2010 BMW 650i convertible is a grand tourer

AP News
Posted: Nov 18, 2009 12:27 PM

The model year on the BMW 650i is 2010, but this lengthy, smooth-riding, luxury coupe and convertible feel a bit like yesteryear.

Theres the old BMW styling, with a back end that looks subtly "smushed" in and headlights that seem sliced off at the top. The roof is fabric and contrasts with the current trend of retractable hardtops on the latest, newest convertibles.

Inside, theres a clunky afterthought of a cupholder that has to be manually put in place next to the front passengers left leg and a back seat that can be cramped even for children.

And under the 650i hood is a premium gasoline-gulping V-8 that, when mated to a manual transmission in the convertible model, activates the federal governments gas guzzler tax and adds $1,300 to the cars price tag.

No wonder the 650i, sold as a two-door coupe and convertible, is BMWs slowest-selling car.

Indeed, with U.S. sales through the first 10 months of 2009 totaling just 3,207 cars, the 650i models are on track for their worst annual U.S. sales tally since the current 6-Series generation models debuted in calendar 2003.

Starting manufacturers suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $79,025 for a 650i Coupe. The test car was the 650i Convertible with a starting retail price, including destination charge, of $86,125.

Both coupe and convertible come with 360-horsepower V-8, standard six-speed automatic transmission as well as a raft of amenities including onboard navigation system, bi-Xenon headlamps, leather-trimmed seats and an audio system with a minimum of eight speakers.

In comparison, the 385-horsepower, 2010 Jaguar XK Coupe starts at $83,000, and the XK Convertible has a starting retail price of $89,000.

It was surprising to see how long the test 650i Convertible was, from bumper to bumper. Stretching nearly 16 feet, it was longer than the Chevrolet Equinox sport utility vehicle that I had tested the week before.

Yet, for all the length, the two back seats of this BMW were noticeably tight. With the roof on, there was only 36.5 inches of measurable headroom because of the sloping roofline. Legroom can be nearly nonexistent, depending on where the front seats are on their tracks. For the record, BMW reports an "effective" rear legroom measurement of 29 inches, while front-seat legroom is a generous 42 inches.

The interior is nice, in standard BMW fashion. For 2010, the automakers infamous iDrive control system for such things as navigation, telephone, audio and ventilation is improved by the addition of more buttons and a more intuitive series of onscreen menus.

I still had to get the hang of how to work this new, fourth-generation iDrive with its central knob and buttons. But the learning took far less time than on earlier iDrives, and it seems as if iDrive is slowly evolving to be more akin to the friendlier interface that Audi uses in its cars. Yes, theres more clutter with more buttons on the dashboard, but they save a driver from having to search zealously for the correct menu on the 8.8-inch screen.

Front seats in the test convertible were cushioned, yet firm, and had a rich appearance plus at least a dozen power adjustments.

The Convertible comes with sun reflective leather on its seats which BMW says is treated to reflect the suns rays and thereby reduce the heat that the seats absorb. Its also on armrests, head restraints and the gearshift lever _ places that a driver or passenger would touch.

The best part of the 650i Convertible tester was the oh-so-smooth ride and propulsion. This convertible traveled with a luxurious sense. Its suspension both managed the considerable body mass and provided a rather supple transport over road bumps.

This is one BMW thats not so much sporty as it is refined. There was no body shimmer or windshield shake as there is in some lesser convertibles. I barely noticed I was in a convertible and not in a car with a rigid roof.

At more than 4,200 pounds, the 650i Convertible felt hefty, but the 4.8-liter, double overhead cam V-8 moved it along well. There wasnt an out-of-control thrust of power when I pressed the accelerator pedal as much as there was a steady surge of power that propelled the car forward smoothly.

Torque peaks at 360 foot-pounds at 3,400 rpm, and while several other luxury cars top that number, the BMW has a gracious, rather than raw and unruly, sense about its power.

Fuel mileage is the pits, however. The tester with automatic transmission had a federal government mileage of just 15 miles per gallon in city driving and 23 mpg on the highway. I averaged less on both counts and realized that some SUVs do better with gas mileage than I did in this four-seat car. With the 650i models calling for premium gasoline, it can cost upwards of $55 today to fill the 18.5-gallon tank and travel maybe 300 miles.

I liked the nifty rear window in the convertible that could be opened or closed no matter if the roof is open or closed. Trunk space was a welcome surprise at 12.4 cubic feet with the roof on the car. It shrunk only a bit _ down to 10.6 cubic feet _ when the roof was stowed.

Standard safety equipment in the 650i Convertible includes antilock brakes, electronic stability control and even knee air bags for front-seat passengers. These air bags help keep passengers properly positioned during a crash impact.