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Car reviews - BMW - 6 Series - coupe/convertible range

The Car

31 May 2004

BMW’s long-awaited Six is now on sale.

The rear-wheel drive, two-door, four-seater, 6 Series coupe (E63) and convertible (E64) are only available in 645Ci guises for now.

The former tees off at $203,000, a $17,000 saving over the soft-top.

The latter eschews the fashionable collapsible hardtop roof structure because of the inherent lower-weight, compactness and favourable weight distribution properties of a fabric top, says BMW.

Both coupe and convertible include BMW’s body-roll-reducing Dynamic Drive, variable wheel-twirling Active Steering and corner-peeping Adaptive Headlights.

Peak power is 245kW at 6100rpm while the top torque total is 450Nm at 3600rpm, delivered by the lauded N62B44 4.4-litre Valvetronic V8 engine familiar to BMW 745i drivers.

Gearbox choices are limited to the ZF six-speed Steptronic automatic or a no-cost option six-speed manual. 645Ci buyers are currently denied the Bavarian firm’s SMG sequential-clutchless manual transmission option.

BMW has voluntarily equipped an electronic cutout that limits the 645Ci’s top speed to 250km/h, a velocity the manual can maintain in its two top gears.

Getting to 100km/h, the automatic coupe takes 5.8 seconds, 0.4 seconds ahead of the drop-top but 0.2 seconds behind the manual.

Still secret six-cylinder variants of the Dingolfing, Germany, built Six may materialise from next year, along with a rumoured 373kW V10 M6 model co-developed alongside its forthcoming M5 cousin by BMW’s M Division and boasting a seven-speed SMG gearbox.

The 6 Series’ "flame surface" styling is the signature work of Chris Bangle, the American responsible for the controversial E65 7, E60 5 Series and Z4, as well as the much-admired Fiat Coupe from the middle 1990s.

BMW says it is meant to create an impression of lightness, as if it were hovering in space, although traditional corporate design cues remain, such as the long-bonnet/short-boot profile, long wheelbase, "kidney" grille and "Hofmeister Kick" rear side window.

The future and familiar co-exist inside too, with the novel BMW double-binnacle and (simplified) i-Drive functions interface mixing it with the traditional angled-towards-the-driver dashboard.

Seating is of the two-plus-two variety, but BMW is keen to emphasise the extra space for occupants the E63/4 has over its last big coupe, the 1989-2000 E31/E38 8 Series.

All Aussie-bound 645Ci coupes feature a tilt-only glass sunroof called Panorama that takes up two-thirds of the ceiling and does not impinge on headroom.

Boot space is 450 litres in the coupe, 150 litres more (or 100 litres if the boot’s roof-up variable storage rack is raised) than the electric and remote control-operated convertible’s.

Speaking of which, its vertical rear window can be lowered for added ventilation when the roof is raised and erected (in around 25 seconds) for extra rear passenger wind protection when in the folded position.

Much of the 6 Series innards are based on the E60 5 Series that surfaced locally from last October.

Like its brother, lightweight materials as well as steel abound, with aluminium found in the front and rear suspension, bonnet and doors, glass-fibre in the boot lid, and thermoplastics in the side front panels.

Consequently, the manual 645Ci coupe weighs in at a leading 1615kg, 200kg under the beefed-up convertible. Autos add 5kg. Meanwhile, a Mercedes CL500 starts at 1865kg.

The 645Ci’s relative litheness is in spite of a cornucopia of creature comforts as well as an alphabet soup of electronic driver and safety aids. They include:

  • Active Steering, which limits the turns needed according to the car’s speed and can go from 3.0 turns lock-to-lock to 1.7.

  • Bi-Xenon Adaptive Headlights, claimed to improve road illumination by up to 90 per cent.

  • Adaptive brake lights that reflect the brake force applied for reduced rear-end collisions.

  • Dynamic Drive, which electronically suppresses body roll by up to 80 per cent in some bends for greater stability and control.

  • DDC, Dynamic Drive Control. It boosts response times when the driver pushes a button. The 645Ci’s throttle, transmission and Servotronic steering react significantly faster for a sportier and more harder-edged performance.

  • DBC, Dynamic Brake Control. It builds up brake power for extra pressure in an emergency.

  • DSC, Dynamic Stability Control, which instantaneously reduces drive or activates the brakes in anticipation of or during a swerve or skid.

The latter works in collaboration with the ABS Anti-lock Brake System, CBC (Cornering Brake Control) and ASC (Automatic Stability Control).

A plethora of airbags is controlled through the ASE (Advanced Safety Electronics) system, while an interactive DVD navigation system is another driver aid included in the price.

For optimising the 6 Series’ near ideal 50:50 front-rear weight distribution, the battery and its ancillaries reside in the boot where the spare wheel well would be.

In turn, run-flat tyres that are functional to 80km/h and for at least 150km are fitted in lieu of the spare tyre, or even a spray-can/air-pump puncture-repair kit.

Although this may fuel the current debate on the validity of such measures, BMW says run-flat tyres also offer safety advantages by containing the destabilising impact of high-speed blow-outs.

Rounding out BMW’s acronym obsession is CCC (Car Communication Computer), which controls all the Six’s information, entertainment and communications features like the standard CD changer, phone, sat-nav, voice-entry, TV, video and climate control air-conditioning.

Standout options include the $3000 Active Cruise Control device (which adjusts the car’s speed and position to that of a vehicle ahead automatically) a $1760 13-speaker "Logic 7" premium hi-fi sound system and larger (19 instead of 18-inch) alloy wheels starting from $2200.

BMW intends to sell 120 645Cis locally in its first year – with an equal split between coupe and convertible. Around 95 per cent will have the automatic gearbox.

Since a majority have already been allocated (both variants were displayed at the Melbourne motor show in early March just weeks after the convertible’s world debut at January’s Detroit show), BMW is trying to secure a further 65.

Interestingly, BMW has not actively targeted existing E38 840Ci and E31 850i/Ci owners, let alone older 6 Series (E24) enthusiasts.

The E24 635CSi – immortalised in pop culture circles as Cybill Shepherd’s company car in the 1980s TV comedy Moonlighting – was sold here in 136kW 3.5-litre inline six-cylinder form from 1986 to 1989.

It was preceded by the 147kW 3.2-litre BMW E24 633CSi, which was only available from 1977 to 1980.

BMW has a long history with salubrious two-door coupes and convertibles, beginning with the famous 327 of 1938. Its first V8 coupe was the 503 Coupe of 1956.

The first of the more modern BMWs in this vein was the 2000 CS of 1965, which morphed into the 2800 CS and shark-like 3.0 CSi into the 1970s.

Its design language clearly carried through to the aforementioned 86,000-selling E24, which finally found the market acceptance that eluded its forefathers.

High prices in a worldwide recession saw the technologically endowed E31/E38 coupes struggle to scrape 31,000 sales during its decade in production.

The Road to Recovery podcast series

Did you know?

By the last quarter of this year BMW intends to offer a Head Up Display, which shows vital information (like current speed and low tyre air pressure) near the base of the windscreen for optimum driver eye-line contract

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