Car reviews - BMW - 6 Series - Gran Coupe
Styling, performance and efficiency, slick drivetrain, handling/roadholding levels, safety, lush interior presentation, surprisingly spacious rear quarters
Room for improvement
Steering feels unnatural and lacks low-speed feedback, expensive, costly desirable options, harsh ride on larger tyres, low roof hinders egress
13 Jul 2012
AS GERMANY’S relentless pursuit of niche markets continues unabated, another ‘coupe sedan’ arrives styled in the low-slung mould of the Mercedes CLS.
But, while the BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe unashamedly apes the general product philosophy of the CLS, it does come infused with plenty of BMW DNA to differentiate it from both the Benz and the similar Audi A7 Sportback.
Take the styling. Yes, any student of Japanese automobile history will point out that Toyota was doing the same thing to Crown Saloons over 40 years ago, but the handsome Gran Coupe looks strikingly modern without the brash CLS garishness or the A7’s saggy tail heaviness.
Indeed, driving behind a bright red example brought to mind the gorgeous Alfa Romeo 159 – though the Bavarian hardtop’s horizontal lines and fussy front-end treatment means it will never be quite as beautiful.
The low roofline speaks volumes of this car’s ‘personal coupe’ intent, but requires acute contortionism to navigate.
Once inside, however, the BMW provides ample space for your 178cm reporter up front, and surprisingly sufficient levels of rear-seat head as well as legroom – even with the standard tilt-only sunroof fitted – at least in the outboard positions.
BMW calls the Gran Coupe and 4+1 seater, but thanks to a centre console that almost completely bisects the cabin, the middle-rear rider has to straddle a pair of powerful air vents, making this a strictly emergency-only travel proposition.
The impressively wide and flat boot also benefits from 60/40 split-fold backrests.
Examples of the 640i at the launch were loaded with extras, but from what we could tell beneath all the extra double-stitched BMW Individual and M Sport personalisation packs, the basic 6 Series dashboard presentation sits nicely in the Gran Coupe.
The classic BMW instruments (clear and utterly concise) include a handy second-gen head-up display with colour to maximise eyes-on-the-road and hands-on-the-wheel driving, while the centre console layout is angled slightly towards the driver as per BMWs of yesteryear, creating visually interesting overlapping asymmetry.
All up, then, the 640i’s tasteful and high quality interior lives up to the luxury coupe promise, but with easier entry/egress and less of the stifling cocooning effect that blights so many two-doors coupes.
Curiously, the BMW’s cabin lacks overhead grab handles, and that’s an oversight because even on the standard 19-inch tyres the amount of cornering grip is quite phenomenal. Indeed, the 235kW/450Nm 3.0-litre turbo straight-six petrol powerplant might seem a little lacking in oomph due to the leech-like hold the 640i has on the bitumen.
In truth, this unit is one of the world’s best, with barely any turbo lag at take off, followed by a sweet and steady rush of momentum channelled through to the rear wheels via ZF’s extraordinary eight-speed automatic transmission.
There are four driving modes – ECO PRO, Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus – yet all provide varying degrees of suitably stirring performance.
Sport Plus is where the stability and traction nannies look the other way so the driver can steer the thing sideways.
Sport – with the gear lever in Drive Sport – continues with sharp throttle responses but with some electronic intervention to smooth out sloppy cornering techniques, while Comfort and ECO PRO dial down the volume a little bit for increasingly smoother progress, backed up by consumption-decreasing tech like Brake Energy Regeneration in the latter mode.
However, it is the changeable steering characteristics that proved most controversial for us.
In sub-Sport modes, the 640i’s on-centre remoteness at low speeds is a major disappointment, leaving the driver feeling completely detached from the front wheels.
Select either of the Sport settings, though, and the ante is upped quite a bit, with sharper responses accompanying a more hurried style as speeds rise, to at least reconnect driver with car. But, again, there isn’t enough natural road feel and this more than anything else relegates the otherwise very athletic Gran Coupe from sports sedan to grand tourer.
Ride quality ranges from punishing with the 20-inch wheels on uneven roads to just adequate with 19s on smooth surfaces.
To its credit, BMW Australia does offer a no-cost option of 18-inch wheels for people with more sensitive posteriors, but we doubt Citroen DS or Peugeot 504 owners will be rushing to swap into a 640i.
Finally, there is the small matter of price. At $185k, the Gran Coupe is like the GFC never happened, commanding a healthy premium over its (admittedly not as well equipped) compatriots.
Cynics might just roll their eyes at yet another niche market for the Germans to plunder, but there is real substance and more than a modicum of personality to go with the latest BMW’s style.
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