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2012 BMW 650i review:

2012 BMW 650i

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.

In sum

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.

Tech specs
Model2012 BMW 650i
Power trainDirect-injection twin turbocharged 4.4-liter V-8, eight-speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy15 mpg city/23 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy19.2 mpg
NavigationStandard hard-drive-based with traffic data
Bluetooth phone supportStandard
Disc playerMP3-compatible single CD
MP3 player supportiPod integration
Other digital audioPandora, MOG, onboard hard drive, Bluetooth streaming, USB drive, satellite radio, HD radio
Audio systemBang & Olufsen 1,200 watt 16 speaker system
Driver aidsNight vision, lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot detection, heads-up display, automatic parallel parking, surround view camera
Base price$83,000
Price as tested$100,195

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