First Drive: 2012 BMW 650i Convertible

BMW's hulking 6-series has undergone its first redesign since the model rejoined the lineup in 2004. The 650i has moved to the platform of the new 5-/7-series and sits astride a 3-inch-longer wheelbase. There's a new engine and automatic transmission, the cabin has been upgraded, the chassis tweaked, and more technology is on offer.

What's coming, and when
In a reverse of the usual BMW practice, the convertible, unveiled at the Detroit auto show earlier this month, will arrive first. Expect it in showrooms in May, just in time for convertible season. The two-door coupe should appear several months later. (A four-door "coupe" also is planned.) Putting the convertible first should please BMW dealers in the U.S.A., where the convertible outsells the coupe two-to-one.

"Most important was the design"
Ask 6-series project leader Dr. Frank Ochmann what's most significant about the new car and he'll tell you it's the new sheetmetal. We agree. Like all recent new BMWs, the 650i is better looking than its predecessor, a natural consequence as the brand slowly pulls itself out of the primordial ooze of its Bangle-era styling. Where the old car was soft and melted-looking, the new one has thrust and crispness. It starts up front, where the previous grille was laid back, its two ovoid openings at best a perfunctory nod to the traditional twin kidneys; now we have a more BMW-like grille that pushes into the wind -- squint and it's almost a BMW shark nose. The dominant elements in the light cluster are now the four round headlamps rather than the eyebrow above, and LED fog lights are new. Along the body side, the sheetmetal is newly creased, and the more defined rear is a vast improvement over the previous car's rounded rump. Capping off the design is one major carryover item: the soft top with its flared C-pillars; between them is a power-operated, receding rear window made of glass.

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