THE FAIRER SIX
BMW's 6 Series Convertible is back, with even more efficient engines, sleeker styling and a more focused agenda
If you're in the enviable position of not having to worry unduly about the finer detail of your disposable income, the 6 Series Convertible looks well positioned.
Bigger, better looking and more efficient than before, the latest BMW 6 Series Convertible is shaping up to be a far more convincing proposition that its predecessor. With some amazingly efficient engines and technology so clever it redefines state of the art, this latest drop top Six has substance as well as style.
BMW's original 6 Series was a deeply lovely thing with its sharky front end, delicately slim pillars and perfect proportions. This child of the Seventies set an aesthetic standard that its successor, launched in 2000, was singularly unable to match. Bluff fronted and brutal in its application of power, the second generation Six was undeniably effective but never a car that tugged your heart strings, even in searingly rapid M6 form. The Convertible version was a vehicle that always divided opinion. Some saw it as a bloated poseur's car, the crass automotive equivalent of jangly gold jewellery. Look beyond the flashy gimmickry and the 6 Series Convertible was actually a very talented package. But it was never a great looking car and for any grand touring convertible to be judged an unqualified success, head-turning ability is mandatory. The latest 6 Series answers that call with some elan.
There are only two engines currently offered with the 6 Series Convertible although it's a dead cert that a diesel will be slotted in at some point and an M6 variant may also follow suit. For the time being UK buyers are hardly short-changed by the powerplants on offer. First up is the 320bhp 640i model, powered by a turbocharged 3.0-litre straight-six with Valvetronic variable valve control and direct injection. It'll get to 60mph in 5.4s and powers on to an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph. The 4.4-litre 650i hits the same electronically governed top speed but its 407bhp V8 catapults it to 60mph in a Porsche-worrying 4.8 seconds.
An eight-speed Sport automatic gearbox is standard fitment on both models, as is Drive Dynamic Control, which allows drivers to choose how responsive they want the gearbox, steering and throttle to be. More technology? How about the optional Integral Active Steering system. This combines Active Steering for the front axle with a steering rear axle, allowing the steering angle and power assistance to be controlled at both the front and the rear with the help of electric motors. It seems BMW's 'more is more' approach of the last Six has been carried over.
If you thought the last 6 Series Convertible was a size, the latest car is even bigger. Longer, lower and wider but marginally lower, it now measures 4,894mm in length, which is longer than a Mondeo estate, so you would expect a bit of space inside. The rear seats of most 2+2 convertibles are about as comfortable as assuming an Abu Ghraib stress position but the 6 Series offers room for adults as long as those in front don't get too ambitious with the seat runners. The boot is decently sized at 300 litres with the hood folded and 350 litres with it raised - the same as before. BMW betrays the target market by letting on that this is enough to hold two golf bags.
Although this might sound as if the Six has adopted a folding hard top, it instead continues with a fabric roof, but it's quite a special one. The multi-layer roof, which features improved acoustic properties, thermal insulation and structural rigidity, has fins projecting out along the flanks on to the rear deck section. This means that the heated glass rear screen can be lowered separately from the roof. The roof is mechanism actuated via a button on the centre console at speeds of up to 25mph. Dropping the roof takes 19 seconds and raising it 24 seconds. The Comfort Access option allows the roof to be opened or closed using the remote key.
With just the two engines - 640i and 650i - on offer at the moment, the model range is fairly straightforward to get to grips with. What's most intriguing about this 6 Series is the way that it includes the sort of equipment that not too long ago was the preserve of wacky prototypes. The standard equipment list is interesting enough, the 640i being supplied with 18-inch alloy wheels, while the 650i Convertible gets 19-inch rims. Both derivatives feature Dakota leather upholstery, an eight-speed Sport automatic transmission, electric seat adjustment, BMW Professional Multimedia Navigation system, Xenon headlights, LED front fog lights and front and rear Park Distance Control. So pretty much par for the class.
It's when you start delving into BMW's options list that the fun really begins. Surround-view, BMW Night Vision with pedestrian recognition, Parking Assist, Lane Change Warning System, Lane Departure Warning System and Speed Limit Display are all offered. There's also a Head-up Display that uses 3D graphics and a 12 GB hard disk to store your music library. BMW Online systems offer in-car email display via Bluetooth. My personal favourite is the fact that if you own a BlackBerry smartphone, the 6 Series will synch the phone's email folder to its iDrive control system. Using a new Bluetooth interface to integrate the BlackBerry into the vehicle, you can receive emails, show them on the Control Display and have them read to you aloud using a text-to-speech function. The entertainment possibilities of having your car read ripe and sweary emails to you seem endless.
Nobody buys a premium convertible like this 6 Series if they're fanatical about saving pennies, but every little helps and BMW has forged an enviable reputation for efficiency. Both the 640i and 650i are very economical given the amount of power their respective engines generate. The BMW 640i Convertible achieves 35.8mpg on the combined fuel economy cycle, while CO2 emissions are a scarcely credible 185g/km. The automatic transmission features Auto Start-Stop technology and an automatic active air flap control behind the car's kidney grille for optimum engine performance. Both models get Brake Energy Regeneration, Electric Power Steering (EPS), ancillary components that power down when not being used and intelligent lightweight construction. Go for the 650i and it'll still manage 26.4mpg with CO2 emissions of 249g/km.
Despite styling that sharply divided opinion, the old BMW 6 Series Convertible was a decent performer in terms of sales for BMW but its faults were easy to outline. The exterior lines were unresolved, the control systems inside too complicated and depreciation was hefty. BMW has certainly addressed the first of those issues with its successor, the latest 6 Series Convertible being markedly more elegant. The latter two issues are open to debate. BMW persists with the 'more is more' approach when it comes to offering the driver myriad options regarding how the car drives and it's hard to see how a large, expensive convertible is going to make a safe home for your money in these increasingly austere times.
If you're in the enviable position of not having to worry unduly about the finer detail of your disposable income, the 6 Series Convertible looks well positioned. Less porcine than a Bentley Continental GTC, far fresher than a Mercedes SL and guaranteed to be better screwed together than a Maserati Gran Cabrio, it's hard not to see it continuing BMW's record of success.