I've owned all the ones I am interested in and doubt I will own another one anytime soon.

    Diatribe over… WTF is up with the chopped off anteater nose on this thing? BMW seems to want to revive the forward-leaning kidney grill. But can't they do it in a more harmonious fashion?

    • I owned an E28 M5, E34 535i, E35 318iS, E39 525iT, and two E46s. 🙂

      I have no idea what they're doing with the front. I don't like the 6 front-end, whereas I love the new 5-series. The new 5 is actually the first new bimmer I have liked in many years.


      • M44Power

        It does seem like BMW is rediscovering their ability to crank out a handsome sedan. Shame about the simulated engine noises though.

  • FuzzyPlushroom

    The lane departure assist sounds remarkably like a rumble-strip simulator – was it a comparable feeling through the wheel? Those tend to irritate me when I'm not tired and attempting to hit the apexes on a deserted late-night stretch of VT 9, but they're certainly useful on the shoulders of interstates.

    • jeepjeff

      Some racetracks have rumble strips. Just think of it as a "racetrack simulator".

      (Or as I do, something to be removed because it breaks and gets in the way of repairing important stuff that also breaks. I, personally, am about to find out just how annoying it is to work around my A/C compressor. Also, cruise control servos and what not.)

    • In feel yes, but the soothing rhythmic noise was lacking. 🙂

      • FuzzyPlushroom




        God damn it.


        Oh come on, that one was a foot away from the double yellow. How much were these guys smoking?

  • Chris Horner

    I agree with a lot of what you wrote except at the very end. Anyone shopping a Maser or AM will find those blow away the 650i as a tourer. The sensations are different, and build quality and materials are in another ballpark. This gen 6 is better than the last one, but overall a disappointment when looking at the price tag.

  • sport_wagon

    "Before my tour I decided to get familiar with the high-tech features of this vehicle:"


    "Allow me to list all the shit that will inevitably break and cost a fortune to repair."

  • I think the bimmer would be much better from the "features" perspective, as the Maserati and AM use part bin parts of other manufacturers, many of which are way behind BMW themselves.

    In terms of a "tourer"… I don't know, I really couldn't find a fault in this car's driving characteristics or driver comfort. It's missing the bling factor of the other two, that's for sure.

  • Van_Sarockin

    Another impressive vehicle that leaves me cold. BMW should go back and clone the 630 CSi The fact that they think they need additional features simply means that they don't know how to properly market their vehicles. Or, they've found that porking the cars out really boosts the profit margins.

  • This grille leaves me optimistic for the next one, given where it came from. As others have said, it does seem like they're trying to sort of pick up where the E39 and E46 left off, stylistically.

    I can't even imagine what this car will cost to own in ~10 years. Seriously…like, when all that stuff starts to break, will they just sink to having $0 value like an old PC? Will enterprising aftermarketeers have their own stand-alone adruino controllers to replace the Bosch units?


    I'll take a review of an FSO Polonez over a review of the newest 6 series BMW any day 🙂 I don't think there are very many countries in the world left where driving a BMW is not associated with some sort of bad stereotype person or behavior!

  • wunno sev

    To pick nits with the Bimmer: the LED fogs may be very white, but you don't actually want that with fog lights. Ricers paint 'em yellow for a reason – white light is more of a hindrance in inclement weather than a help. Yellow lights – so I've heard – are great in rain and snow.

    I wouldn't know, because I'm not a ricer. But I did consider tinting the fogs on my old car, just to try it out.

  • M5Manny

    Awesome review Kamil!! Made me happy! 😉

  • Leo

    Gorgeous car !

    Excellent review.

  • Robert

    I chuckled at the mention of Range Rovers at the Short Hills Mall. I can imagine the rows of Evoques that will greet me if I get to go sight seeing there before next Christmas. As for the 650i, I'm stuck in the 80's when E24s didn't even have cup holders meaning this car with its tech and resulting price is lost on me.

  • Mae

    New body seems softer, less edgy than the previous body style. Electronic assists take the sports car feel away. The 6 serious used to really set itself apart, now appears to be just like the 5 & 7 series with a higher price tag for fewer doors.

    Diesel Repairs

  • I love bimmers, but this is just such a strange looking car. It reminds me of a warthog for some reason. The tires looks kinds of out of place, but I guess putting on 19' tires might solve that. The interior looks really nice, but I share the authors feelings on convertibles. I live in Texas where it's pretty much always sunny and I still don't see the point in owning one.

  • Nick Hanscome

    Driving a convertible in the cold will always be one of my favorite things. When I got my Miata at the end of April it was still snowing and I went to school that Monday in my snow coat with the top down heat blasting. I was smiling the whole way there and had everyone else on the road smiling too.