New 650i helps this dissenter feel the BMW love

New 650i helps this dissenter feel the BMW love

MADAM Wheels has never really understood the allure of BMWs. They’re  masculine-looking vehicles, whatever the model, and there are so many of them on the roads that the vision seems to slide on by whenever one comes into view. But things took a turn for the better during a recent week-long road test of the German marque’s 650i Gran Coupe. It wasn’t an exciting car, but it gains kudos for technology and comfort. 

It was certainly a pleasing alternative to the quirky-looking 630i Gran Turismo Madam Wheels was supposed to road test. Have you seen that car? We didn’t know what to make of it with its "gran tourer" moniker but fastback lines - was it a hatch or a car for going the distance? Or was it trying to be everything all at once? Thankfully, we didn’t have to find out. A technical issue saw it swapped out for the faster, more powerful and more dynamic 650i Gran Coupe. Never mind that, at $A247,900 as standard, the 650i was twice as expensive as the brand’s “hatch tourer” ($123,500). The driving pleasure it imparts might help justify the spend. It’s certainly Madam-Wheels worthy.

Things didn’t start out well, however, when the sound of the front door closing produced a flimsy thwack rather than a rich and reassuring thud. It’s nice the doors are soft-closing, but when you pull them shut with force, they seemed somehow cheap. But that’s where any suggestion of sub-optimal ended with this car. 

At first glance, the 650i is an imposing vehicle and, from behind the wheel, it does feel like a very big car. While the dimensions aren’t over the top, the raised bonnet feels broader than most saloons, and navigating chicanes and car parking structures requires nerves of steel in avoiding the dreaded gutter rash.

Out on the road, it’s an incredibly comfortable car to drive with its ultra-absorbent suspension producing a soft, smooth ride. Combined with the lack of road noise in the cabin, it’s easy to forget that there’s a serious V8 engine under the bonnet feeding its rear-wheel drive. Madam Wheels was reminded of this while accelerating hard - in Melbourne’s rain - to take advantage of a break in heavy traffic and turn into notoriously tricky Toorak Road. The rear end took off across tram tracks, of course, and the traction warning lights came on. But the car stayed the course and was powering where directed in under a second.   

‘Interestingly, these vehicles also come standard with anti-theft wheel bolts for those areas, one supposes, where wheel theft could be a thing.’

It’s reassuring that it offers plenty of warning if you’re getting too close to things or if something goes wrong on the road. The vehicle comes equipped with every clever road-safety and performance feature you’d probably ever need as standard, including adaptive LED headlights, head-up display, driver-assistance package and the all-important speed-limit information.

But perhaps one of the most pleasing things about BMWs generally is the company’s navigation system. It surpasses even Audi’s with its live interactivity with road conditions and speed limits. In fact, the system is so good that luxe British automaker Rolls-Royce Motor Cars has adopted it for the latest version of its flagship Phantom and will use it in all future models. As Rolls-Royce said on launching Phantom VIII last year, it plans to incorporate in its vehicles the best of what its German parent company has to offer, and the nav system was among the first features to go in. 

While we like the look and detail on the navigation screen, we’re not so keen on the dash. It’s quite lacklustre - a criticism applicable to BMW dashboards generally - and devoid of information. To be fair, though, most of it’s included in the head-up display, which can be configured based on the information most useful to the driver. Depending on one’s height and limb length, an electric knob on the steering column allows the wheel to be adjusted into the optimal driving position. The wheel also plays host to a variety of features including the intuitive cruise control, voice command, driving modes as well as the sound system volume, as usual.

In the back, it looks quite crowded but at least there’s a small drop-down section in the middle to cater for the ski and snowboard equipment. Madam Wheels’ variant also came with an electric glass panoramic roof, heated front seats, four-zone climate control and deployable privacy shades for the rear windows. It also carried a sporty-looking leather steering wheel, part of the optional M Sport Package. Other inclusions were larger 20” alloy wheels and various aesthetic improvements inside and out. A $14,000 Bang & Olufsen surround-sound system was a welcome addition for the music buffs in the back seat, helping quell complaints during a long stretch on the road. 

Any features which enable drivers to monitor things from within the car rather than getting their hands dirty outside are always a good thing, so the optional $700 tyre pressure monitor is a definite “buy”. Interestingly, these vehicles also come standard with anti-theft wheel bolts for those areas, one supposes, where wheel theft could be a thing.

Overall, we wouldn’t describe this as “a driver’s car” - everything’s just too easy for that. If it’s action you want perhaps consider wait for the incoming BMW Concept M8 Gran Coupe (below), a car that promises to be ultra-sporty, extroverted and polarising. Not only will the four-door sports car move you emotionally, apparently, it will also help you stand out from the crowd. If that’s what blows your hair back, the new BMW 8 Series, which will take over as BMW’s new flagship model, is set to start rolling off the production line in 2019.

As for the BMW 650i, it’s helped Madam Wheels warm towards the brand - though we’re unlikely ever to be fans of the X Series range given the depth of the stellar competition in that space. But as an example of what the brand is capable of, we liked this one a lot.

Madam Wheels Verdict

Madam Wheels Worthy? Yes, there are many things to like about this car and it’s hard to find any outstanding flaws. It feels like an expensive car and is extremely comfortable. 

Buy: If you spend a lot of time in freeway traffic and want all the mod-cons and comfort for the drive.

Avoid: If you would prefer something with better performance and dynamism. 

Likes: The Navigation system. If it’s good enough for Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, it’s good enough for the rest of us.

Dislikes: The surprising cheap sound of the closing door, it’s a little dull.

Bottom line: $A247,9000, Madam Wheels variant $263,250 before on-roads.