BMW 650i forces driver to adopt
By John Gilbert, special to SNS
MILWAUKEE, Wis., (SNS) Ė
Driving a BMW 650i from Minneapolis to Milwaukee
a couple weeks back was for the specific reason of attending the
national collegiate hockey tournament, but there were other good
One was that there was so much construction going on
downtown that the sheer beauty of the car stood out even more
dramatically against the rugged geometric bits of rubble where
buildings once stood.
Another good reason is that it gave me time to get
to know the "Nav Lady" voice, and coexist with the outrageous iDrive
control system she was trying to interpret.
But perhaps the best was to spend a full five hours
behind the wheel of a BMW 650 with no interruptions.
When it comes to engineering excellence, any BMW
vehicle deserves scrutiny. When it comes to styling, some BMWs run the
gamut from exotic to controversial. But when it comes to sheer,
stunning beauty, the BMW 650i leaves no room for controversy.
So there I was, just me, with time to appreciate one
of the worldís great cars, collaborating with the Nav Lady while
switching the Sirius satellite radio back and forth from the comedy
stations to Margaritaville, with various stops between them.
There are Mercedes and Cadillac competitors on the
market now for the 6-Series coupe and convertible, and they are
excellent in their own way, and meet specific objectives known best to
each company. But the BMW 645i is sleek and classy, and also
fierce-looking and aggressive. And it is loaded up for power to put
either of those extremes on display. Start with the looks, which are
impossible to overlook.
The BMW 7-Series sedans drew criticism for the
tacky, add-on look of the trunklid and its spoiler. The 5-Series
midsize sedans did it much better, and the 7s have been altered by
now. But the 6-Series came out later, and got it right from the start,
as the 645i.
With a rear end that looks built for speed in a
smooth swath wrapping from side to side and encompassing the
taillights, the carís sleek silhouette starts with a front end with
fierce-looking headlight eyes, which look like a little like a crazed
raptor about to pounce, while the rest of traffic is transformed to a
collection of scurrying rodents.
One of my favorite
touches is the outer ring around the quad headlights, which glow
as the parking lights, and left me finding all sorts of reasons to
turn on my parking lights.
The 650i might throw you off for a bit. I kept calling it a 645,
because thatís what it used to be. It also used to be that every
digit in a BMWís numerical name meant something Ė the 530 was a
5-Series sedan with a 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine, for example.
Well, the 645 has moved up to
become the 650i, and the V8 engine displacement is measured at 4.8
For some reason, BMW chose to round it off to 50,
rather than stay precise with a 648.
The engine has dual overhead camshafts and four
valves per cylinder, with BMWís Double Vanos variable valve-timing.
The smooth-running V8 delivers 360 horsepower at 6,300 RPMs, and 360
foot-pounds of torque at 3,400 RPMs. Thatís enough oomph to cover 0-60
sprints in about 5.3 seconds, which is not bad for a 3,814-pound
That weight, incidentally, is a surprise, because
its look and its feel indicate light and lean, rather than hefty. Itís
possible that having a six-speed manual transmission further added to
the light-on-your-wheels feeling, but the car was pretty much a
pleasure to drive in every moment of the trip down and back on I94.
With a coefficient of drag of a mere 0.30, the
wind-cheating 650i attained 22-24 miles per gallon, although the EPA
estimates are only 16 city and 22 highway.
Naturally, the technology and exotic image are
costly. Base price is $72,495, with sport suspension and the six-speed
stick, and such subtle upgrades as aluminum front end structure, hood
and doors. Add in Active Roll Stabilization, 18-inch wheels, active
cruise, heads-up display, the audio upgrade with satellite radio,and
you're up to $76,695, and you could go higher with the splendid active
Cruising along the freeway, a couple of the newest
features on the feature-laden car made the trip more pleasurable. A
heads-up display allows you to keep track of your speed, other vitals,
and an arrow indicating any upcoming turns you might need to prepare
for, all transposed unobtrusively on the windshield. Itís easy to look
right past it, or through it, but itís also simple to train your
consciousness to pay attention to your speed and other important
Naturally, I never advocate speeding, but sometimes
on a freeway trip it might be safer to blend with the traffic flow,
even if itís a tad over the limit. I found a nice rhythm at 75 miles
per hour for certain stretches, letting the carís active cruise
control maintain a preset interval.
several different intervals, and all worked very well Ė slowing
the car when a slower car was directly ahead in order to maintain
the increasing speed to reestablish the proper interval summoned.
The iDrive is brought to life by a knob on the
console. You tip it in any of four directions and you engage
navigation, audio, climate-control and information, refining it
with subsequent clicks to operate everything. The readouts come
onto the navigation screen.
You also can induce a voice-control system, whereby
a pleasant feminine voice gives you little tips about upcoming turns
necessary to reach your pre-established destination.
John Drewitz, an old friend in the auto biz who
sells BMWs and Mercedes products at Sears Imports in Wayzata, has
prompted me often enough that the iDrive is to be considered a tool to
be programmed, rather than a nuisance to be resisted Ė and/or
So I thought Iíd coexist, and overlook the fact that
you have to continue to glance at the navigation screen repeatedly
whenever you wanted to change radio stations.
I found that if you programmed it right, you could
then switch to your preset favorites by merely rocking a switch on the
steering wheel. And the pleasing and soothing voice of the Nav Lady
prodded me if I was going to miss a turn.
There is one odd thing about BMWs. Itís not that you
feel superior driving one, but there seems to be a prevailing attitude
among other drivers that you must be a smug son of a gun because you
have such a fine car.
So you find other drivers speeding up, maybe
stealing a glance at your ride, and then acting almost rude, as if
they are achieving something by getting ahead of a Beemer. So you have
to take on a bit of an attitude yourself. You may not be better than
those in the other cars, but the BMW may make you a better driver, so
youíd better pay attention.
With everything in place, I cruised in on 94 to
reach Milwaukee, and a few signs tipped me off to impending
difficulties. Road construction ahead, the signs said. I wasnít
worried, although I had left just barely enough time to cruise on in
and get to Bradley Center for the drop of the first semifinal puck.
Once I got to Milwaukee, however, I had more reason to be concerned.
appears that the kind of nuisance road construction Iím used to in
the Minneapolis-St. Paul area was not in force. What was in force
was an all-out assault on every exit that might allow you to get
off I94 anywhere remotely close to downtown Milwaukee.
The Nav Lady said, "Take the next exit." Hmmmm,
the next exit was also closed. "ÖTake the next exit,í the Nav Lady
said again, and then again, and again.
If I wasnít sure, I thought I detected some
frustration, if not impatience, from that sweet computerized voice.
But there was nothing I could do. The Nav Lady was
giving me good advice, but the only vehicle I could think of that
could take the "next exit" was a helicopter, and I didnít have one
handy. Pretty soon, I was through town, past the tall buildings near
Lake Michigan, and heading north, as if I was headed for Sheboygan, or
Finally, amid the gathering rubble, I found an exit,
and veered off the freeway. As soon as I got up to the stop sign, the
Nav Lady got busy saving me. "Take the first left," she said, and as I
did, she added, hastilyÖ"prepare to take the next left turn."
Soon I was headed back down a quite messy street
that was something of a frontage road that led to 6th Street, and on
the navigation screen, I could see a group of buildings that included
Bradley Center. I kept heading toward it, and when I got close, I
pulled over and parked, locking up the car and walking six blocks to
Good game, too, although North Dakota lost to Boston
College 6-5, and I wanted the Fighting Sioux to win. Two days later,
Wisconsin beat Boston College 2-1 for the NCAA title. I had predicted
beforehand that Wisconsin would win both the menís and womenís NCAA
titles, and that final made my hunch look prophetic.
I gave a friend a ride further downtown to catch a
quick and late dinner on the night between games, and later dropped
him at his hotel. The next day he mentioned that the group of
cool-looking folks inside waited until I was driving away, then went,
"Wow! Did you see that BMW?í"
It is that special, although passers-by prefer to
withhold such impressions if you might witness them.
As a driver, I am reminded of Gene Wilder in the
movie Silver Streak, where he blackens his face and tries to strut
with his buddy, Richard Pryor, but has a bit of a problem walking
cool. Naturally, he overplays his part to hilarity, but in a way, you
have to drive cool in a BMW.
Sunday morning, time to hit I94 westbound, cruising
effortlessly. Of course, I wasnít alone. The Nav Lady was with me, and
she was the perfect companion. She didnít ever complain about my
choice of satellite radio music or humor, as I cruise-controlled my
way across Wisconsin.
The miles melted away, and I was sure to drive cool,
all the way.
In a BMW 650i, it would be impossible to NOT drive
Editor's note: John Gilbert writes weekly auto reviews. He can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.