07/27/04 — BMW’s 6-Series will put smile on your face

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BMW’s 6-Series will put smile on your face

BMW 645Ci (2005)

It was a warm summer evening, one of those great top-down nights you can find about anywhere in the country in mid-July, and we were sitting in a parking lot discussing the all-new BMW 645Ci convertible.

We had just completed a short drive in which we were chatted up at a stoplight by a couple of young women in a Cadillac who were admiring the car, not the occupants.

BMW 645Ci, 2005

After fending them off and exchanging thumbs up greetings with a couple of other drivers, we had stopped to debate the pros and cons of the German auto company’s latest product.

As we were conversing, a guy pulls into the lot in a BMW X5, gets out and walks around the 645Ci from a considerable distance. He never got close enough for us to invite him over, as he made a couple of laps around the blue convertible. We certainly would have welcomed his thoughts.

The new Bimmer was like a magnet on that picture-perfect evening.

You may be one of those “get rid of Chris Bangle” advocates, but even the severest critic of the guy most responsible for the current and controversial BMW design exercises would have to admit that there’s something striking about the 645Ci.

It grabs you and forces you to stare.

Our only complaint is with the flat rear deck, the same complaint we’ve had with the 7-Series and 5-Series. From the side view, it looks as if it has been added as an afterthought. We admit, however, that this design application works better in the 6-Series.

Bangle, who recently was kicked upstairs by BMW, doesn’t buy the argument that many people don’t like the new 7, 6 and 5 Series designs.

He told an interviewer in England a few months ago that, “most people do (like the cars). They just won’t admit it.”

Maybe that’s wishful thinking.

But Bangle maintains that BMW is entering a new design age. The company is not looking backward, there’s no retro themes at BMW like so many companies. BMW is looking forward to new ideas and new themes.

Time will be the ultimate judge.

In the meantime, the 645Ci, which comes in coupe or convertible form, got positive reviews from everyone who came in contact with it during our memorable test week.

Although the 645Ci is classified as a large car with a 109-inch wheelbase and two-ton weight, it’s basically a personal luxury ride for two people. Rear-seat legroom is virtually nonexistent even with the front seat far forward on the track.

But what a blast two people can have in this sleek rendition of the big, sporting convertible.

The insulated power top will retract and stow away in 24 seconds. An interesting engineering feat is the back-window design. The window is not incorporated in the top, but is free standing and acts as a wind deflector with the top down. With the top up, it can be powered down for ventilation.

Fortunately, the power top is operated simply by the push of a dashboard button and not integrated into the complicated iDrive system.

The lack of a permanent roof does not detract from the sporting nature and tremendous fun factor this car imparts. For one thing, cowl shake — that bugaboo that afflicts convertibles because of the loss of structural rigidity with the top cut off — is absent from the BMW.

Not only is it structurally reinforced to the hilt, it’s built for safety as well. BMW says it has developed a special high-pressure forming process to build a windshield frame that offers maximum protection during a rollover. In addition, two rollbars behind the rear seats are deployed when a rollover is detected.

Much of the fun is derived from the performance-oriented 4.4-liter 325-horsepower V-8 under the hood.

It was mated to a short-throw slick-shifting 6-speed manual in our test car. It can also be mated to an automatic transmission.

Running through the gears was, indeed, a blast. Sixty miles per hour can be reached in under 6 seconds. Massive torque is available at virtually any point on the rev band to give the driver of 645Ci instantaneous gratification.

The power is combined with a point-and-shoot demeanor.

Our sport package-equipped test car came with BMW’s active steering, a system that electronically varies the steering ratio based on vehicle speed and driving conditions.

Adding to the convertible’s handling prowess were 19-inch alloy wheels and performance run-flat tires.

The leather-clad seats have multiple adjustments and can be arranged for a perfect fit. The leather-wrapped steering wheel is big and grippy.

The standard gauges — speedometer, tachometer, gas — are easy to read and the climate controls are relatively simple to adjust. A large manual fan knob was welcome to find just the right amount of air blowing toward our faces.

Unfortunately, many of the other controls including stereo and navigation are bundled in the needlessly complicated iDrive system, which uses a center console-mounted joystick to operate.

We never did figure out how to set a radio station. We accomplished that feat in the 7-Series two years ago, but refused to get the book out again. We figure, if you have to read a manual to pre-set a radio station it ain’t worth it for a week behind the wheel.

Our CD collection came in handy, and vividly displayed the wonderful quality of the BMW audio system. We cruised to the acoustic music of Matthew Ryan and Matt Nathanson. They have seldom sounded better.

We didn’t use the DVD-based navigation system other than to pull up the map of our current location. And we discovered that BMW’s software now displays most of the streets and highways in our area. It offered a comprehensive picture of the county.

The 645Ci is a machine built for driving enjoyment. And it is designed for drawing admiring glances.

But the price is steep considering its utility.

There is only one trim line and base price is $78,295 including gas guzzler tax and destination charge. Our test car had several options including the sport package which brought the bottom line to $82,495.

Money may not buy happiness, but it will buy one heck of a car to lift your spirits.

By Jim Meachen
Published in Car Reviews on July 27, 2004 4:16 PM