Test Drive: 2017 BMW 650i xDrive Cabriolet

Prologue

Your humble writer, dear reader, is in crisis. As I’m writing these lines, summer is winding down its very last week. I like summer. It’s my favourite season. I’m not a fall person. I love blue skies, sunny rays dancing on the waves, heat radiating from the concrete under my feet. Yes, fall will put on a colourful show to dazzle the eyes and make you warm and fuzzy inside, but behind your distracted back it’s killing your flowerbeds and setting the scene for the gloom of November to take over the world. But don’t worry, dear reader – Dr. Ed prescribed me a big blue pill to combat my seasonal afflictions. Thank you, Dr.Ed.

Cabin cruiser

BMW says that the design of its 6 Series Cabriolet was “inspired by sports boats,” and that it “exudes a maritime air of lightness.”

BMW says that the design of its 6 Series Cabriolet was “inspired by sports boats,” and that it “exudes a maritime air of lightness.” As I ogled my Tanzanite Blue over Opal White 2017 650i xDrive Cabriolet tester, sitting top-down in the sun next to high-dollar powerboats, I could not agree more. At first glance, one might mistake it for a 4 Series ’vert because of BMW’s unified styling, but the 650i clearly belongs to the longer-lower-wider school of design. The familiar face sports wider, bevelled kidneys set between LED headlights, sitting above the aggressive bumper that comes with the M Sport package (more on that later). The expansive, bulbous hood emphasises the greater width and muscular stance of the 6 Series.

Viewed in profile, the stowed roof creates a flat shoulder line that extends into the creases on the hood, pointing towards the roundel that sits front and center on the prow. The 20-inch portholes are well-proportioned to the car and avoid the temptation of bling. The canvas roof, when raised, further distances the 6 Series from its hard-hat little brother “4”. In contrast to the perfectly flat trunk lid, the soft-top boasts a complex set of curves ending in flying buttresses that frame a flat, heated sheet of glass (said glass can be electrically lowered separate of the roof).

The stern boasts a slightly concave face whose horizontal lines accentuate the wide track of the car. Launched in the spring of 2011, and refreshed last year, the third generation of the 6 Series is a pleasure craft that’s aging elegantly like a fine Cab.

Coming aboard, you’re welcomed by a cabin that offers no pretense of luxury – because it offers the genuine article. The optional Merino leather (Nappa leather is standard) covers just about every surface below the shoulder line, including the entire instrument panel. Every surface your hands meet is exquisite, from the leather steering wheel rim to the ceramic trim on the console-mounted shifter. That glossy piano black trim? Not plastic; it’s one of the seven trim options available to 6 Series captains through the BMW color / trim palette. Since the last thing you want is to dock next to an identical 650i at the marina, there are no fewer than 16 exterior colors to chose from, paired with three shades of Dakota leather, four of Nappa leather and six of Full Merino leather. My tester seemed to have been built for a Nautica ad, the Opal White Full Merino leather ($5,900) being perfectly matched to the Tanzanite Blue exterior ($1,000). I’m no Carter Oosterhouse, but female joggers did smile at me. The windowsills and dash were covered in white-stitched black leather, while the white hides had black stitching (of course). High contrast interiors such as this are often hit-or-miss (cough cough, GM), but BMW did an excellent job with this design. Since fingerprints are so steerage, the center-mounted screen is controlled via the glass-top iDrive device that sits in the centre console.

Ergonomics are also worth mentioning, with clear and intuitive buttons for HVAC and basic audio controls, such as source or presets; audio on / off and volume is accessed through a well-located rotary control, an “innovation” that Honda should look into. Seatbelts often busy up the lines of a convertible, but here they are well-integrated into the front seats, and their receptacle doubles up as the anchor point for the rear access handle. The Comfort seats are more than worthy of their name; with multiple power adjustments for height, rake, thigh support, lumbar, torso and what not, it’s just about impossible not to find a perfect seating position (and once you do find it, you can use one of the two memory presets to restore your settings once a valet messes things up). The seats also offer mechanical ventilation through their perforated leather, will perform a massage on your derrière at the touch of a button, and are heated – of course. Access to the two rear seats is done by powering the front seats forward on their tracks (very slowly, I might add), preferably with the roof stowed to facilitate the maneuvre. The 650i’s very wide doors help somewhat, but if the roof is up there are no grab handles anywhere to help passengers extricate themselves from their otherwise very comfy leather buckets, and grabbing the seatback will just lock it up in position again. Legroom back there is not sedan-worthy, but better than expected nevertheless, and headroom is surprising when the top is in place, as is visibility.

And while we’re discussing rear accommodations, a word of warning. Top-down motoring is known to wreak havoc with hairdos, but so will lowering the roof with passengers seated. The 650i Cab has plenty of visual and audible warnings, but none will announce that as the top’s buttresses fold up in the air to let the roof compartment cover open up, the canvas intrudes into the rear headroom area and will push down a bit on passenger’s heads (better discovered on my eldest daughter than my mother-in-law). Your luggage will benefit from better protection. The airspace required by the folded roof is roped off with a soft fabric divider on the horizontal place and a hard plastic one vertically at the trunk opening. Said trunk is fully finished, and the heavily clad lid features a red warning light to make you visible on the side of the road as you look for the tire inflation kit. The trunk seems to offer a bit more room than the 350 L (12.4 cu. ft), capacity quoted in BMW’s specs would suggest; as proof, it passed the golf bag test with flying colours. Just don’t bring full-size hard luggage, other than the vintage flat stuff. Convertible roof operation is a one-button affair; hold down the button at rest or at low speed and wait as a mechanical ballet opens up the sky above you and stores everything neatly in the trunk.

Loaded to the water line

With a price of entry set at $111,500, the 650i xDrive Cabriolet is no fishing vessel. When selecting the cabriolet or two-door coupe, things start off at the 650i level – only the Gran Coupe four-door offers a 640i trim. xDrive all-wheel drive is also standard, as well as the eight-speed automatic with manual controls. Fully powered one-button convertible top operation is also standard, as are most creature comforts and practical items like auto-dimming exterior mirrors, LED headlights and fog lights.

What’s not included is discovered in a sea of optional packages. The $3,900 Technology package includes Active Blind Spot Detection and “Driving Assistant Plus” (systems that you will rapidly turn off in urbania). For $4,500, the Premium Seating package will massage your bottom and lower back, keep them dry by circulating air through leather perforations and adjust to your preferred seating position in 20 electrically made adjustments that can be committed to two memory settings.

At $3,500, the M Sport package includes the 20-inch wheels seen on my tester, with performance run-flats, the M Aerodynamics package (M Division bumpers and side sills), high-gloss black window surrounds, M Leather steering wheel and, for those Autobahn days, a 240 km/h speed limiter instead of the stock 210. Need a high-value bundle? The $8,400 M Sport Edition, which my tester featured, includes all the previous packages, and sprinkles even more goodies: leather instrument panel, black ceramic controls, multifunction instrument display, contrast stitching, speed limit display, head-up display, rearview camera, surround view, a Harman/Kardon surround sound system with Sirius XM tuner and soft-close doors (why rattle the windows of your frameless door when the car can latch them down for you?) Need more ear candy? An extra $4,900 upgrades you to Bang and Olufsen sound.

Finally, if you don’t want the aero bits, the dubs or ludicrous-speed bragging rights, the appropriately named $7,400 Executive Package combines the technology and comfort items from above. The Adaptive-Drive suspension is an extra $2,500 standalone option. For the same price, one could also opt for night-vision pedestrian detection

Making waves in a no-wake world

The powerboat ambiance continues with the press of the engine start-stop button. The TwinPower 4.4L V8 wakes up with a growl, prodding its own throttle and keeping a fast idle for a few seconds. The deep guttural baritone voice has the unmistakable signature of an eight-cylinder, one that has no shame announcing the 445 hp (at 5,500 rpm) and 480 lb-ft of twist found within its alloy block. Leaving my berth, the 650i effortlessly burbles its way out of the residential enclave and sets sail for the highway, the flat torque curve (max torque 2,000–4,500 rpm) laughing off the 2,105 kg sitting on its back.

Driven sedately, the eight-speed automatic gearbox is unobtrusive and never seems to be fishing for the right gear. BMW’s infamous shifter is also present here, with its Park button, R-N-D longitudinal toggle selection (with button release), and forward down-shift/ backward up-shift manual gear selection. Annoying at first, but soon mastered. Metal paddles are also present, and they move with the steering wheel, ready for your fingers. The 650i Cab comes standard with BMW’s xDrive all-wheel traction, and while the great sunny weather during testing prevented serious traction issues, the fact that the traction control was never provoked despite, ahem, testing procedures is a tribute to the level of grip added by the hardware.

While you’re still in the no-wake zone, use the Dynamic Drive Control buttons left of the shifter to select the parameters for your journey. Comfort + recalls the land yachts of yore, sending the majestic hood up and down on pavement undulations. No “smart” shock absorber can compensate for 30-series run-flat performance tires, however. As a civil engineer, I fully appreciate how the 650i’s rubber-banding allow me to finely estimate by how many eighths of an inch manhole covers are misadjusted (could I deduct this in my taxes as a measuring tool? Hmm…) To say that potholes are felt is an understatement; to cross a Montreal pothole in a 650i is like hitting a floating log with the hull. Having heard many a horror story about bent BMW alloys and burst run-flats, I was more than relieved when no TPMS warning lit up after a drive along the port. Sport mode firms things up beyond what is reasonable on real Canadian roads and sends rpm surging; frost heaves and train tracks will also reverberate through the cockpit and make the windshield shimmy like a Fox-body Mustang’s. Sport + is best reserved for track days, the shocks turning to stone and driver aids sent packing. Comfort proved to be the best match for cruising around or attacking highway bends, keeping harmonics in touch and the cabin serene.

Finally entering open water, it’s time to let the sea horses out of the stable. Erupting all of the V8’s fury on the open road is a moment of ecstasy that pins you to your seat, filling the open skies with a soundtrack by God’s own speed-metal band, riffing on axes designed by Stradivarius’s evil descendants. The eight-speed bangs in shifts with authority, barking at every gear, the active exhaust system throwing the blue blazer to the wind and going full Nascar muscle shirt. Lift the throttle, or flap a manual downshift, and the exhaust will snap-crackle-pop at will, raising an evil smirk on the driver’s face. Underpasses and tunnels become your friend; even highway dividers will echo back your joy. One doesn’t expect such incitation to hooliganism from an elegant grand tourer. BMW’s claim for the 0–100 km/h benchmark is 4.5 s, and I have no reason to doubt that number.

Driven at a civilized pace, the 650i maintains is aural intimidation, like a tiger growling with its mouth closed. Some heads turn for the style, others to see where the mechanical music is coming from. Driving top-down, the electronic gauges and infotainment screen wash out in the sunlight, but the very well executed head-up display is right in the driver’s sight, floating at the end of the hood. Open-air motoring reveals very little cockpit turbulence, and raising the side glass makes things almost serene. Not having spent much time in convertibles before, I was a bit surprised at the lack of soundproofing of the canvas roof when conditions dictated putting it up (note to self: drive more convertibles).

The sheer size of the car is intimidating at first, but like any good captain you become familiar with your vessel after a few days, navigating narrow passages – and avoiding floating logs – with ease. Docking is easily achieved thanks to a plethora of parking sensors and surround-view cameras. Mind that front air dam, though. The 11.7 m turning circle will have you looking for Theodore Tugboat in parking garages, but the real joy-killers are to be found in the 650i’s wheel wells.

The staggered 245/35ZR20 front / 275/30ZR20 rear run-flat Dunlop performance tires just don’t have enough “give” for the real world. Train tracks, potholes, pavement cracks, manhole and drain covers require preventive braking or evasive manoeuvres. Through the week, the “Comfort” setting did prove the best at mastering the hard tires when facing Quebec pavement. As is often the case with extra-wide rubber, tramlining on rutted roads is severe. BMW was known to offer the best steering feel back in the mechanical days, but although muted by modern tech, the leather-wrapped M Sport steering wheel did a good job at pavement reading.

Break out another thousand

The BMW 650i xDrive Cab is sort of sitting in its own market niche. Camaros and Mustangs may appeal to the same buyer, but belong to an entirely different social milieu. Next to the 650i, an Audi A5 is a four-cylinder econobox. At the Mercedes store, the SL only offers two seats, while the new S-Class Cabriolet sits in a loftier price level. Its nearest competitor is the E 550 Cabriolet, but the E-Class is more mid-size luxury than Grand Touring, and doesn’t offer all-wheel drive. To this reviewer’s eye, the 650i Cab sits in its own very class of one.

Powerboating is not for the frugal. On top of the $128,995 as-tested price, my tester proved faithful to the old saying that the fuel economy of motorboats is measured in gallons per minute. Official BMW fuel economy numbers for the 2017 650i xDrive Cabriolet are 15.2 L/100 km city, 9.8 highway, 12.8 combined. My mixed driving netted me 14.8 indicated, 14.6 measured at the pump on the required 91 octane or better premium fuel. I blame an addiction to glorious noise. This is also the first press vehicle that I had to refill before the end of a regular work week; expect a range of 450 km on a full tank in urban settings.

But people buying Grand Tourers aren’t doing so for their fuel economy. Instead of plopping down six figures on a RV (or a boat…), they are gifting themselves with a vehicle that will take them down the road of discovery one port at a time, in grand style, proving that money can, sometimes, buy happiness. That was what the Land Yacht concept was all about – to cruise in style and comfort in a celebration of life.

Competitors:
Mercedes-Benz E 550 Cabriolet (maybe)
Sea Ray Sundancer (more likely)

2017 BMW 650i xDrive Cabriolet
Engine Displacement: 4.4L
Engine Cylinders: V8
Peak Horsepower: 445 hp @ 5,500 rpm
Peak Torque: 480 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm
Fuel Economy: 15.2 / 9.8 / 12.8 (L/100 km, city/hwy/comb)
Cargo Space: 350 L
2017 BMW 650i xDrive Cabriolet
Base Price $111,500
Optional Equipment M Sport Edition package (20” wheels, performance run-flat tires, soft close doors, M Sport package, rear view camera, ventilated seats, active front seats, Comfort Seats – front, contrast stitching, leather instrument panel, ceramic controls, active blind spot detection, driving assistant, surround view, head-up display, Sirius XM satellite radio tuner, harman/kardon sound system, wireless charging with extended Bluetooth and USB, multifunctional instrument display, wi-fi hotspot, M Leather steering wheel, M Aerodynamics package, High-Gloss Shadow Line, M Sport Edition, High speed maximum with performance tires, speed limit info, Nappa leather), $8,400; Full Merino Leather interior, $5,900; Tanzanite Blue Metallic paint, $1,000
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,095
Price as Tested $128,995
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.1
8 Styling
9 Powertrain
9 Quality
7 Comfort
6 Practicality
7 Drivability
7 Usability/Ergonomics
4 Fuel Economy
8 Features
6 Value