What we liked
>> Riotous V8 engine
>> Luxurious cabin
>> Ride/handling balance
Not so much
>> Tight rear seat
>> Weight blunts handling
>> Decisions... Convertible or Coupe?
>> Fast class
Packed to the hilt with go-fast technology making it more powerful, more efficient, and more agile than before, the new BMW M6's greatest weapon may not be its outrageously-powerful turbocharged V8 engine but its taut Germanic lines and sleek silhouette.
It's true the new M6 is an improved car in almost every sense, and most importantly it's a thrill to drive, but BMW reckons the new model's cutting-edge technology is matched stride for stride by its style, so much so that the new model will take on more exotic offerings from the UK and Italy.
The $300,000 M6 Coupe and Convertible have: "...the looks and capability to appeal to a broader customer base than we were with the previous model. We're talking about competing with more exotic marques like Maserati and Aston Martin to some degree, as opposed to the traditional [rival] Benz," said Piers Scott, BMW Australia's Head of Public Relations and Corporate Communications.
The engine is less exotic than it used to be, a V8 instead of a screaming V10 -- the same engine as the M5 -- but it's far more powerful, and coupled with features like a seven-speed M double clutch transmission and an Active M Differential, becomes devastatingly quick. Regardless of whether it attracts exotic car buyers, the new M6 makes a bold statement in more ways than one.
PRICE AND EQUIPMENT
>> Luxury and technology doesn't come cheap
The BMW M6 Coupe is priced at $292,500, which is $55 less than its predecessor that first saw light of day in Australia in 2005, and like all convertibles in the 6 Series range the convertible commands a $16,000 premium, fetching $308,500.
Not what you'd call an affordable car, so BMW won't be selling thousands of M6s in Australia but compared to some cars in this price bracket it's doing well. Having sold around 10 vehicles already with another 10 expected to find homes before the year's out, BMW also expects the beefed-up equipment list will help convince a few fence-sitters.
The cabin is a plush but sporty affair, with both M6 hard- and soft-top models benefitting from heated/cooled electrically-adjustable sports front seats upholstered in Merino leather, while the rest of the cabin -- such as the dashboard and door inners -- are swathed in Walknappa leather. The headlining is Alcantara and carbon fibre fills in the gaps not befitting cowhide, such as around the gear shifter.
Standard features are the cream of the crop stuff, with Internet and digital TV functionality, professional navigation system with widescreen 10.2-inch colour display, iDrive controller, a high-end 16-speaker LOGIC7 stereo (12 speakers for the convertible), advanced heads-up display with F1-inspired rev counter, rear-view and surround view cameras, Bluetooth connectivity for up to three devices at once, lane change and departure warning systems, radar-based cruise control and soft-closing doors.
Voice recognition, 6-disc DVD changer, dual zone automatic climate control air conditioning, adaptive LED headlights with high beam assist, 20-inch alloy wheels and even a toolkit and illuminated M6 door sills are standard.
There's only a handful of cost options, including a $14,000 Bang and Olufsen stereo, a $4500 night vision pedestrian detection system, $1800 active front seats and a $950 digital radio tuner. You'll also pay between $2500 and $4800 for metallic paint, depending on colour.
>> Brute forces comes at a cost
BMW went to great pains to explain that M cars are not just 'tuned' BMWs, but fully developed vehicles with many bespoke parts.
"M doesn't just tune cars, it develops them for the racetrack," says Christoph Priemel, Product Manager for the 6 Series.
Case in point is the rear suspension. Unlike most road cars, the rear suspension is bolted straight onto the chassis with no cushioning. This is done to improve rigidity, a method normally reserved for motorsport applications.
And while the forged aluminium front and rear independent suspension -- double wishbone at the front, multi-link independent at the rear -- does a remarkable job of ensuring optimum grip, there's no denying that drivers will feel the car's almost two-tonne weight.
When BMW says the M6 is more of a rival for Aston Martins and Maseratis, it begins to make sense as in some ways the big two-door BMW should be considered a very well-sorted grand tourer rather than an out-and-out sports car.
Simply put, vehicles like M3 and 1M can carry higher corner speeds on road and track, and the M3 did exactly that. See below for more ‘on the road' impressions.
The BMW M6 Coupe weighs 1850kg while the Convertible tips the scales at a chunky 1980kg, with the latter's extra 130kg due to body strengthening required by the removal of a rigid roof.
That's not to say the M6 is a dull or uninvolving car. The engine is breathtakingly powerful, and feels more forceful than its 412kW/680Nm suggests. It'll blast from 0-100km/h in slightly quicker than the M5 sedan, just 4.2 seconds (4.3 seconds for the convertible) thanks to improved aerodynamics and being 20kg leaner.
Top speed is electronically limited to 250km/h, though in Europe that speed can be up-rated to 310km/h with the M Driver Package. BMW Australia decided not to offer it here due to lower local speed limits.
Codenamed S63, the 4.4-litre twin-turbocharged direct-injection V8 powerplant has been specially designed to develop big mid-range punch yet still deliver high-revving thrills, with a rev limit of 7200rpm. Peak torque of 680Nm (sustained between 1500 and 5750rpm) is 160Nm more than the previous M6's engine, a 5.0-litre V10.
The M-developed V8 engine also makes more power and is more efficient, using just 9.9L/100km (10.3L/100km in the convertible), down from the mid 14 litre mark, and still snarls and barks like a race car.
The car's immense power is siphoned through a seven-speed double-clutch transmission, or DCT, and unlike the six-gearbox aggressiveness settings of the M5, the M6 has only three for the sake of simplicity, says BMW.
Other mechanical features include big 400mm front disc brakes with six-piston calipers and single-pot calipers on the 396mm rear rotors ($20,000+ carbon ceramic brakes are optional). An Active M Differential feeds torque to the rear wheels with more grip, and a carbon-fibre roof saves 20kg and reduces the car's centre of gravity.
There's also a hydraulic power steering system with a more direct 2.6 turn rack (as opposed to around 3.2 turns) in lieu of electro-mechanical setup that almost all other Beemers use. In theory, the hydraulic system should deliver more feel and feedback but the reality is that there's still some disconnection felt by the driver. For more details on the mechanical aspects of the car, check out the BMW M6 international launch review.
>> M chooses luxury over sport
The Marino leather seats are lavish and Walknappa leather that covers almost every surface is supple, making it feel more like an Aston Martin than an M car.
An excess of go-fast technology is made accessible thanks to simple buttons centred conveniently around the gearshifter (steering, suspension, gearbox settings). And it's easy to find the ideal seating position to get a good view down the long bonnet. The steering wheel is also new and features unique audio/interface/cruise controls not seen on the M5.
Rear-seat room is above average in this category, but that's not saying much. Anything longer than a short jaunt to show off the car's interstellar acceleration in either car is not advised. The Coupe is slightly better in terms of rear-seat headroom and but legroom in both is cramped.
Luggage capacity is an impressive 460 litres in the M6 Coupe and usable 350 litres in the Convertible, the latter dropping to 300 litres with the roof folded away.
The Convertible roof is a soft top available in black or beige and can be remotely opened in 19 seconds and closed in 24 seconds. It can be operated at speeds of up to 40km/h.
From the outside, distinguishing the car from a top end 6 Series is achieved via spotting the M badges front, rear and sides, the latter with telltale gills, the large 20-inch rims, quad exhaust pipes at the rear or the 16mm lower ride height and 25mm extra width. The front end also eschews fog lights for larger air intakes, necessary for engine cooling.
>> Adjustable safety levels
Like most premium European brands, BMW prides itself on safety and the M6 coupe and convertible are no different, packaged with an extensive suite of safety systems.
Six airbags, antilock brakes, cornering brake control, dynamic traction control, three-point seat-belts for all four occupants, active head rests, and electronic stability control are part of the package, with the latter featuring several levels to suit your driving style, from 'don't even think about it' to 'let's smoke 'em up'.
Convertible variants get a roll-over protection system, while a first-aid kit is also included as is a complementary BMW Driver Training course on both variants.
>> High end luxury sports cars
The BMW M6 and indeed the 6 Series are not easy to pigeon hole, and currently they don't have a direct competitor from arch-rival Mercedes. As the M6 is a proper four-seat vehicle, the strictly two-seater Mercedes-Benz SL-Class is out, while the CL-Class is a larger car and sits in a higher price bracket, so it's out too.
BMW is aiming high and though the M6 sold just 156 units in the past eight years, roughly 20 cars per year, BMW predicts the new design, big power and improved luxury features will attract drivers considering cars like the Maserati GranTurismo and Aston Martin V8 Vantage.
ON THE ROAD & TRACK
>> Big bang theory has holes
That the BMW M6 is a hefty lump of aluminium and steel yet handles with poise is testament to the M Division's shrewd vehicle development.
Driving the M6 through the hills surrounding Brisbane revealed a car that's astonishingly quick in a straight line and lively through corners. Though the steering doesn't always convey what the car's front end is doing, the car turns well, the long nose tipping into corners with alacrity, belying its chubby kerb mass.
Front end grip from the big 20-inch diameter 265/35 front, 295/30 rear Michelin Pilot Sport tyres is impressive and gives the driver confidence to push hard through corners, and the brakes are likewise strong during spirited road driving. Both Coupe and Convertible M6's don't feel as heavy as they should -- until you have really stomp on the anchors, which occasionally struggle to wash off speed with the level of urgency expected of an M car.
Even the heavier and less rigid M6 Convertible can be hustled along tightly twisting roads at a very fast pace, though judicious use of the accelerator is required at all times because the engine is ludicrously effective at getting its power down. So much so, like the BMW M5, that the excess power causes the rear tyres to break traction, meaning the dynamic stability control system is frequently trying to put out spot fires to keep the rear end planted. Thankfully the stability control isn't too intrusive and there are three levels -- on, M Dynamic and off.
There are other adjustable elements of the car too, including the suspension damper levels, which when set on comfort and sport levels deliver good ride quality. Sport+ is a lot firmer and is best saved for very smooth, freshly laid hotmix or the race track.
Speaking of which, testing the M6 on the race track provided more insight as to the car's performance thresholds, while also highlighting its deficiencies.
When the yellow traction control light is flashing madly at 190km/h on the main straight, you wonder if BMW has gone overboard with its latest power play? The quote is 412kW and 680Nm but it feels more potent than a beefier 800Nm AMG.
Still, it's mad fun nailing the throttle and glancing at the F1-inspired HUD tachometer to flick through the gears just shy of 7200rpm, then purposefully applying full brakes and flicking back down through the gears; the engine barks and backfires as excess fuel floods into the piping hot exhaust system.
The extreme engine output also lends itself to effortless tyre-smoking powersliding should you have access to a race track. Just switch the stability control to MDM (M Dynamic Mode), blap the throttle on a corner exit and Bob's your uncle -- lovely, predictable power slides. Granted, it's certainly not the fastest route around a circuit, but it is a huge amount of fun.
Driven with fast lap times in mind, the M6 is a rapid car around the track, and again the front end gets into position with minimal effort, but it's no M3. Incidentally the pace car for the track test was a BMW M3 and while the M6 destroys it in a straight line, the M3 is a far more agile car through corners.
The M6 steering doesn't have the feel it should either, especially considering it's hydraulic (as opposed to electro-mechanical). There is some feedback and it's certainly not a deal breaker, but from the most expensive, exotic M car on the market, I expected a little more connection with the car.
Jumping into the M6 convertible reveals more flex, more weight and hence less grip, but it's still a handy corner carver and you look cooler when doing it, which is crucial.
M6 Coupe is a good 130kg lighter than it's soft-top sibling and is more rigid and has higher grip levels as a result. It maintains better corner speeds too and allows you to brake later, and generally hugs the road in a more confidence-inspiring fashion than the drop top.
When BMW says the M6 is a Maserati GranTurismo rival, it's not fibbing. The M6 is a very drivable car and offers effortless cruising for the driver, and certainly wouldn't bat an eyelid at daily commuting or long distance touring.
But at its limit even the best suspension and traction controls cannot hide its monumental weight. The M6 is too heavy to be a true sports car, and that's a shame. If track day thrills are what you're after, an M3 would be a more sensible choice.
It may not be the sharpest M car in the stable, but the M6 is a brilliant GT car that certainly won't protest or fall to pieces at the race track. Perhaps the toughest decision will which model to take... Coupe or Convertible?
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