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BMW 650i SE Convertible

Click to view picture gallery“The new BMW 6 Series two-door
  Convertible arrives in UK showrooms
  with the choice of two turbocharged
  petrol engines (the 315bhp 640i
  and the 650i with 401bhp), a newly-
  developed chassis, new eight-speed
  auto ’box and a host of driver
  assistance technologies to ensure
  the newcomer isn
t all show but
  no go

NOTHING THIS GOOD COMES CHEAP — as confirmed by the prices: the 640i SE Convertible costs 65,680 on-the-road and the 650i SE 73,430; and, if you're in a box-ticking mood, there are desirable options that will add a further 11K to these prices.

BMW UK expects to sell around 1,000 6 Series Convertibles in its first full year although the main seller will be the yet-to-arrive 640d turbodiesel, likely to cost around 70K. Previously, the diesel version accounted for three out of every four 6 Series Convertibles sold in the UK but the forecast for diesel sales of this latest generation model is less: just two out of four.

The new 6 Series two-door Coupe won't be joining it's glamorous drop-top sister until later this year, and if BMW continues its comparable pricing as with the outgoing range, the new Coupe should be 6,000 less expensive than the Convertible. Intriguingly, BMW says a four-door 6 Series Gran Coupe will join the range in the future.

Gone is the brashness
of the outgoing model
and in has come
a new refined longer,
 lower and wider look;
 but one that’s even more
powerful in its stance
and road presence
The UK is BMW's equal-second largest market in the world for 6 Series Convertible/Coupe sales behind the USA and equal with Germany. In the UK, the Convertible body style accounts for 42% of 6 Series sales and 58% of customers for both body styles are corporate buyers.

The 6 Series Convertible, with a 17% market share in its premium brand segment, will sell against the Jaguar XK Convertible (which takes 43% of sales), the Mercedes-Benz SL (30% market share) and the Maserati Gran Cabrio which has 10%.

BMW says the UK's premium brand Convertible, Coupe and Roadster market segment is showing signs of recovery and the sector is expected to nearly double its sales in the next five years to around 10,000 units.

And BMW has unquestionably got it right with the new 6 Series Convertible. Gone is the brashness of the outgoing model and in has come a new refined longer, lower and wider look but one that's even more powerful in its stance and road presence.

The front sports a wide and more elegant treatment with the trademark kidney-shaped grille holding centre-stage flanked by distinctive streamlined headlights and underscored by a full-width lower grille.

Muscular wheel arches front and rear are linked by deeply sculptured side panels and two wide-opening doors. To cap it all off is the fast-acting, electronically-controlled fabric soft-top which can be raised or lowered whilst on the move. The long bonnet and longer wheelbase with horizontal rear styling details gives the car a more purposeful appearance a thing of beauty for sure, and just great as an elegant grand tourer.

Inside the 6 Series Convertible the 2+2 layout is also beautifully put together. In the front there is a 'twin cockpit' design just like an upmarket powerboat with the instrument panel canted towards the driver. All the controls, of which there are many, are well placed and, after a while, easy to use. In the back, the two shapely seats provide more leg and headroom than in the previous Six drop-top.

The hood is well insulated and easy to raise and lower (in seconds) including the automatic lowering and raising of the front and rear side windows and the rear glass 'draught excluder' which stops buffeting in the cabin with the roof down. Thanks to the low-set seating positions, passengers are not troubled by the wind when driving with the top down.

Inside the 6 Series
Convertible the 2+2
layout is also beautifully
put together.
In the front there is a
‘twin cockpit’ design
just like an
upmarket powerboat
with the
instrument panel canted
towards the driver
With the hood in place, the interior is well insulated and hushed and it's easy to hold a conversation. The only negative points are that, unlike Mercedes' convertibles, the 6 Series does not have front seatbelt 'presenters' to make buckling-up that bit easier, and neither does it have the now fairly commonplace 'scarf heat' or neck warming airflow system in this class of Convertible, it's a surprising omission.

The good news is that in spite of the full-fold-away-into-the-boot roof, the 6 Series Convertible's luggage area (300-350 litres) is still large enough for two overnight cases and two briefcases.

The new 6 Series Convertible also comes with the highest-ever level of standard specification on a Six. Standard for the 640i Convertible are 18-inch lightweight alloy wheels; the 650i Convertible gets 19-inchers. Both derivatives feature Dakota leather upholstery with Sun Reflective Technology, eight-speed Sport automatic transmission, electric seat adjustment, BMW Professional Multimedia Navigation system, Xenon headlights, LED front fog lights and front and rear Park Distance Control to name but a few of the standard specification highlights.

The BMW ConnectedDrive provides a range of systems and services that, even in the premium luxury segment, are unique: features such as Surround-view, BMW Night Vision with pedestrian recognition, Park Assist, Lane Change Warning System, Lane Departure Warning System and Speed Limit Display are all offered.

The new model is also the only car in its segment to be available with a Head-up Display system and the latest generation features a full-colour display and three-dimensional graphics for an even sharper image. The standard 12GB hard disk can store numerous forms of music as part of the standard Professional Multimedia Navigation system, while BMW Online systems connect the driver and passengers with the wider world through an integrated SIM card.

It isn't all play and no work though: BMW is the first carmaker in the world to offer in-car email display via Bluetooth the owners of a BlackBerry smartphone can access their mobile phone's email folder using the iDrive control system. Using a new interface, it is possible to receive e-mails, show them on the Control Display and have them read aloud using a text-to-speech function.

Refinement throughout is first class and that applies to the drivetrain as well. As already mentioned, the new 6 Series Convertible is available from launch with two turbocharged petrol engines: the V8 650i and the in-line six-cylinder 640i.

Performance is blistering — if required — but unruffled, smooth and flexible when life is more relaxed...”
The 4.4-litre eight-cylinder engine has each of its two turbos supplying four cylinders: 401bhp is developed between 5,500 and 6,400rpm, with peak torque of 442lb ft available between 1,750 and 4,500rpm. Enough for the 650i Convertible to sprint from zero to 62mph in 5 seconds, with a top speed electronically limited to 155mph.

For a model with such blistering performance it has an average combined fuel consumption of 26.4mpg and CO2 emissions of 249g/km. On test, driving in a relatively sedate and careful manner due to the wet weather on narrow Spanish mountain roads, this engine returned 22.2mpg. I'm sure it will be better in its long-legged cruising mode up and down motorways. The power delivery is refined and progressive but it can be brutal if required and the sound of the howling exhausts is just wonderful.

For the record, the six-cylinder in-line engine uses single turbocharger technology alongside direct injection with fully variable valve control timing. This enables the 3.0-litre unit to develop 315bhp at 5,800rpm and maximum torque of 331lb ft between 1,300 and 4,500rpm. And it's good for zero to 62mph in 5.7 seconds before going on to an electronically-limited top speed of 155mph. The 640i Convertible officially achieves 35.8mpg in the combined cycle, while CO2 emissions are only 185g/km. On test this model returned 25.5mpg.

Both engines are mated to a new eight-speed Steptronic automatic transmission which provides seamless gearchanges and adds further to the refinement of the new model.

Both models also have Drive Dynamic Control which provides for four driving modes Comfort through to Sport+ and adjusts the steering, transmission and throttle responses to meet the driver's needs. There's also the Adaptive Drive option (3,400), which adjusts the suspension to the required firmness and control.

Against? Elegance costs, so it is very pricey, there's no 'scarf heat' function for cold top-down days and no seatbelt presenters to complete the ultimate luxury and convenience package.

But there's lots to like: it's a hugely desirable grand tourer with elegant and imposing styling and a beautiful interior that's relatively roomy with a boot to match. Performance is blistering, if required, but unruffled, smooth and flexible when life is more relaxed.

Despite the weather in rainy Spain, the new 6 Series Convertible was not short on providing thrills (fortunately no spills) and all-in-all was, as BMW say in their current advertising, a 'Joyful' experience. David Miles

BMW 650i SE Convertible
| 73,430
Maximum speed: 155mph | 0-62mph: 5 seconds | Overall Test MPG: 22.2mpg
Power: 401bhp | Torque: 442lb ft | CO2 249g/km