The BMW 650i Coupe and 650i Convertible have a new, attractive dual-spoke wheel design for 2006, and new red or blue metallic paint options. Yet 6 Series styling remains essentially as it's been since the car was launched in 2004, and it's an interesting bit of design.
A twin-kidney grille, quad headlamps and other classic cues readily identify the 6 Series cars as BMWs. The 6 Series shares some key elements with BMW's 5 Series sedan, but the 6 was designed from the ground up as a coupe rather than a sedan with two doors welded shut.
This is a classic BMW coupe: The front and rear overhangs (the distance from the wheels to the bumper) are short. The windshield is set back from the hood. The 6 Series cars are shorter than the 5 Series sedans, but they benefit from a relatively long wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear wheels). In short, you suspect these cars handle great just by looking at them.
The turn signals are located above the headlamps, and the headlamps wrap well around the corners to the sides of the car. The grilles take front and center stage with no bumper ledge in front of them. When viewed from overhead, the front corners look rounded, giving the 6 Series a shark nose.
In profile, the lines are sculpted but clean. Side marker lights at the trailing edge of the front wheel wells give the impression of attention to detail. The 6 looks raciest in front three-quarter view, which happens to be our favorite angle on the car.
From the rear, however, the 6 Series cannot be identified as readily. The tail lamps and badge label it as a BMW, but the back end looks different from past BMWs. The tail lamps wrap around to the sides, so there's no precise point where the rear of the car ends and the side begins. As with the new 7 Series sedans, critics don't like the way the rear deck looks somewhat disconnected from the rear fenders. BMW points out that the high deck improves rear grip at high speeds and allows for a big trunk. In any case, this is a tidy, attractive car that looks sporty. It's best in silver and other lighter colors; the design details tend to blend together on darker cars.
There are also some interesting design features that aren't apparent to the eye, starting with extensive use of weight-saving materials. From the windshield forward, the 6 Series' load bearing structure is made of aluminum, just like a commercial airliner's. Its doors and hood are also aluminum; the front fenders and trunk lid are composite materials. The underbody is shrouded in more high-tech plastic, much like the fairing on a crotch rocket-style motorcycle, to improve aerodynamic efficiency.
When the top is up, the roofline of the convertible is nearly identical to that of the coupe. The soft top looks great, featuring a fastback roofline with fins on the trailing edges that frame the rear glass. The rear glass can be raised or lowered like a side window by pressing a button. Replacing a metal roof with a convertible top tends to reduce structural rigidity, so BMW has reinforced the B-pillars and the lower sides of the frame, and built the windshield with an extra-high strength frame. This not only improves rigidity, but adds an extra element of safety in the unlikely event of a rollover.
The 6 Series comes standard with adaptive headlamps that aim toward the inside of a corner as the steering wheel is turned. This helps throw light around a bend, reducing shadows and improving visibility for the driver. Sometimes just that extra moment of warning can make for a safer and more enjoyable drive. The 6 Series also features BMW's adaptive LED brake lights, which illuminate for intensely in a panic stop. This is supposed to convey the gravity of the situation to drivers following when you slam on the brakes, but it presumes they know how to interpret the brighter brake lights.
From the driver's seat, the BMW 6 Series seems to have it all: comfort, luxury, convenience and the ambience of a true high-performance car. Both the coupe and convertible inspire a feeling of control, even a feeling of success, before the car ever leaves the driveway. These cars encourage the driver to take driving seriously.
The 6 Series seats provide excellent support, and they're more comfortable than the ultra-firm seats found in some of BMW's sports packages. Driver and passenger feel safely ensconced in this car, partly because of its high waistline.
Interior materials and finish are generally up to standards expected in this price range. For 2006, the contrasting color (the one that's the same in all 650is, regardless of which color is selected for the seats and carpeting), has been changed from a deep gray to almost pure black. The default trim is a metallic material BMW calls Ruthenium, a hard white metal, and we like the way it looks on the doors and dash. Those who prefer a more traditional look can choose either light or dark stained birch wood at no charge.
For 2006, the 6 Series gets something that BMW has been rolling out across its model line: a Start button. Rather than a conventional key, the 6 now has an electronic cartridge, shaped something like a key fob remote. The cartridge slides into a slot on the dash, and the driver presses a button to the right of the steering column to start or stop the engine.
The gauge cluster features a large tachometer and speedometer framing an LCD box that displays a wide range of information. The package is crisp and legible and, if you like BMW's familiar orange backlighting, quite attractive. The optional Head-Up Display projects speed, navigational information, cruise control status and other data onto the windshield, and can be programmed to show whichever data the driver chooses.
The central feature inside the 6 Series, at least when it comes to operating the stereo, climate controls and other systems, is iDrive. iDrive uses a big knob mounted on the center console to set and adjust the various systems, and for 2006 the knob itself has been reshaped and covered with a leather insert for a softer touch. iDrive works a lot like the mouse on a personal computer, without the arrow. Various functions can be selected by sliding the big knob left or right, forward or aft, turning it to work through menus displayed on a monitor in the center stack, and pressing it down to select options or confirm settings. The system has been simplified somewhat since it was introduced in BMW's 7 Series, and the knob doesn't slide in the diagonal directions. Regardless, we recommend spending some time in the driveway with the owner's manual to master this system. We're not big fans of iDrive. Some owners master it, but we find it too difficult to operate and too distracting from the business of driving.
The back seats will accommodate pre-adolescents on short trips, but will not work for two couples enjoying a night on the town.
The trunk, on the other hand, is relatively large, with room for two sets of golf clubs. The BMW badge on the rear serves as the trunk latch. The lid pops open fully when a button on the key is pressed, handy when running through the rain with an armload of groceries. The 6 Series coupe has a slightly larger trunk (13 cubic feet) than the convertible (12.4 cubic feet), though the convertible's trunk shrinks (to 10.5 cubic feet) when the top is down.