BMW's 6 Series Convertible is back with more efficient engines and sleeker styling. Jonathan Crouch wonders if the 6-cylinder petrol 640i might be the pick of the range.
Ten Second Review
Better looking, better equipped and more efficient than before, the latest BMW 6 Series Convertible is shaping up to be a convincing proposition. For most buyers, it'll probably make most sense in entry-level 640i petrol guise. In this form, you'll find 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.
Power in this variant comes from a turbocharged 3.0-litre straight-six with Valvetronic variable valve control and direct injection. It'll get to 62mph in 5.5s and powers on to an electronically limited top speed of 155mph. For most customers, that's going to be more than enough. But if it isn't, there's always the 4.4-litre 650i which hits the same electronically governed top speed, but its 450bhp V8 catapults it to 62mph in a Porsche-worrying 4.6 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.
Design and Build
The styling of the Convertible has been nipped and tucked a little, with a re-profiled front bumper with a broader kidney grille, revised headlights featuring an LED main beam, a redesigned rear bumper and different alloy wheels. Six-cylinder models like this one get 17-inch wheels but most owners will upgrade to the eighteens. The cabin has come in for a bit of a makeover as well, with materials quality taking a noticeable boost. The latest model gets some higher-quality dash finishes and optional two-tone leathers. There's still not a huge amount of space in the rear, the back seats best reserved for jackets and bags. The boot's not a bad size at 300-litres, although it's still a bag or two down on that of the Mercedes SL.
Market and Model
You'll pay around £65,000 for this 640i Convertible, which makes this petrol variant the most affordable way into the model line-up. There's a saving of nearly £3,000 over the equivalent 640d diesel version, so if your annual mileage is low, a 640i makes more sense. Equipment runs to 18-inch alloy wheels, 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.
Cost of Ownership
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. The BMW 640i Convertible achieves 37.2mpg on the combined fuel economy cycle, while CO2 emissions are a scarcely credible 176g/km. In comparison, the 640d diesel version manages 52.3mpg and 144g/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.
BMW has usefully improved this 6 Series Convertible and it's a car that many buyers will want to look at first in this 640i petrol form. Go this way and you'll get a luxury convertible that's fast and surprisingly efficient. It's also a beautiful way to travel. As a result, if you're in the enviable position of not having to worry unduly about the finer detail of your disposable income, this luxury Bavarian drop-top looks well positioned. Less showy 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.