BMW 645Ci – two thumbs up

By Ted Biederman and Jim Meachen

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 through West L.A. and Beverly Hills 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.

A change of traffic lights sent them off. We exchanged thumbs up greetings with a several other drivers and then 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 if you are among BMW enthusiasts who know of Mr. Bangle, 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 short time ago that, “most people do (like the cars). They just won¹t 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 are no retro themes at BMW like those at 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 sun worshiping people can have in this sleek rendition of the big, sporting convertible. A touring car for George Hamilton if there ever was one!

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 maddening complicated iDrive system.

The lack of a permanent roof does not detract from the sporting nature and tremendous fun factor this car imparts. (If you want a roof get the coupe, an equally enchanting car). 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 less than 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 – there’s the thrill.

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. It’s very effective.

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, i.e. 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. Sometimes we can get stubborn too. It just wasn’t worth the aggravation.

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. Anything more was too complicated.

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 that brought the bottom line to $82,495.

Our parking lot discussion ended with agreed thumbs up – kind of like those TV movie reviewers. We also decided that money may not buy happiness, but it will buy one heck of a car to lift your spirits.