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I admit to being enough of a fan of the original BMW 6-series that I spent thousands of dollars trying to maintain a basket case of a 633CSi for a few years. The 6-series completely deserved its "shark" nickname.
The later generation, launched in 2003, not so much. Hampered by regulations concerning trunk lid and taillight height, the back end of that 6-series looked like it had an unsightly growth.
I am happy to say that the latest 6-series generation recaptures some of the original design. The 2012 BMW 650i coupe reviewed by CNET showed much cleaner lines with a solid GT look. Rather than the aggressive curves of GT cars from Maserati and Ferrari, the 650i maintains straighter lines. The trunk lid rises higher than on the original 6-series shark, but it at least looks like a part of the car.
And not only is the 2012 650i a design success, it is also a tech success. From the driveline to the dashboard, from the suspension to the cruise control, BMW takes advantage of technology. Advanced electronics help the driver handle the car, prevent distraction, navigate, and connect to the social sphere.
As in many of its other cars, BMW uses technology to let the 650i exhibit different personalities. A rocker switch on the console takes it through Sport plus, Sport, Comfort, and Comfort plus modes, each affecting engine, suspension, and steering response.
Sport mode lets you select whether to sharpen the accelerator response or make the suspension more rigid, or both.
Sport mode is where the 650i really comes into its own, letting it take corners at surprising speeds with flat rotation. Its active suspension pushes the wheels onto the road, maintaining contact. At the same time, the ride quality, while somewhat rigid, is far from harsh. Pushing it up to Sport plus merely turns off the car's traction control.
Comfort mode detunes the throttle response significantly and loosens up the suspension. It never glides over potholes like air-cushioned Mercedes-Benz S-class, but the ride quality is a little smoother than in Sport mode.
The Comfort plus mode seems like an attempt to turn the 650i into an American car from the 1960s. The suspension feel does not change much from the standard Comfort mode, but the steering becomes horribly detuned, losing all feel and exhibiting a tremendous level of play. I cannot imagine what kind of person would prefer the Comfort plus mode.
Driving the car in my preferred Sport mode on a rainy day, it showed all the responsive and dynamic handling for which BMW is known. In one instance, a slick road and a slight bump made the 650i go into oversteer in one corner. But in the split second where I was contemplating the brush-covered dirt berm at the edge of the asphalt, the car wiggled its rear wheels just enough to put the nose in the right direction.
And repeatedly that day, on those wet roads, the car's stability systems stepped in to make up for temporary loss of grip. One of the bigger BMWs, the 650i did not feel as nimble as the 328i I tested the previous week, nor as laser-guided as the M3. But when I wanted to toss it around a bit it was ready and willing.
The 650i exhibits excellent control, both from suspension engineering and BMW's Dynamic Traction Control program.
Similar to its stablemates with a 50i designation in their model names, the 650i uses a 4.4-liter V-8 engine. BMW fits it with direct injection and two twin-scroll turbochargers, one for each bank of four cylinders. Given the twin turbos, the output, 407 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque, may sound on the modest side. BMW gets 560 horsepower out of a similar engine configuration on the 2012 M6.
Giving it full throttle from a stop, the car feels less like a punch in the back and more of an inexorable force. It hesitated a little at the outset, the road-holding systems acting a little like launch control in preventing the rear tires from breaking loose. It was easy to keep in line during a run up to 60 mph, maintaining a controlled precision. BMW rates the 60 mph acceleration time at 4.9 seconds.
While under way, a large number of driver-assistance features do their part to keep the car safe. BMW's new color heads-up display projected speed and route guidance information on the windshield. This feature looked its best when displaying a freeway exit, showing a nice graphic of the roadway and which lane I should be in.
CNET's car did not have the adaptive cruise-control option, but lane-departure warning and blind-spot detection were both present. The lane-departure system buzzed the steering wheel when I crossed lane lines without signaling first, and the blind-spot detection lit up indicators in the side mirror casings when the lanes next to the 650i contained cars. These indicators could be placed a little more prominently, as I rarely noticed them during a casual glance over to each side.
The large P on the right indicates the automatic parallel-parking system. If the car detects an available space to the left or right, it activates the system.
This 650i marked the first time I got to test BMW's automatic parallel parking. After finding a curbside parking spot, I pulled up next to the car in front of it and put the 650i into reverse. The LCD showed the rear camera view along with a graphic indicating the open parking space. From that point, I merely had to take my hands off the wheel and let the car creep backward. It got it in one.
I also used this car as an opportunity to test BMW's app integration. To get this feature working, I installed the free ConnectedDrive app on my iPhone 3G S. Connecting the phone to the car's USB port, I was able to see my Twitter and Facebook feeds on the car's LCD. BMW gives you a surprising amount of functionality with social network feeds. I could select each Tweet, for example, and choose to retweet it or have it read out loud by the car.
The car also let me post updates to Facebook and Twitter, based on preloaded templates. These templates included data such as the destination programmed into the navigation system, current music playback, or the external temperature. Even cooler, the app lets you edit the Tweet and Facebook templates, so you can have your own custom messages.
Smartphone integration included my phone's calendar, letting me see the day's appointments on the 650i's LCD. Outside of the ConnectedDrive app, when I launched Pandora or MOG online music services on my phone, those interfaces became available in the car. Each interface shows most of the functions you get on the phone interface for each online music service.
With both Facebook and Twitter integration, the car lets you post updates based on preloaded templates.
Of course the car could use my iPhone's music library as an audio source, and also had music storage on its hard drive along with standard HD radio. There are a variety of other audio sources, as well. And CNET's car came optioned up with the Bang & Olufsen audio system, which produced incredibly well-balanced and detailed sound.
Bang & Olufsen boasts 1,200 watts and 16 speakers in the 650i. The system makes its presence known with an acoustic lens that pops up from the center of the dashboard when you turn on the audio system. Listening to Yelle's "Safari Disco Club," the initial beats came through cleanly and with a metallic edge heard in the original recording. The powerful bass guitar on The XX's track "Fantasy" did not cause rattle or distortion, as the speakers produced the extraordinarily low tones without issue.
Where past Bang & Olufsen systems in other cars tended to be too good, revealing the flaws of compressed music, this one sounded fine producing audio from a variety of sources. Certainly satellite radio did not sound quite as good as high bit rate MP3 tracks, but it was still perfectly enjoyable.
The optional Bang & Olufsen audio system brings in 16 speakers, including this acoustic lens, which pops up out of the dashboard.
Other elements of BMW's cabin technology, such as the navigation system, are also among the best in the business. The navigation system shows richly detailed maps that include traffic data and 3D rendered buildings. BMW's telematics system enables Google local search to be integrated with navigation.
The biggest fault in the cabin technology is how information is organized on some of the screens. The apps are somewhat buried under the ConnectedDrive menu item, and the Google search option does not show up as an option on the destination entry screen. BMW's methods for finding POIs in navigation or browsing a music library from an iPod use basically the same paradigm, a set of filters to narrow the search parameters. That type of design is fine for a software engineer, but not intuitive for the rest of us.
The 2012 BMW 650i is a monster of technology and well deserving of CNET's Editors' Choice Award, despite the fact that it is also a very expensive car. The list of cabin technology features is huge, not only offering the traditional navigation, digital audio, and phone integration, but also bringing some very good driver assistance systems and connected apps.
BMW practically deserves a second award for performance technology. The 650i is at the cutting edge with an eight-speed automatic gearbox, excellent efficiency engineering in the driveline, and suspension and steering that adjust depending on driver settings and conditions.
The only thing that lets the 650i down is the design of its onscreen interface. It looks good, and the iDrive controller has been refined to work well. But the information could be organized in a more intuitive manner, and the search screen really needs a revamp.
|Model||2012 BMW 650i|
|Power train||Direct-injection twin turbocharged 4.4-liter V-8, eight-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||15 mpg city/23 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||19.2 mpg|
|Navigation||Standard hard-drive-based with traffic data|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible single CD|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||Pandora, MOG, onboard hard drive, Bluetooth streaming, USB drive, satellite radio, HD radio|
|Audio system||Bang & Olufsen 1,200 watt 16 speaker system|
|Driver aids||Night vision, lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot detection, heads-up display, automatic parallel parking, surround view camera|
|Price as tested||$100,195|