Car reviews - BMW - 6 Series - M6 Gran Coupe
Four-door practicality, restrained yet powerful design, steps up to the demands of the track
Room for improvement
Not really a five-seater, muted engine noise, is it $70,000 better than an M5?
27 Jun 2013
By BARRY PARK
, INSTEAD, with the M6 Gran Coupe you’re buying something of a street car named desire.
The most practical car to wear the M6 badge is beautiful to look at. Taut where needed, but with a fluid sweep along its chiselled flanks, and looking more like a tarted-up saloon than a 412kW, 680Nm track day monster, the fast-backed M6 oozes class rather than aggression.
You know it’s a Gran Coupe, too, because there is a small badge behind the rear door’s quarter pane that tells you.
The concept is a bit mind-boggling, though. It has five seats, but it is not a five-seater. Instead, it’s a four-plus-one, which roughly translated means some poor bugger has to squeeze into the high, hard, unsupportive middle rear seat.
But the back seat is what is all-new about this car. The $292,500 M6 Coupe and $308,500 M6 Convertible both have two doors and rear seats, admittedly only a pair of them, but both require a bit of dexterity.
The M6 Gran Coupe solves this by hanging a pair of rear doors off the thick central pillar. They’re small doors, though, so you’re going to have to twist sideways and drop into the low-slung pew, all the while remembering to duck under the steeply raking roofline.
Thankfully, the front doors are also smaller. Take an M6 two-door to a shopping centre and you’ll soon wish the bays were four metres wide, they open out so far. The Gran Coupe’s are much more car park-friendly.
Once inside the rear, the 7 Series-rivalling pricing doesn’t quite translate into 7 Series-generous legroom. Knee space is tight, even with the scalloped seatbacks and a smaller driver or front-seat passenger, and toe room is even tighter. The middle-seat passenger has to contend with the space restrictions, the transmission tunnel, the centre console with its pair of climate controls, and that hard, high bench.
The front seats are the place to be. They’re leather-clad, infinitely adjustable, perfectly bolstered, heated, cooled and hugely comfortable.
The cabin contains typical BMW cues such as the switchgear for the climate control and the machined iDrive controller. There’s the typical thick-rimmed, M-badged, paddle shifter-framed steering wheel, but it appears cleaner and fresher than before with a new-look three-spoke design and two “M” buttons that call up pre-set steering, suspension and engine tunes.
Leather and leather-look material covers just about every surface where the eye falls, and carbon-fibre trim that matches the Gran Coupe’s lightweight roof keeps the sporty theme.
The centre console between the front seats looks as though someone dropped a handful of Scrabble pieces on it. The array of buttons control the steering weight, electronic dampers, stability control, fuel economy, gearshift harshness ...
Small-item storage is at a bit of a premium, with small door pockets, a small lidded pocket on the front of the centre console, a pair of cup-holders, and the small console bin.
The gearshift lever, too, has become a short, stubby knob that, until you get used to it is just as confusing to use as a Toyota Prius’s. You can’t park the car in neutral, because the electric parking brake won’t come on and the M6 will grumble with repeated audio and visual alerts. Instead, you leave the car in gear and hit the engine’s dash-mounted on-off button.
How does it drive, then. Very well is the short answer.
As a grand tourer, the M6 Gran Coupe is excellent. It has a 113mm longer wheelbase than the two-door versions, so has more straight-line stability than its showy siblings.
As with the rest of the M range, apart from the X models, the M6 Gran Coupe rides on standard road tyres, not run-flats, to maximise lateral grip. They’re big, sassy 20-inch numbers clad in a thin strip of Michelin Supersport rubber.
The ride is good given the low-profile hoops, with the comfort setting living up to its label. Flicking through the other two settings – sport and sport-plus – added an ever-increasing hard edge to the suspension.
Likewise, the steering button is light and easy in comfort, heavy in sport, and heavier again in sport-plus.
The most important control, though, is that accelerator pedal.
Under a light pressure, the M6 Gran Coupe is a benign, comfortable cruiser. The floating disc brakes – six-pots at the front – bite a bit hard while cold, but warm them up and they provide good, progressive feedback.
Sink the boot into it, though, and the sleeping M is unleashed.
All that 680Nm of torque from the cross-flow turbochargers nestled between the V8’s cylinder banks arrives damn early, just off idle at 1500rpm, and keeps on giving until the rev counter’s needle hangs in the lower third of the dial.
It is a performance car, despite its almost two-tonne weight. The centre of gravity is so low, thanks in part to that carbon-fibre roof, that the M6 Gran Coupe feels nicely balanced as you tip it into a corner, with a stiffer front end set-up than for the other two M-badged 6 Series models.
Acceleration is linear and predictable, although things remain much happier if you roll on the throttle rather than stamp on it out of corners.
Gear changes are lightning-quick via the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, accompanied by a wonderful-sounding boom of exhaust back-pressure as you flick up and down the ratios.
The brakes, though, are somewhat punished by all that mass, billowing smoke after a heavy workout but holding up well to repeated torture.
Noticed I haven’t mentioned much about noise? That’s because in the cabin, the M6 Gran Coupe is quite refined, even in track mode. It just doesn’t have the look-at-me growl of Mercedes-Benz’s 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8, or even Porsche’s double-huffed 4.8-litre Panamera Turbo from behind the wheel.
Yes, it will go hard, but the M6 Gran Coupe leans towards being labelled a family-and-friends grand tourer rather than a straight-out performance coupe with the convenience of two extra doors.
But for mine the M5 is cheaper, more aggressive-looking, and with its better rear-seat accommodation it is even more practical for the family on the go-fast.
Oh, that 0-100km/h time? It’s 4.2 seconds. You can knock that down to 4.1 seconds with the optional $12,000 competition kit that stacks on an extra 11 kilowatts -- the first time the pack has included a power boost -- toughens up the springs and dampers, sends the electronic stability control on a holiday, remaps the rear differential’s torque vectoring, and turns the exhaust up to 11.
But you don’t need to know that.
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