All the test cars on hand were automatics, but the 650i will also continue to offer a six-speed manual transmission -- in the North American market, though not in Europe. (Talk about the reverse of the usual practice.) While we're happy that the manual is available, the automatic makes a better case for itself than it did in the past, as BMW has replaced the six-speed sport automatic with the eight-speed unit from the 5-series. It's controlled by BMW's familiar electronic gearshift, here supplemented by shift paddles. The gearbox is just as lovely in the 650i as it is in the 5-series -- more so, actually, as even during relaxed driving each upshift brings a subtle, deep-toned "brapp" from the engine.
The transmission's shift mapping and the engine's throttle sensitivity are just two of the parameters affected by the driving dynamics control, which retains the familiar comfort, normal, sport, and sport+ settings. The first three affect the throttle and automatic transmission mapping, steering effort, dampers, active roll stabilization (if equipped), active steering (if equipped). Sport+ allows for a bit of power oversteer. By the way, if you get the tail to step out slightly, don't correct for it, at least not if your 650i has active steering -- it will do that for you. If that's a bit too much thinking for you, don't worry; active steering is likely to remain a stand-alone option. But it's actually far better than it was before. Even BMW engineers admit that, when it was first introduced, active steering was pretty awful. In this 650i, though, it has been refined to the point where it's no longer unpredictable. Newly paired with a steerable rear axle, it also has more tangible benefits. It cuts the turning circle by nearly three feet and, BMW claims, raises the car's maximum lane-change speed by some six or seven mph. We only wish the steering could provide at least some feel. Efforts, though, are okay, neither too light in Comfort and Normal modes nor too heavy in Sport. Active roll stabilization is part of the sport package, and it's very effective at counteracting body lean when cornering.