Car reviews - BMW - 6 Series - Coupe range
Return to classic BMW coupe styling, improved ride and handling dynamics, spacious and ergonomic interior, effortless V8 performance
Room for improvement
Options prices, subdued V8 engine note, weight increase
7 Dec 2011
GOAUTO was never a fan of the previous 6 Series, which did little to revive the spirit of the first BMW to wear the nameplate, the characterful 635 CSi Coupe of the late 1970s and ‘80s.
But like the latest 5 Series, which marks a return to the traditional large BMW sedan formula without skimping on performance or technology, the new 6 Series represents a shift back to the pre-Bangle days of the beautiful big BMW coupe and the result is probably the best-looking BMW currently available.
Matching its classic good looks on the outside, where a menacing ‘shark nose’ kidney grille warns of the potential lurking beneath its longer and lower bonnet, is an impeccably crafted four-seat interior that accommodates rear-seat passengers only a little better than a 911 but is dominated by a stitched leather highlight that runs diagonally across the centre console, demarcating in no uncertain terms its heavily driver-focussed cockpit.
In typical BMW fashion, the driving position is low but highly ergonomic and fully power-adjustable – including the steering wheel and multi-function seat – and even the notoriously complicated iDrive infotainment interface is easier to decipher than before, thanks in part to a massive 10.2-inch dash-top monitor that requires minimal distraction from the road.
The cascading centre stack design harks back to supercars like the NSX and firmly stamps the 6 Series as a high-end sportscar, but the cosseting cabin remains airy and practical thanks to decent rear and side vision through sizeable glass areas, and a massive electric sunroof directly above the front seats.
Also true to BMW is the eye-glazing array of mechanical and cosmetic options, some of which are worth every cent, like the Surround View camera system that literally sees around corners and the Adaptive Drive system including Dynamic Damper Control variable ride and Dynamic Drive anti-roll functions, which is standard on the top-shelf 650i but will cost six-cylinder 640i buyers $8000 extra.
We’d probably save the extra $2800 for the new Six coupe’s BMW-first adaptive LED headlights and, although the Bang & Olufsen 16-speaker 1200-Watt sound system with LED-illuminated floating aluminium speakers delivers a cracking, unadulterated sound at any volume, it also costs an incredible $14,000 (16 large for 640i buyers).
The 650i we drove on the launch – BMW said no examples of the 640i have yet arrived, so none were available to test – was also fitted with streaming Bluetooth ($220), contrast stitching ($300), digital radio ($950), electric rear sunblind ($1000), ceramic gearshift knob ($1100), a leather instrument panel ($3000), the M Sport kit ($7500) and a host of other options totalling $30,770, bringing the car’s total price to $263,070 plus on-road costs.
Perhaps to keep its powder dry for next year’s ferocious new M6 Coupe, the M Sport kit adds only a little more aggression via sportier bumpers, side skirts, bigger 20-inch wheels and, for the V8-powered 650i, a rortier note from the twin chromed outboard exhaust outlets.
The 650’s twin-turbo bent-eight delivers deceptively rapid performance both off the line and from highway speeds in top (eighth) gear and sounds like a German V8 should, but the M pack didn’t sound a lot meatier than the regular 650i and for some reason none offered the spine-tingling, hairy-chested burble the same engine produces in the X6.
A key chassis feature of the new Six is the option of Integral Active Steering, which like the similar system seen in the new Lexus GS combines variable-ratio electric steering with rear wheels that can turn by up to 2.5 degrees – in the same direction as the front wheels to improve high-speed stability or in the opposite direction to aid agility at speed below 70km/h.
Despite the fact it shares more in common with the 7 Series than the 5 Series – and is therefore not only much longer and wider than before, but also a hefty 120kg heavier – somehow the new 6 Series Coupe not only looks less bloated than before but also feels lighter and more nimble on the road.
We’re unsure exactly which mechanical aids are responsible for that, but the electric power steering system is undoubtedly the best we’ve sampled from BMW and a close match for the similar set-up seen in Porsche’s new 911, which lacks the feedback of previous models but is probably still more precise and communicative than the BMW.
However, impeccable engineering is evident in the way the big Six’s steering remains rattle and kick-free over even the most violent road surfaces, and the dynamic capability of a body that is over 50 per cent more torsionally rigid than before.
Driven in dismally wet conditions over a variety of urban, country and twisty mountain roads at the ex-Brisbane media launch, the 650i felt as stable and confidence-inspiring as the model it replaces.
But it also displayed a level of poise and agility – without compromising ride quality – that was absent in its predecessor, allowing us to explore its formidable traction envelope more closely than any previous 6 Series would have allowed, although the variable electronic stability control system did cut the fun with unexpected abruptness.
To be sure, the 6 Series Coupe remains more of a grand tourer in the vein of big, comparably priced sportscars like the Mercedes SL, Jaguar XK, Maserati GranTurismo and Aston Martin Vantage, rather than the smaller and still more exciting rear-engined 911.
Indeed, while the 650i is a satisfyingly rapid big sportscar, if you lust after a blood-pumping BMW two-door then look no further than the 1 Series, 3 Series or Z4 coupes.
This time round though, the 650i Coupe is far more convincing as the Munich maker’s flagship coupe - both inside and out, as well as underneath – and we can’t wait for the M6 to realise the full potential of BMW’s best 6 Series ever.
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