It all happened in a blur. Slow moving car in fast lane – check. Refuses to move to the slow lane despite flashing and honking – check. Move to the next lane to complete overtaking maneouvre – check. Detect dead mongrel on the road too late – check. Front-wheel hops and lands hard – check. Fear the worst for the double wishbones – check. Stop and complete check to note down any damage, and find none whatsoever – check. Relief – double check!
The new, third-gen BMW 650i is a tough cookie, then. So what if the bonnet, doors and boot are made of aluminium, the fenders of thermoplastic and the roof of weather-proof material? It can take punishment. Just hours before, we were driving down to a classic car event organised by our friends at Zigwheels, in Pune. The approach road to the venue wasn’t in the best of shape, with crater-sized potholes and some really bad stretches. But that didn’t seem to bother the BeeEm. The worrying front overhang and low bumper lip forced us to drive with a gentle hand, but the car scoffed at our caution.
With the wheelbase stretched by 75 mm, BMW have managed to liberate more room on the inside. A geek (such as myself) would tell you the figures in cubic volume, but simply put, the rear occupants have a wee bit more room, especially for their poor knee caps. Other improvements? The most obvious one is its looks. The last-gen was an attempt at making a baleen whale look pretty, but this one brings back the days of the first-gen shark nose that gave it such a cult following. Sharper in appearance, the new car isn’t scared to show the bulge on the bonnet and the corona headlamps just add to its newfound, menacing look. The interplay of surfaces below the light catcher give it a lot more character, but it’s at the rear where the dumpy ol’ second-gen looks, er... dumpy! The new tail lamps have more in common with Maserati than BMW, but heck, there’s never anything wrong with the way a Maser looks, right?
Oh yes, now that I have mentioned the wheelbase, let me also tell you that that’s exactly how much the length has increased by. Good on you, BMW! This car is based on the L6 platform that underpins the 5, 7, 5 Series GT, RR Ghost and the upcoming 6 Series Gran Coupe four-door (smart businessmen, eh?). Cars based on this platform tend to have better space than their predecessors (if any), ride better and have a slightly more neutered driving feel. So does that mean that the maker of the ‘ultimate driving machine’ has offered a car that is more aloof than its predecessor? Back to the basics, then.
Like every other BMW, you get the double-wishbone setup at the front and the Integral-V axle setup at the rear. There’s also BMW’s optional Adaptive Drive system that includes active anti-roll bars, and Dynamic Drive Control – that button on the central tunnel that can shift the car’s behaviour from to Normal to Sport and Sport+. Confused? Don’t be, because thankfully BMW left out Active Steering from our test car.
Corner carving isn’t the new 6 Series’ forte, but it definitely goes one up on its predecessor. Where the older car felt like a sea-going oil-tanker, this one has it somewhat better sorted. BMW have worked hard to keep the weight in check, which is why the kerb weight of the car (including 90 per cent fuel and all other fluids) is rated at 1940 kg, just 5 kg up. But the heft is evident the moment you corner hard. Do that and you can feel the weight transfer from one side to the other and given its size, it only gets amplified. Stick the Dynamic Drive Control into Sport or Sport+ and the otherwise lifeless steering suddenly develops weight in the most artificial manner I’ve seen on a car. It works fine, but don’t go looking for the natural feel of older BMWs in here. What saves the day for the 6 Series is the bags of grip that the 18-inch rubber has to offer. Sure enough, it feels stable at high speeds, but the steering starts to feel a bit too heavy in Sport or Sport+ modes and lacks on-centred feel. Still, the new 650i has taken the game forward for itself, but not entirely.
Where it has the competition licked, and really well, is in the performance department. At Rs 95 lakh ex-showroom, few cars can offer what the 650i does. Straight-line performance is what the 650i revels in. It’s the familiar 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 from the 7 Series and X6, with 407 bhp on offer and 61.2 kgm of peak torque from as low as 1700 rpm. Shift to Sport+, which switches off the traction control, raise the revs and the car lunges forward with a sense of serious rapidity. Despite all that mass, the 650i now smashes the tonne in just 5.32 seconds and if you stay committed, it will take you all the way to 260 kph, the last reading on the speedo. Quicker than the old car it surely is, but it’s also more effortless. The eight-speed dual-clutch auto is brisk in its upshifts and doesn’t show any signs of lag, but the closely stacked ratios for the lower gears mean you can’t exactly attack corners in anger. For city driving or high-speed cruising, the gearbox is faultless, the shifts are pretty smooth and when you select Sport or Sport+, it shifts at the redline. And the best bit is that BMW have dumped the pull-push paddles for the typical left-to-downshift, right-to-upshift variety. Despite all those gears and twin-turbos, the 650i isn’t the pinnacle of efficiency. Between sprinting, cruising and city-driving, it returned 4.9 kpl, which isn’t exactly what the doctor ordered, but with a large 80-litre tank, you can think about doing that drive to Goa from Mumbai – at least with one-and-a-half tankfuls.
How can I talk about a convertible and not talk about living in it? The folding mechanism takes just 19 seconds to open and 24 to shut, but not before a crowd surrounds you asking you to do it ‘once more’. Then there are the interiors, which, frankly are as well built as any BMW out there. Since the doors are built of aluminium, BMW has offered suction/magnetic doors that click-shut into place without the need to slam them – just to enhance their life. Double-leather stitching makes the car feel classy and the overall fit and finish is right up there. The seats themselves can be adjusted in a multitude of ways, including side bolstering, while a six-way lumbar support system is also thrown in. The rest of the dash is familiar territory, if you have spent time in a 5 or 7 Series, even down to the instrument binnacle. On the whole, none of the occupants will really crib about anything, as long as they understand the limitations of a convertible.
Compared to the previous iteration, it is better, bigger and bolder and drives better. At Rs 95 lakh, ex-showroom, strangely it is good value, when compared to some of the others who offer six-cylinder drop-tops or equivalent V8s that cost northwards of a crore of rupees, ex-showroom. It isn’t perfect though, and though it may be better than its predecessor, it still doesn’t have the makings of a class leader. What the 650i is, is a perfect, everyday grand-tourer for the uber-rich mid-40s Indian, and it has a lot of feel-good factor oozing from it. It fits that sort of a ‘check’list very nicely.