Review: BMW 6 Series Coupe
14:19 28 November 2011
Elegant, dynamic design is making a comeback in BMW’s range and nowhere is this more evident (or important) than in its big coupe. But the new 6 is about more than good looks as Jonathan Crouch reports.
With sharper styling, more efficiently powerful engines and some head-spinning technology, BMW’s 3rd generation 6 Series Coupe is a tempting option to a Jaguar XK or even a Mercedes SL if you’re looking for a luxury two-door performance GT of this kind and don’t want to stretch to a Maserati or a Bentley. Specify this model carefully and it’ll even offer shades of sportscar too.
For four decades, the BMW 6 Series has built upon a performance coupe heritage that for the Munich maker, now stretches back over seventy years. Cars like the classic BMW 3.0 CSi were amongst those that in race trim established this German brand as a force to be reckoned with across race tracks the world over. In road form, their emphasis was a little different, with most models aimed more at Grand Touring than Grand opposite-locking gestures. M Power versions were provided for racy folk, but the majority of buyers were more likely to be setting off for a wine tour around Burgundy than a lap of the Nurburgring. That was certainly the way of things with the second generation version, launched in here 2003 and it’s an approach that’s been further refined by its successor, this car, launched in 2011.
This car looks more dynamic - less of a 7 Series coupe, more of a muscular performance car in its own right - with styling in this form that looks arguably more elegant than that you get in the mechanically identical Convertible model. More importantly perhaps, it can claim to be a proper sportscar, providing you press the right buttons and tick the right options. This is thanks to a whole phalanx of high technology provided to sharpen the driving experience on offer as and when owners feel it to be necessary thanks to the standard Drive Dynamic Control system and the optional Adaptive Drive and Active Steering features. An evolutionary approach perhaps, but an impressively thorough one.
The model we’re testing here is the variant that almost all UK 6 Series Coupe buyers will choose, the 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged six cylinder 640d. You might think the fact that this is a diesel would tell you everything necessary about the performance priorities of this model’s target market. Perhaps, but this is quite a diesel. The 313bhp engine is hugely torquey, with more than enough pulling power - 630Nm - to make unnecessary as many as eight ratios in the Steptronic automatic gearbox, but BMW has provided them anyway, along with a set of paddle-shifters behind the steering wheel for when your favourite secondary road opens up and you can access performance that’ll catapult you to 60 from rest in a Porsche-worrying 5.5s. B road dawdlers are dispatched with disdain and flat out, the engine has to be artificially reined in at 155mph. For those less bothered about benefit-in-kind taxation and the like, there are two mainstream petrol options, the 320bhp six cylinder 640i that delivers similar performance to this diesel. And the 407bhp 4.4-litre twin-turbo is seriously lively. What might be more of a surprise is how adroitly this car is capable of tackling the twisty stuff.
It’s on this kind of tarmac that you’ll be tempted to start playing with the standard Drive Dynamic Control system, which allows you to choose how responsive you want the gearbox, steering and throttle response to be. Also fitted to the test car is the Adaptive Drive package which adds this extra ‘Comfort’ mode to the other options, thanks to the way you can adjust the dampers and anti-roll bars to create a really laid-back driving set-up for long distances. Or alternatively sharpen them up by selecting one of the controller’s sportier modes.
Whichever mode you select, there are a few constants. One of them is well regulated bodyroll, courtesy of a stiffer underlying structure this time round. Even so, you’ll need to remember before throwing this car about that any 6 Series remains first and foremost a Grand Touring GT rather than a sportscar. Or, to put it another way if it makes more sense, more a Mercedes SL than a Porsche 911. The electric power steering is further evidence of this, with a lightness not designed for enthusiasts, but you can sharpen it quite a bit with a more direct variable ratio set-up if you’re prepared to pay extra for ‘Integral Active Steering’, a package which also includes four-wheel steer for sharper cornering turn-in.
Design and Build
Arguably the styling of this car’s predecessor was a little heavy-handed: imposing perhaps, but never beautiful. This 3rd generation model is much easier on the eye. Longer, lower and wider, it’s larger in every dimension than the model it replaces, the only exception being height: it sits half a cm lower to the ground. Yet despite the extra bulk, designer Nader Faghihzadeh has still managed to create a lithe, agile look from the long sweeping aluminium bonnet with its distinctive ‘shark nose’ past the frameless doors and on through to the muscular wheelarches. At the rear, BMW aficionados will recognise the V8 650i by its switch from these circular tailpipes to trapezoidal-shaped ones.
At the wheel, the gorgeous interior with its fastidious attention to detail is very difficult to fault, especially if you’ve specified the expensive option of a leather finish for the instrument panel that dials the cabin ambiance up a few notches. The interior design is based around what BMW calls a ‘twin cockpit’ approach, intended to feel like an upmarket powerboat. The dash is dominated by a large colour screen and the instruments are canted carefully towards the driver, though many of them are recognisable from the brand’s cheaper models. To reduce button clutter, most of the functions and features are taken care of by the infamous iDrive system, now much easier to use, despite many functions and menus.
And behind? Well the seats in the back are restricted in size of course but they do benefit from this MK2 model’s extra 74mm of body length and 39mm of extra width to the point where they’re now significantly bigger than those provided by rivals and perfectly comfortable for children and adults on short journeys. The boot too, is decently sized for the class at 460 - that’s 130-litres bigger than a Jaguar XK. BMW betrays the target market by letting on that this is enough to hold three 46-inch golf bags. More relevantly perhaps, you’ll be able to fit in two medium-sized hard-shell cases, plus a flight case.
Market and Model
A 6 Series Coupe will cost you around £6,000 less than its Convertible stablemate. That means a price span for mainstream models in the £60,000 to £70,000 bracket, depending upon the model you select and the option boxes you tick. If you want your ‘6’ to have a more dynamic look inside and out, a £4,500 premium will buy you your car in ‘M Sport’ trim. Whichever you choose, you should find your car to be decently equipped. Our test car came with smart alloy wheels (18’’ on 640s, 19’’ on 650s), Xenon headlamps, LED front foglights, park distance control, satellite navigation, an electrically adjustable steering column, a 9-speaker stereo system and electrically adjustable leather seats. All cars in this segment are automatic - in this case an 8-speed Steptronic transmission - and BMW includes its Drive Dynamic Control system in the package to adjust steering, transmission and throttle response to your needs. It is a little galling though, for this kind of money, to have to pay more for items like a DAB digital radio and sports seats.
And of course, there are plenty of other ways in which you can increase the list price of your car by a substantial amount. For a start, most will want the Adaptive Drive system which, for around £3,500 adjusts the suspension set-up. And I could have gone even further by ticking the box for ‘Integral Active Steering’, a package which includes four-wheel steer for sharper cornering turn-in and a more direct variable ratio steering system. You might also want to consider the Adaptive LED Headlights which emit a cool white light turning night into day as you drive. From then on, the sky’s the limit - in-car email display via Bluetooth, Night Vision to help you pick out pedestrians and objects at night and the usual systems designed to stop drowsy highway drivers from unintentionally changing lanes and prevent others from dangerously pulling out to overtake when there’s a car in the blind spot behind them. And of course, there’s all the usual airbags, plus every conceivable kind of electronic assistance for braking, traction and stability control to hopefully ensure that you’ll never have to use them. Also expect to find isofix childseat fastenings and anti-whiplash head restraints.
Cost of Ownership
You can see why most buyers choose the diesel 640d in the 6 Series Coupe range. Emissions of just 145g/km of CO2 and a combined cycle fuel return of 51.4mpg are the kinds of figures we’d have seen from a humble family hatch until just a few years ago, not a luxury sports coupe. A lot of ‘EfficientDynamics’ work has been put in by the Munich engineers to achieve this, right down to tiny details like an automatic active air flap control behind the car’s kidney grille for optimum engine performance. It also helps that weight has been kept down by fashioning the bonnet and doors from aluminium, the front side panels from plastic and the boot lid from glass fibre composite.
Most important though, is the Auto Start-Stop technology that cuts the engine at the lights or in traffic when you don’t need it. And there’s a clever ECO PRO mode which at low speeds or when cruising allows the auto gearbox to shift up earlier while altering throttle sensitivity, engine mapping and the power being consumed by auxiliary systems. Auto Start-Stop and ECO PRO are also fitted to the 640i petrol model which duly delivers 36.2mpg and 181g/km. The V8 650i though, does without them, its figures consequently dropping to 26.6mpg and a grimy 246g/km. All models do get Brake Energy Regeneration, Electric Power Steering, ancillary components that power down when not being used and intelligent lightweight construction.
It’s fortunate for BMW that directly comparable luxury coupes in the £60,000 to £70,000 sector are few and far between. Even if that wasn’t the case though, this one would still be a strong contender. Bigger, faster and sleeker than before, makes a strong case for being the most desirable large coupe the Bavarian brand has ever made and a car you could comfortably choose over a comparable Jaguar, Mercedes or even a Maserati.
No, it isn’t an out-and-out sportscar. It isn’t designed to be. But carefully specified and with all the correct electronic gadgetry switched on, you’ll be surprised by just how agile this coupe is for something of its size. The old ‘6’ would take you comfortably from London at lunchtime to Nice at night. This one will do that too, but the difference now is that you might also want to take in a few Alpine passes en route. The ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’? It depends upon your driving priorities. Many target buyers though, will think this car to be exactly that.