From its active suspension to its cabin tech, the 2009 BMW 650i Convertible is the quintessential tech car, so we should be in love with this example of German engineering. But two design elements ruin what could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship: the 650i's trunk and iDrive's frustrating interface.
We could overlook these two faults, as the car is so enjoyable to drive thanks to its performance technology. And putting the convertible top down on a sunny day makes it even better, while cabin tech interfaces with cell phones and iPods, and lets us avoid bad traffic. But these positive elements can be found on other BMW models, such as the new 3-series, leaving the 650i as the ugly sibling.
On the road
We can't just jump into a BMW and take off, at least not initially. First, there's cell phone pairing, a task made easy with the car's onscreen instructions. We particularly like that BMW lets us use a custom PIN between car and phone.
Once the phone is set up, then we select our music source. In the 2009 BMW 650i Convertible, that means a choice between satellite radio, CD, or iPod. As we already paired an iPhone to the car's phone system, we might as well plug it into the iPod port and stow it in the center console.
And before we roll out of the garage, we have to set the 650i Convertible for the type of driving we will be doing. First of all, what's the weather like? Sunny. So, we put the convertible top down. Now, as we are initially going to be on city streets, we make sure the suspension is in normal mode and the transmission is in Drive.
Yes, there's a lot to do before pushing the gas pedal, but once the car is set up, it exhibits those BMW driving characteristics we know and love. The 650i is a big car with a big engine, but, in classic coupe configuration, the rear seats are virtually useless.
In tight urban conditions, the car is easily maneuverable, with the thick steering wheel providing quick turn response. And even with the transmission in Drive mode, the 4.8-liter engine offers the ready power required to take advantage of traffic openings. Cruising on the freeway, the 650i shows its luxury side. Even with the top down, the ride is nice at 70 mph, and the audio system manages to overcome wind and road noise.
When we finally make it to the mountain roads, with all their twists and turns, the 650i shows how easily it handles sport driving. Pushing the Sport button on the console tightens up the suspension, and pushing the shifter over to the Sport/Manual side keeps engine speed high. Although an automatic, this transmission does a good job of seeking the right gear, downshifting when you hit the brakes in preparation for powering through a turn.
And it's this dual character--the capability to go from cruising to hard cornering with minimal fuss--which typifies BMW engineering, and shows itself to a good degree in the 650i Convertible.
In the cabin
We obviously found a lot to like while driving the 2009 BMW 650i Convertible, and some of its cabin tech contributes to the experience. But we can't say that about the iDrive interface, which includes frustrations such as taking four control moves just to get a map displayed. Fortunately, BMW is in the process of radically updating this interface. We got our first taste of the new iDrive in the , and found it a vast improvement.
The navigation system in the 650i Convertible is a mixed bag. Being DVD-based, its response times are slow, which can make entering a street address particularly tedious as you wait for it to update a list of street or city names. But it has some nice features as well, such as live traffic with automatic detouring. It will look along a programmed route and alert you to any traffic slowdowns, and offer to find a detour.