It struck me one day that people who love cabriolets, convertibles, roadsters, drop-tops, sports cars - call them what you will - are probably less concerned with who made them than with how they make their drivers feel. It's rather like motorcycles; there is an indescribable unity with Nature, a one-ness with the road and a bonding with the elements - the sun on your skin, the breeze through your hair and the living sounds of the open road.
That's why I decided to copy and paste all my cabriolet reports into a single folder where drop-top fans can find them all without having to scrabble through endless menus.
I have to warn you that it took a while to warm to the cabriolet phenomenon - convertibles are mostly loved, hankered after and driven by women, so we guys find them hard to appreciate. For that reason, you may find some of the writing a little tongue-in-cheek, sceptical or even downright chauvinist. What can I say? I'm male and I can't help it. Just bear with me though, because I believe that the stories still contain valid information that will hopefully help you make an informed buying decision.
*To read one of our road tests, just select from the drop-down menu that appears as you hover your cursor over the folder's title.
*Please remember too, that prices quoted were those ruling on the days I wrote the reports, so even if you're looking to buy second-hand, you have an idea of what it cost originally.
Politically-corrected version published in The Witness Motoring on Wednesday December 7, 2011
How does one describe the BMW 650i cabriolet? As a top-down, breeze in your face boulevard cruiser? Hardly. A little scooter gives you oneness with the wind and the sounds of the open road. A superbike gives you all that plus the gut-wrenching knowledge that, at hyperspeed, the slightest error will splatter your earthly body up against the fiery portals of the Hellmouth. A Fiat 500 is for fun in the sun beachfront patrolling but a BMW 650i cabriolet is, well, you get the picture.
We usually dismiss convertibles as sunny-day toys, but this thing isn’t some delicate little Lolita tra-la-la-ing merrily on a balmy summer’s day. It’s an anvil-breaking, horseshoe-bending mean broad of a machine that eats journalists for breakfast - but only when she’s on diet. She was tough before, with a 4799 cc V8 putting out 270 kW and 490 Nm. Then somebody gave her steroids.
The new 650i is a 4395 cc, TwinPower turbo V8 delivering 300 kW of power and 600 Nm of torque via an eight-speed Steptronic ‘box. It claws its way to 100 km/h in five seconds flat and gorges a kilometre from standstill in 23,8 seconds - hardly a little girl of a car. The power is always there, just waiting to be unleashed in an endless rush as you flatten the pedal. Addictive is a good word for it.
It’s a looker too. Almost 4,9 metres long, voluptuously wide and sinuously low, its bonnet goes on forever while the nominally four-seater passenger compartment is set well back. The boot is practical enough for what the car sets out to be, at 300 litres with the top tucked away and expandable to 350 litres when the roof box is folded back up. Forget big practical family suitcases though – it’s sort of long and wide and shallow. The manufacturer's paperwork says it can accommodate a pair of 46” golf bags and a business case, so what more does a person need?
It’s built as a topless cruiser, but it gets quite noisy at freeway speeds with the roof stowed unless you leave the vertical rear window up. There is also a wind-deflecting rig that you can set up over the rear seats, to calm the turbulence even further. “Leave the rear window up” you ask? Glad you’re paying attention. It’s a proper glass device that does not fold away when you pack the roof. It can also be lowered while the top is in position, should you want a gentle through draft. These Bavarians think of everything.
BMW describes this car as a full four-seater, but that would only be for small or average occupants. With the front seats set for tall people and the roof in place, your scribe could not fit; neck bent, knees cramped and no space for feet under the front chairs. Getting in and out was a ‘mission impossible’ too. Get used to it; cabriolets are not family cars. Our test unit was fitted with drool-gorgeous white leather upholstery too, so keep the ankle biters away.
But it’s still pure BMW; silky smooth, crisp and quiet. It's filled with more technology than Gudrun could flash her dirndl at and the official press release takes 75 pages to describe it all. Half the fun of ordering a Beemer is picking through columns of standard kit and options to assemble your very own dream machine, so we won’t try to do it for you. Best get the back-up chequebook ready though, as this girl starts off at just a shade under 1,2 million Rand before you buy her any toys.
Price: R1 167 500
Engine: 4395 cc, 90 degree V8, TwinPower turbo
Power: 300 kW between 5500 and 6400 rpm
Torque: 600 Nm between 1750 and 4500 rpm
Zero to 100 km/h: 5,0 seconds
Maximum speed: Governed to 250 km/h
Real life fuel consumption: about 12,5 l/100 km
Tank: 70 litres
Warranty and maintenance plan: 5 years/100 000 km
This is a one-man show, which means that road test cars entrusted to me are driven only by me. Some reviewers hand test cars over to their partners to use as day-to-day transport and barely experience them for themselves.
What this means to you is that every car reviewed is given my own personal evaluation and receives my own seat of the pants judgement - no second hand input here.
Every car goes through real world testing; on city streets littered with potholes, speed bumps and rumble strips, on freeways and if its profile demands, dirt roads as well.
My articles appear every Wednesday in the motoring pages of The Witness, South Africa's oldest continuously running newspaper, and occasionally on Saturdays in Weekend Witness as well. I drive eight to ten vehicles most months of the year (press cars are withdrawn over the festive season - wonder why?) so not everything gets published in the paper. Those that are, get a tagline but the rest is virgin, unpublished and unedited by the political-correctness police. Hope you like what you see, because there are no commercial interests at work here. As quite a few readers have found, I answer every serious enquiry from my home email address, with my phone numbers attached, so I do actually exist.
I am based in Pietermaritzburg, KZN, South Africa. This is the central hub of the KZN Midlands farming community; the place farmers go to buy their supplies and equipment, truck their goods to market, send their kids to school and go to kick back and relax.
So occasionally a cow, a goat or a horse may add a little local colour by finding its way into the story or one of the pictures. It's all part of the ambience!
Want to ask a question, comment or just tell me you thoroughly disagree with what I say? That's your privilege, because if everybody agreed on everything, the world would be a boring place. All I ask is that you remain calm, so please blow off a little steam before venting too vigorously. Email me from here