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First Drive: 2012 BMW 6 Series Convertible 650i - VIDEO ENHANCED

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2011 BMW 6 Series Convertible

Sunny side up

By Henny Hemmes
Senior European Editor

SEE ALSO: BMW Buyers Guide

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2011 BMW 6 Series Convertible

CAPE TOWN, RSA - January 23, 2011: While the new BMW 6 Series Convertible is still celebrating the last days of its world premiere at the North American Auto Show, the first media test drives have started this week and will last until the end of this month. We're doing it in sunny South Africa, where the climate is ideal for cruising with the new generation of the 6 Series. The vehicle is scheduled to hit the European and Asian markets by the end of March, and it will arrive in the US, Canada and Korea in May.

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2011 BMW 6 Series low profile top

But first, I want to go back to Detroit, where during the wrap up of the show with The Auto Channel editors, we named the 6 Series Convertible ‘best production car.’ The decision was made thanks to the elegant design and sporty wide stance, aided by the low-profile, good looking soft top and the beautifully executed interior.

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2011 BMW 6 Series

Some years ago BMW set the trend with ConnectedDrive and right now equips the new Six with the second generation of its HUD head-ups display. Not only does this project relevant information such as actual speed and navigation instructions on the windshield in front of the driver, but also traffic signs and speed limits. The latest version of BMW’s HUD has full-color projection.

Last year, BMW showed us a new feature called Narrow Passage System, a technology that works with camera's and laser and shows the driver in the HUD if there is enough space to pass through narrow spaces, for instance between a truck and the guard rail or two cars. It can also be projected in the HUD. It is not known, though, when it will be available. But I guess, we may expect that as an option soon.

In Detroit, Marc Girard, director interior design BMW Automobiles, told me that the HUD will become more and more important. “It simplifies the information that is available for a driver. People are being overwhelmed with information of all kind and that is why in the car it has to be simple.”

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2011 BMW 6 Series heads up display

Another new feature in the 6 Series Convertible is the large display that is directed towards the driver under an angle of 6 degrees, which still provides a good view for the passenger, too. Important is that the 7-inch screen is free standing, which made it possible to lower the dashboard by about an inch and also lower the seat. Consequently the roof line could be lowered by 0.31 inch, which helps create the low and wide stance of the new 6 Convertible that grew by nearly 3 inches in length and 2 inches in width.

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2011 BMW 6 Series screen

Pop up
The premium look, finish and feel of the interior will meet the expectations of customers in the segment or even better.

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2011 BMW 6 Series dashboard
When you choose a light color leather, it will be combined with black for the dashboard, center console and upper door trim. All leather surfaces are finished with large contrasting stitching.

The seats have a newly developed light weight construction and integrated seat belts that wrap around the body in the proper way: you do not feel them. The seats are available in three variants: The standard configuration, sport seats with integral head restraints, and comfort seats with a wider range of adjustment. All four seats have crash-activated head restraints. Our test cars were equipped with sport seats that give good support and are comfortable as well.

With respect to safety, the new 6 offers a full range of airbags plus three point automatic belts on all seats with limiters and tensioners, child seat mounts in the rear and a roll-over protection system that consists of two bars placed behind the rear head restraints. They pop up in a fraction of a second as soon as the safety electronics register the danger of a roll over.

Click PLAY to watch the BMW 6 Series promo video

V-8 turbo power
What makes the 6 Series Convertible a lovely driving machine is the wide combination of technologies.

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2011 BMW 6 Series engine
It will be available from its market introduction in two models, the 640i with the 320 hp 3.0-liter inline six engine and the 650i with the 4.4-liter V-8. Both models have TwinPower Turbo technology and direct injection. The engines are teamed to the 8-speed transmission that can also be shifted by the paddles on the steering wheel. Since the 650i was the only model available for first driving impressions, my colleague and I hit the road with 407 hp under the aluminum hood. Not less important: it delivers 600 Nm/ 443 lb-ft, of torque, between 1,750 and 4,500 rpm. We were not seduced to sprint from zero to 62 mph on the busy roads, but we are pretty sure the 650i will meet the acceleration time of 5 seconds, mentioned in the technical details. The easy available power of the V-8 is a joy and makes it really easy to quickly and safely overtake slower traffic on two lane roads. The 650i goes like hell; your hair blows in the wind and the sun burns your face and arms, while listening to the mighty growl that makes topless driving even much more fun. You hardly notice the heavy weight of some 4,400 lbs. Although the Convertible can practically fly on the freeways, most people will use the car to elegantly and comfortably cruise on back roads.

Even though the new Convertible has 50 percent more torsion stiffness, it is absolutely not uncomfortable. Thanks to a range of measures taken by the team of my fellow countryman Jos van As, BMW’s director functional integration driving dynamics.

Fun in Lapland
When I ask him about his experiences testing the prototypes, he says: “Cruising with the 6 is really cruising, it is something you do not get with the 5 Series.” And, in response to my question what was his nicest experience he fondly recalled, “Driving and drifting on snow and ice in Lapland; that is fantastic… the V-8 sound!”

He explained what Integral Active Steering involves. The system is optional and is incorporated in AdaptiveDrive, together with Electronic Power Steering. Van As said, “The active steering system that we already had in the outgoing model is now combined with steering rear wheels, just as in the new 5 Series.”

What you experience at lower speed (up to 37 mph) is that the car reacts more to steering input than you would expect. Of course after driving for a while, you get used to it. But on a very narrow stretch of our test route, it was easy to misjudge the steering input you’d have to give. It should be, let’s say, half of what you would need with a non-steering rear axle, since the car will take care of the other half. On a straight course, the steering is a bit insensitive in the middle range. But no more of this at higher speeds! Then, the steering feel is absolutely firm and the car does exactly what you want it do. The rear wheels follow the front wheels (up to 2.5 degrees both ways), providing precise reactions and great stability during cornering and lane changes. Another advantage is the 1.6 ft. reduced turning circle.

The 650i comes standard with 18” wheels, but our test vehicles had the optional 19” wheels, with 245/40 Dunlop rubber up front and 275/40 in the rear, enhancing the wide stance of the car even further.

In the new 6 Series, the (optional) Adaptive Drive offers a different setting than in the 5 Series. The distinction between Normal and Sport is bigger: from comfortable to dynamic. At the rev counter you see the engine speed drops some 700 rpm too, preparing the power plant to eagerly react to any input of the throttle. And, honestly, I should not forget to say, the 8-speed transmission works extremely well with the V-8. It offers also manual shifting by paddles at the steering wheel for an even more dynamic driving experience.

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2011 BMW 6 Series up to down

Even with a very strong wind that you’d call a storm, it is not uncomfortable driving with the top down. The classic textile (three layer) roof has a modern ‘fin’ design. Fins run further down the back than the glass rear window that can be dropped when the roof is up for staying in touch with the outside world. The roof opens in 19 seconds and closes in 24, while moving at speeds up to 25 mph.

The button to activate the roof to move is placed in the center console and here we notice a design flaw. When a driver is relaxed he may put his arm on the center console, like my colleague did. Then there is some warning in the display that the roof is not ready to be closed (because of a too high speed) and you’ll have to delete the message with the iDrive control…Not a good place.

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2011 BMW 6 Series rear seat

We also put the top up in order to experience closed driving and size the space for the two passengers in the back. With wind noise filtered away, it is really quiet in the cockpit that is large enough to seat two grown ups in the back - provided neither they nor the driver and passenger up front do not have very long legs. Their upper torso’s may be longer than usual, since under the closed soft top, there is enough head room.

The new 6 Convertible offers a premium driving experience: It's steady and fearless in corners, superior at high speed, comfortable enough to make long tours, and elegant enough to stand out in trendy beach resorts. But all this comes at a price. In Germany the 650i has a price tag of 94.500 euro. The MSRP price in the US is $91,375 including $875 destination and handling.

The 6 Series Coupe can be expected this fall, while the four-door coupe will arrive in the first half of 2012.

Click PLAY to watch the complete BMW Press Conference with the 6 Series Convertible unveiling at the 2011 Detroit Auto Show

Technical details: BMW 650i Convertible V8-TwinPower-Turbo, four valves/cyl., displacement 4,395 liter/268, performance 300 kW/407 PS @ 5,500/min, max torque 600 Nm/443 lb.ft@1,750/rpm, 8-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifting, rear wheel drive, 0–100 km/h/62 mph 5,0 s, top speed 250 km/155 mph. Fuel economy EU test cycle 10,7 l/100 km (6.4 mpg imp), CO2 emissions 249 grams/km.