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New Car Review: 2005 BMW 645Ci Coupe and Convertible

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PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)


SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for BMW


MODEL: BMW 645Ci coupe, convertible
ENGINE: 4.4-liter DOHC V8
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 325 hp @ 6,100 rpm/330 lb.-ft. @ 3,600 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic, SMG or manual
WHEELBASE: 109.4 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 190.2 x 73.0 x 54.1 in.
BASE PRICE: $69,995 (Coupe), $76,995 (Convertible)

It's always a thrill when I get a chance to drive a brand-new vehicle. It's even a greater thrill when the vehicle is outstanding, and the venue for the drive is equally outstanding.

Such was the case with the new BMW 645Ci coupe and convertible. Both vehicles signify BMW's re-entry into the luxury sport coupe and convertible markets. True, BMW markets sport coupes and convertibles, and even four-seaters. The 3 Series-based convertibles and coupes are among my favorite BMWs.

But these two cars are situated between BMW's 5 Series and 7 Series, as you might expect from the nomenclature. However, no body panels are shared with either series vehicles. The only similarities are the 4.4-liter V8 engine, which is available in the 5 or 7, and iDrive, available on the 7.

We drove the new BMWs in the hills and canyons north of Los Angeles, and I can't think of a better venue for these vehicles. Our ride took us on a side trip to BMW's Designworks, where these and other BMWs are designed. This was an interesting experience as we were able to meet with the designers and experience the atmosphere where they are sketched and modeled.

But driving the new 6 Series vehicles is what is the greatest thrill. Both have excellent power coming from the 4.4-liter V8. The engine is rated at 325 horsepower and 330 lb-ft of torque. The power enabled us to achieve highway speeds and maintain them, no matter how fast California drivers chose to drive. The torque enabled us to negotiate the mountain curves (and some of them were tight hairpins) easily without having to constantly downshift to reach a better rpm range.

Our test vehicles were fitted with two of the available three six-speed transmissions available. We drove a coupe with a 6-speed automatic with Steptronic function that enabled us to shift manually if we chose. Our convertible was equipped with the 6-speed manual, which was fine, except when we were stuck in traffic for an hour, moving just feet at a time.

Also available is a Sequential Manual Gearbox (SMG) that is controlled by paddles mounted on the steering wheel. There is no clutch, and the driver can either select "D" for Drive or "S" for Sequential, shifting up or down with the paddles. We didn't have a chance to drive one of these vehicles.

The styling of the new 6 Series coupe and convertible is aerodynamic, but both cars are definitely BMWs. They incorporate the traditional BMW "twin-kidney" grille, long hoods and shortened tails. The tails aren't quite as short as in the Z cars, which, to me, gives them better proportions.

Inside, the seats are comfortable, and the rear seats, while not commodious, are adequate for adults.

Besides excellent engine power, the 6 Series vehicles are also equipped with Active Steering, which makes driving on twisting roads much more pleasurable. No matter what the angle of turn, there is never any need to take both hands from the steering wheel (in some cases it was necessary in order to have something to hold on to). Active Steering takes over, modifying the amount of power assist depending on the amount needed.

Handling was superb, with a flat cornering attitude on all roads, and a comfortable ride on Interstates and longer runs. BMW has achieved a good balance with these cars.

Often, a coupe and convertible based on the same platform will have different characteristics. Prime among these is a flexible chassis in the convertible. In the 645Ci convertible there is no appreciable body flexing, and the feeling to the driver and passenger is one of solidity. With the cloth top up, it's hard to tell which car you're in. The top goes down or up with the push of one button.

Trunk capacity is compromised somewhat with the convertible. While the coupe's trunk measures at 13.0 cubic feet, the convertible's is rated at 12.4 cubic feet with the top up, 10.6 with it lowered. Two large golf bags fit in both at all times, though.

Our biggest (and actually only) complaint with the cars was iDrive. While this is an excellent innovation for controlling the audio, climate control, navigation and monitoring functions, it is simply too difficult to understand intuitively. Both my co-drive and I decided to forgo using iDrive and didn't listen to the radio or change the climate controls. Of course, with the top down, we didn't have to worry about the climate on a warm, sunny day.

Neither BMW 6 Series vehicle is inexpensive. Both are excellent vehicles, however, that are worth what BMW is asking. You can add more than $10,000 in options and still have a vehicle that is no better than the standard. For example, standard equipment includes either the manual or automatic/Steptronic transmission, sport suspension, active roll stabilization, sport steering wheel, Xenon adaptive headlights, and leather upholstery. Nothing else is really necessary.

2004 The Auto Page Syndicate