BMW 650i CONVERTIBLE:
Engine: 4.0 liter, twin turbocharged V-8, 400 horsepower
Acceleration: 0-60: 4.9 seconds
Brakes: 4-wheel ventilated anti-lock disc brakes (ABS) with Dynamic Brake Control (DBC)
Sound system: AM/FM stereo CD/MP3 audio system with 205-watt output power and includes 2 tweeters, 5 midrange speakers and 2 bass speakers
Price: base price $90,500 and as equipped $95,375

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IN THE PAST, THE BMW SERIES 6 has been oriented to the high performance luxury market with emphasis on coupes and convertibles, unlike the four-door sedans most commonly found in the Series 5 and super high-end Series 7. And in true BMW tradition, when new models are introduced, the coupe comes first, followed by the convertible.

This time around, the central theme remains, but the order of models is reversed with the convertible having arrived onshore over the summer and the coupe later.

The 2012 soft-top is not a facelift, but a major remake. Length is up almost three inches and width about one-and-a-half inches with the overall height dropping slightly.

More importantly, the drive-train has received a major overhaul. Dropped is the former 4.8 liter V-8 with 360 horsepower-in its place is a smaller 4.4 liter V-8-albeit with its twin turbochargers that churn out 400 horsepower. To boot, a six-speed manual transmission is available exclusively in the U.S.A. Yet most will chose the new eight-speed automatic instead. Under either transmission scenario, zero to 60 clocks in just shy of the 5-second range.

The exterior still speaks to BMWs traditions, with the grill, taillights and styling a nod to classic BMW design. What has been bolstered are the flanks, where sculpting around the wheel openings and the lines along the door handle are sleek and modernized. Sticking to the theme, when the top is up, rather than a flat and dull rear window, this edition features a small indented portal and thrust-out roof edges-a chic twist from the normal soft-top look.

Speaking of the top, simply push the button on the console and the top completely disappears into the body within 20 seconds. (This can be performed even while moving at slow speeds.) In the top-up mode, its multi-layered build offers a silent cabin thanks to air-tight design.

Because BMW has chosen a soft-top instead of a metal one, trunk room is generous.

The redesigned interior features beautiful double-stitched leather throughout, with no shortage of wood and metal to spice things up. The high-side bolstered front seats are very comfortable as well as infinitely adjustable.

A large 10-inch wide video screen angled towards the driver dominates the center of the dash, where a simplified iDrive system can bring up telephone, stereo and vehicle information, not to mention three-dimensional navigation images and other data. When the transmission is placed in reverse, a view of what’s behind the car shows up on screen, thanks to a small camera at the rear of the vehicle.

Both handling, ride comfort and-to a certain degree-performance is fully controllable with a series of settings that can be managed from the console. These range from “Comfort” to “Sport plus,” the latter of which features a tightened suspension and quicker gear shifts.

Even on the uneven surfaces of Honolulu, this convertible’s body is rock-solid without any body shake. The use of paddles to shift the eight-speed automatic (or you can let the transmission shift itself) insures instant and plentiful acceleration at any speed. In the comfort suspension setting, the ride is without any harshness. Move the setting up the scale to sport and cornering is as competitive as many sports cars, yet without the ultra stiffness that usually accompanies those models. BMW assures that you are indeed in command of your own mode of driving.

The best setting we found was the top-down, early Honolulu evening mode. Here, it’s unquestionable that you are in control of a distinctive, high performance luxury convertible.

Luxury Asides

HIGH-END HYBRIDS

With the Federal Government mandating higher gas mileage from all manufacturers, the luxury makers are scrambling to up their efficiency. However, since finer autos tend to weigh in heavy and large, the answer appears to be hybrid technology.

The formula isn’t new: Take two engines, one gas and one electric and have them work together (electric takes on the low speed duties and the gas engine kicks in with acceleration). When power is needed, both engines combine for greater umph.

Of all the manufacturers, Porsche does not immediately come to mind as a hybrid maker. Yet, Porsche’s primary player in this league is their SUV, the Cayenne. With 380 combined horsepower, 20 mpg in the city and all the handling and utility one would need, it makes it an easy choice as a hybrid urban warrior.

Shortly, Infiniti will be in the hybrid game with its medium size M35h four-door. Starting at $54,000, this luxury car will have a total of 301-horsepower, yet deliver a mileage rating of 27 in the city and 32 on the highway. And no performance is lost since zero-60 time is in the six-second range.

Lexus is in the hybrid game already at various levels, starting with the relatively low-end of the luxury offerings to the extreme high-end. Regarding the latter, the over $100,000 LS 600h L is in essence a limo with a conscious. Power is plentiful with 430 horsepower yet the mileage is 20 in the city and 22 on the highway. This ride is so luxurious that a specially prepared version of this auto was the Royal Wedding car for His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco and his bride, Ms. Charlene Wittstock (pictured, in the top photo).

On the other end of the price and mileage spectrum is the Lincoln MKZ sedan, which can be picked up for about $35,000 in either the hybrid form or with a regular V-6 engine. Since hybrids are much more complicated than the standard gas-powered vehicle, this pricing parity scheme is without precedent. In addition, the gas usage for this Lincoln is excellent, with city mileage at 41 miles per gallon.