I admit to being enough of a fan of the original BMW 6-series that I spent thousands of dollars trying to maintain a basket case of a 633CSi for a few years. The 6-series completely deserved its "shark" nickname.
The later generation, launched in 2003, not so much. Hampered by regulations concerning trunk lid and taillight height, the back end of that 6-series looked like it had an unsightly growth.
I am happy to say that the latest 6-series generation recaptures some of the original design. The 2012 BMW 650i coupe reviewed by CNET showed much cleaner lines with a solid GT look. Rather than the aggressive curves of GT cars from Maserati and Ferrari, the 650i maintains straighter lines. The trunk lid rises higher than on the original 6-series shark, but it at least looks like a part of the car.
And not only is the 2012 650i a design success, it is also a tech success. From the driveline to the dashboard, from the suspension to the cruise control, BMW takes advantage of technology. Advanced electronics help the driver handle the car, prevent distraction, navigate, and connect to the social sphere.
As in many of its other cars, BMW uses technology to let the 650i exhibit different personalities. A rocker switch on the console takes it through Sport plus, Sport, Comfort, and Comfort plus modes, each affecting engine, suspension, and steering response.
Sport mode is where the 650i really comes into its own, letting it take corners at surprising speeds with flat rotation. Its active suspension pushes the wheels onto the road, maintaining contact. At the same time, the ride quality, while somewhat rigid, is far from harsh. Pushing it up to Sport plus merely turns off the car's traction control.
Comfort mode detunes the throttle response significantly and loosens up the suspension. It never glides over potholes like air-cushioned Mercedes-Benz S-class, but the ride quality is a little smoother than in Sport mode.
The Comfort plus mode seems like an attempt to turn the 650i into an American car from the 1960s. The suspension feel does not change much from the standard Comfort mode, but the steering becomes horribly detuned, losing all feel and exhibiting a tremendous level of play. I cannot imagine what kind of person would prefer the Comfort plus mode.
Driving the car in my preferred Sport mode on a rainy day, it showed all the responsive and dynamic handling for which BMW is known. In one instance, a slick road and a slight bump made the 650i go into oversteer in one corner. But in the split second where I was contemplating the brush-covered dirt berm at the edge of the asphalt, the car wiggled its rear wheels just enough to put the nose in the right direction.
And repeatedly that day, on those wet roads, the car's stability systems stepped in to make up for temporary loss of grip. One of the bigger BMWs, the 650i did not feel as nimble as the 328i I tested the previous week, nor as laser-guided as the M3. But when I wanted to toss it around a bit it was ready and willing.
Similar to its stablemates with a 50i designation in their model names, the 650i uses a 4.4-liter V-8 engine. BMW fits it with direct injection and two twin-scroll turbochargers, one for each bank of four cylinders. Given the twin turbos, the output, 407 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque, may sound on the modest side. BMW gets 560 horsepower out of a similar engine configuration on the 2012 M6.
Giving it full throttle from a stop, the car feels less like a punch in the back and more of an inexorable force. It hesitated a little at the outset, the road-holding systems acting a little like launch control in preventing the rear tires from breaking loose. It was easy to keep in line during a run up to 60 mph, maintaining a controlled precision. BMW rates the 60 mph acceleration time at 4.9 seconds.
While under way, a large number of driver-assistance features do their part to keep the car safe. BMW's new color heads-up display projected speed and route guidance information on the windshield. This feature looked its best when displaying a freeway exit, showing a nice graphic of the roadway and which lane I should be in.
CNET's car did not have the adaptive cruise-control option, but lane-departure warning and blind-spot detection were both present. The lane-departure system buzzed the steering wheel when I crossed lane lines without signaling first, and the blind-spot detection lit up indicators in the side mirror casings when the lanes next to the 650i contained cars. These indicators could be placed a little more prominently, as I rarely noticed them during a casual glance over to each side.