Tuesday

2005 BMW 645i review

BMW is an interesting car company. When they get it right, they REALLY get it right. Witness the first and second generation M3, the current 550i, and the 99-’01 740i Sport just to name a few examples. Conversely when they blow it, well, they do that spectacularly well too *cough X6 cough*. In the late ‘70’s, BMW brought out their first 6 Series car. It was popular enough to stay in production for 12 years, and the shape still looks as good now as it did 30 years ago. It conveyed classy elegance in a way that few cars have ever matched. Over the years, of course, improvements were made to the 6; engines became bigger and more powerful, luxury items were added, and the requisite M version was spawned as well. In 2004, BMW released the second iteration of the 6 Series. Would it continue to carry the torch of its predecessor? In short, did they nail it, or did they blow it?

Walking up to the 645i, it’s easy to automatically assume they’ve blown it. What happened to the styling? It has exactly none of the presence of the original 6, the 8 Series that followed it, or any other classy coupe that you might care to name. The styling reminds me of a jelly bean that sat next to a running hairdryer. There is just no good looking angle on this car. The front end is hideous. The trademark kidney grills just look.…odd....and the headlights give the appearance of sadness. Be honest – you’d be sad too if you looked like this poor car. Move to the side of the 645i and the look improves – until you get to the trunk. The lid looks like a total afterthought. It juts out at an odd angle, looking more like someone remembered that perhaps there should be some storage space and slapped a high lid on it as opposed to thinking the whole process through. Hmmmm. Continue to the very back and the blandness returns. The back end design is entirely uninspired and lacks imagination. Now I’m sure BMW’s engineers could give me all the facts and figures in the world to prove the functions of the design, but it wouldn’t matter. Ugly is as ugly does, and that’s the bottom line. Remember too – this is supposed to a top-level, premium touring coupe. And premium cars get scored on style.

Slip inside and the disappointment continues. The materials look the same as what you would find in a 5 Series. In many of my BMW reviews I’ve criticized their interiors as not being up to par with their competitors, including in the 5 Series. But the 5 drives so good that you’re willing to forgive this. This same trick might have worked had the 6 not moved into a whole ‘nother pricing stratosphere. You’ll have to show the dealer that you’re good for over $76,000 to START (current pricing 650i), and as with all BMW’s you better have several thousand more for options that you’ll undoubtedly want. That’s more money than the most loaded out 550i’s command. In this price arena, the material choices become unacceptable.

Only one thing can save this car – the test drive. Fire it up and the V8 makes all the right noises. Slip it into drive and point it straight…….and where’s the sportiness? It’ll move quickly according to the stopwatch, but it could hardly be described as fun. There’s no presence or feel like you get in their other coupes, or even a 550i for that matter. It doesn’t feel quick. It doesn’t want to go around corners well. Toss it in a curve and it feels like the big, heavy car that it is. Usually a BMW sport machine will feel like its size shrinks around you, but not this whale. Its handling feel is above average, maybe even confident, but not interesting. It just doesn’t feel like a premium machine. It carries out your commands without drama or emotion. Kind of like a Lexus. But this is a BMW – it’s supposed to be The Ultimate Driving Machine. Turn off the stability system to try to launch the car with teenage immaturity and the computer instantly turns into a fun governor. The 645i doesn’t even pretend to want to play. Worse, in the example I drove, the satellite radio couldn’t even hold onto its signal. I couldn’t even amuse myself with its entertainment system instead of its uncooperative mechanicals. That’s the worst sign of all. If I’m behind the wheel of a top-tier BMW and start actually playing with the iDrive and radio to try to find something positive to say, something is seriously wrong. When that is compounded by gadgets that don’t work right either, well, it gets the review that it deserves.

To answer the original question, they blew it – and they blew it spectacularly BAD. What we’re looking at is a premium touring coupe with styling inspired by melted processed food, packed with technology that doesn’t work, built with materials that didn’t look good in a $45k car, and that drives with all the same excitement as (to continue food analogies) plain vanilla ice cream. As if that wasn’t bad enough it costs twice the salary of the average person. Top level cars should make you feel special; you should feel like you got what you paid for. Many other models do. You owe it to yourself to explore all of those other options before being deceived by the roundel badge and committing to a 6. Part of me really has to wonder if BMW realized how bad this car is, and decided to slap a premium pricetag to go after the crowd who buys things based on price simply for bragging rights. Just thinking about the wasted resources to bring this abomination into the world brings a tear to my eye. Its cars like this and the X6 that really make me question if BMW feels they need to keep the universe in balance by building horrible cars to offset their spectacular ones.

Open letter to BMW – if you’re afraid of messing up the space-time continuum by building too many good cars, don’t worry. You won’t. Please, get your engineers back to building real road-dominating machines.

Photos property of BMW

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree. The 645i is a beautiful car, inside and out.

Chris said...

While styling will always be subjective, driving dynamics and suspect build quality isn't.

Anonymous said...

so what convertible car in the same approx. price range of 35000. is the car to buy????
i have found an 645i with only 20000 miles and price of 35000...looks brand new....i agree with most of you comments but whats my alternative...i'm a big person 6ft and 270 so whats your suggestion?

Chris said...

I haven't personally tried one, but since you're open to pre-owned, what about the Benz CLK or last gen M3? Either could make an interesting alternative.

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