Sci-Tech

BMW 650i Coupe: A supersized sports car

By Deon Schoeman 9 February 2012

Sports cars mean different things to different people. For some, the word conjures up images of small, wieldy two-seaters with agile handling and a favourable power-to-weight ratio. Others might think of sports cars in grander, more comfortable terms. The BMW 6-Series Coupé is just that: a grand tourer that combines significant dynamic talent with luxury. By DEON SCHOEMAN.

If you read this feature regularly, you may recall that I first encountered the latest-generation BMW 6-Series in convertible form at its world launch in our very own Cape Town. The fact that BMW decided to lead the 6-Series charge with the ragtop version suggests that it considers lifestyle appeal an important part of the Six’s make-up.

Indeed, it’s easy to consider both the convertible and the coupé, which joined its drop-top sibling six months later, as the kind of boulevard cruisers favoured by celebrities, socialites and lotto winners. But that would be doing the big Beemer an injustice.

However, before we get to the technical bits, let’s get one thing straight: at face value, there’s nothing nimble or lithe about this 650i’s styling. Yes, the shape is smoothly executed, and the lines flow more convincingly than those of its rather chunky, even awkward predecessor.

But the Six reminds me of a body builder at a black-tie dinner – it looks smart enough, but you can’t help noticing those bulging muscles.

Quite fittingly, the long, swooping nose is the 650i’s most prominent feature, as it’s also home to the two-door’s powerful V8 engine. Front-on, the wide-eyed LED headlights and the snarl of the kidney grilles endow the coupé with a pugilistic stare, while the low air dam is home to large cooling apertures.

But you only realise just how big the Six is when you see it in profile. The cabin is set far back and, while the front overhang is relatively short, the rear extends well beyond the wheel arches. As a result, the haunches can look a little ponderous, despite the car’s low, almost menacing stance.

The rear is tidily executed, thanks to an integrated boot spoiler, slim tail light clusters and the geometric apertures of the twin exhausts. You also get to see the fat footprints of the 650i’s low-profile tyres, which in turn underscore the wide, powerful rear track.

However, nothing can disguise the fact that the 650i is a big car – not  just by two-door coupé standards, but in general motoring terms. It’s just short of 4.9m long, and almost 1.9m wide, with a wheelbase of 2.85m.

That said, the low roofline and wide, hunkered-down attitude endow the Beemer with an unmistakably sporty presence.

By comparison, the interior is luxurious and lavishly appointed. The front occupants are accommodated in sculpted sports seats and the list of standard kit is in the limousine class. But for a car this generously proportioned, the rear seats are cramped and really only useful for kids, hobbits, midgets or other vertically challenged individuals.

Photo: The interior epitomises luxury, but the rear seats are for midgets or toddlers only. Not that this kind of car is meant for family trips – try romantic getaways instead.

In equipment terms, the large LCD screen and the accompanying iDrive system provide an excellent and intuitive interface between car and driver, while connectivity with Bluetooth-enabled smartphones and iPod music players is seamless.

Advanced technology is also prevalent in the extensive arsenal of driver aids. There’s a full-colour head-up display, lane departure warning, lane change warning and active cruise control. And let’s not forget the boot, which is big even by sedan standards, and will swallow two golf bags with ease – or more luggage than most couples will ever need.

The 650i certainly has the right mechanical stuff to live up to its athletic promise. The engine bay is home to a high-tech 4.4-litre V8, fitted with not one, but two turbochargers. Maximum power is a generous 300kW, coupled with 600Nm of torque. That’s a lot of urge, even for a big coupé: the power-to-weight ratio comes to 163kW/ton.

Predictably, drive is to the rear wheels via an eight-speed gearbox. As auto transmissions go, this is one of the best.

Left to its own devices, it swaps cogs smoothly and unobtrusively, and always seems to find the perfect ratio. But this is a sports car, right? So, the 650i also comes with shift paddles, allowing the gearbox to be controlled manually. And indeed, for those who place driving appeal ahead of convenience, manual mode is a must-do.

The rest of the mechanical package expresses the 650i’s athletic pedigree. The all-independent suspension employs active dampers and roll bars, while the beefy brakes are fitted with large discs and floating callipers.

Okay, so we know it’s big. And we know it’s powerful. But just how sporty is the 650i in real-world terms? Well, that depends very much on the driver’s mood or preference. The coupé can be as docile, or as wild, as one chooses it to be, thanks to a system BMW calls Dynamic Drive Control.

The system allows aspects such throttle mapping, steering response and the damper settings and roll bar reactions of the active suspension to be tweaked at the push of a button. In Sport or even Sport Plus modes, the Beemer is transformed from composed executive express to an altogether more involving, more entertaining beast.

It’s a bit like uncaging an angry predator: suddenly, with the horizon rushing towards you with alarming alacrity, you realise just how much anger the 650i can actually unleash!

In straight-line terms, the two-door juggernaut is relentlessly rapid when driven with intent. It will despatch the zero-to-100 sprint in just 4.9sec, and an electronic limiter kicks in at 250km/h, although it’s obvious that there’s loads of potential for more.

Photo: This one’s not for Sunday drives. With it’s potential for speed, the open road beckons.

The engine’s punch is so prodigious that the rear rubber takes strain every time you floor the loud pedal.

However, it’s not all good news. The inertia of that 1.8ton mass tends to understate the car’s reactions, and you often find yourself travelling faster than expected.

And at slow speeds, the steering feels over-assisted, with a turn-in that’s too exaggerated, thanks to the rear-wheel deflection of the optional Integral Active Steering system. Fortunately, the steering gets meatier at speed.

As for fuel economy, BMW claims a 10.4-litre/100km consumption for the combined cycle, but only little old ladies with a right foot as light as a crippled budgie’s are likely to achieve that figure. Drive it with the gusto it deserves, and you won’t get away with much less than 14-litres/100km.

The 650i could be the automotive expression of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. It’s simply too big and too imposing to be called beautiful, and that such a big car has so little rear legroom is simply bad.

But it covers ground both rapidly and effortlessly, and driven with gusto, it offers a thrilling and ultimately satisfying motoring experience. The problem is that you might have to drive deep into the heart of the Karoo, dodging potholes along the way, to find the space and the scope the 650i deserves. DM




VITAL STATISTICS: BMW 650i Coupé

  • Engine: 4,395cc V8, turbocharged
  • Gearbox: Eight-speed automatic
  • Power: 300kW @ 5,500rpm
  • Torque: 600Nm @ 1,750rpm
  • 0-100 km/h: 4.9sec
  • Top speed: 250km/h (limited)
  • Fuel consumption: 10.4 l/100 km (combined cycle)
  • CO2 emissions: 243g/km
  • Retail price: R1  291 073 (as tested)
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