Pedal to the metal with BMW range

Last updated 11:37 23/11/2012
BMW

BMW 6s: The Cabriolet, right, is 130kg heavier than the Coupe, left. but you don’t notice much, even on the racetrack, with 412kW on tap.

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OPINION: In the 70s the first 6-series was a one-model affair, now there are so many it's hard to keep track. Dave Moore drives BMW's most powerful cars on road and track.

In terms of power, 412 kilowatts don't seem as good as 552 horsepower. The former forms the picture of a carpark full of electric bar heaters, while the latter evokes a stampede of perfect ponies.

But either way, BMW's new M6 is a beast and the twin-turbo engine it has inherited from the M5 helps make it the fastest two-door car the company has ever made. When that category includes the iconic mid-engined original M1, you can see how impressive the fact is.

Compared to its predecessor, a V10, the new BMW M6 appears even more performance oriented - not that any 6-series car is less than that, not even the four-door 650 Gran Coupe, but more about that later.

The M6 is blisteringly quick around the racetrack, and much more nimble in such situations than its predecessor, while uncannily being a better daily commuter ride at the same time, with levels of smooth refinement that the old car simply couldn't deliver.

An added thrill for an owner is that its Twinpower V8 has a much more cultured voice than the old V10, with a Nascar-meets-Nurburgring cross-cultured V8 snarl that really does raise the hackles on your neck when it's trying hard. However, the nice trick is that it will shut down to a more servile rumble when you back off, so you won't be annoying non-motorphiles any more than you have to.

What's so amazing about this thunderingly quick motorcar is that it's so easy to drive slowly, which will please those who opt for the Cabriolet, who will probably want the town speed drama of the open-top as much as its Porsche 911 chasing performance and soundtrack.

And it is that quick, with the extra weight of the Cabriolet strengthening and the tiny but present element of flex meaning that it's just a little behind the solid roofed car at the track.

On top of that blown V8 power unit the M6 has also adopted the M5's seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, as well as the bolted-straight to the body suspension set up. The former is responsible for the car's on-demand pussy cat to tweaked tiger personality, while the latter, with the aid of massive strengthening plates at each end under the suspension, is responsible for the car's amazing body control and tenacious high-speed cornering grip. Such ability to suck-up curves with so little drama is a huge achievement, as with me behind the wheel, the M6 weighs more than two tonnes.

The M6 coupe could have been an awful lot heavier too, as it has alloy suspension parts, alloy door panels, a carbon fibre roof and front wings made from superlight composites.

Thundering around Lakeside raceway, where 200kmh plus can be clocked between curves that can cut in hard at just over 60kmh, the M6 just defies physics. There are points where the car has to be taken from left to right very quickly, and vice versa and other spots where a wicked camber means you have to go over what seems to be a tarmac berm right in the middle of a hairpin, before applying full wick to the next apex. On the first lap or two, I was reticent, born of a touch of disbelief when it came to exploring the M6's handling prowess. Yet, despite the nastiness of some of the track's changes of direction, the car was very easy on me and I was soon keeping up with experienced instructors, surprising myself as much as them.

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There are parts of Lakeside where snap, throttle-off oversteer has caught the unprepared many times, and it has to be said that the metallic orange car did leave some of its spore behind on the tyrewalls, but the driver in question is more of a gung-ho character than me and he admitted that his excursion was more to with the driver than the car.

You can drift the M6 with ease, it has superb throttle responses. Thanks to a cluster of driver settings that you can dial into two set programs from a menu as long as your arm, you could drive the car to the track in your own "commuting" or road program, then prod another button to deliver your pre-organised track settings.

Your settings cover damping control from comfort level right up to sport-plus, which battens everything down for playtime. The steering's responses can be dialled in to taste too, as can the gearbox shift speeds.

This saves the M6-owner the tedious job - noted by Clarkson on Top Gear - of taking a few minutes to set the car up every time you want to execute a quick start or stiffen everything up for the track. Your presets are all ready for cruising or bruising, just punch the right button and you're there.

It has to be said that, on the track, the transmission is a little reticent when left to its own devices, even when in its most aggressive mode. Then, the paddle shift comes into play.

Tugging on the paddles, elicits super sharp up or downshifts to taste, with the sharpest settings allowing the car down two or even three slots on the way into a very slow bend at the end of a super fast straight. But it's all unnecessary, really, as the engine has such a deep well of torque that even when you get the ratio selection wrong (the car won't make this mistake, but I did) and find yourself a ratio too high, the car will still catapult through to the next bend with great alacrity, the only difference being a deeper engine note.

The key to such quick responses and flexibility is the fact that by plumbing the Twinpower impellers close to the engine, within the Vee in fact, they can be kept on the boil more easily. Thus there's no turbo lag to speak of; you don't have to wait for boost to build up as it's always there.

You won't be thinking of this on the track, but such responses also help with fuel consumption, as part-throttle work is all you ever seem to need on the road, and when you don't have to stir the engine too much, thanks to its uncanny flexibility, fuel use comes down dramatically, with the lighter Coupe version able to post combined economy figures of 9.9L/100km, while the M6 Cabriolet manages just over 10L.

My favourite aspect on the track was the car's ability to shift its two-tonne bulk so nimbly from one direction to another. If someone had told me it was just 1500kg all-up, I'd have believed them.

From apex to apex, the dynamic stability control, even in its most nannying settings, allows some tailwork to take place and though I'm probably a little old for such activities, I did manage some sideways activity on the track's top hairpin to main straight section where it unravels nicely before the pits. I thought it looked great, but nobody noticed.

Strap hanging brakes - which showed no sign of fading, even after two hours of flat-out activity - were a boon, while back on the road, the M6 has all the radar cruise and heads-up accoutrements to make traffic much less of a chore than I'd have expected with 500-plus [ponies] under the bonnet.

So which to buy? At $265,100 for the Coupe and $277,100 for the Cabriolet, it's not a decision I'd have to make, until the Lotto gods shine on me. Simply, if I was going to indulge in regular weekend trackwork, than the Coupe it would have to be. It's noticeably tauter and lighter than the solid-roofed car when pressing-on, and knowing that I'm not quite as talented as other circuit users, the relative anonymity of the M6 Coupe, means that no-one need ever know who the slow-coach is.

The Cabriolet is still probably the most talented rear-drive ragtop you can buy, so trackwork is not out of the question with it. But on the open road, hood down and rumbling along it's beyond comparison, though by opting for the standard 650i Cabriolet for $42,000 less than its M6 cousin, you might lose 112kW and some nice wee telltale M-badges, but behind the wheel you won't care.

BMW 650i Gran Coupe Just to muddy the issue further, BMW also sells the Gran Coupe four-door version of the 60-series, with the 330kW on tap. This makes it quicker than the standard 650i, with a zero-to-100kmh time in just over 4.5 seconds and a body design, which includes four frameless doors and probably the best proportions and style in the 6-series lineup, for $224,500.

Now before you complain that a four-door coupe is a contradiction in terms - I get letters and emails to this effect every time I drive one - the term coupe started in horsedrawn days, and is derived from the French verb: Couper to cut.

It refers to cut-down carriages and has nothing to do with door numbers. Effectively, the 6-series Gran Coup is a cut down derivative of the 5-series sedan, so I'm happy with that, anyway.

It feels almost as quick as the M6 and its acceleration figures bear this out and while it is neither as firm nor as chuckable as the M-cars, it pays dividends in terms of its ride quality and sheer comfort.

There really is room for five, or four in relative luxury, and while rear headroom is a little tight, just try to put anyone in the vestigial rear seats of the M6 and M6 Cabriolet, and you'll see why the Gran Coupe to me is the just right car in the 6-series lineup.

None of the 6-series is perfect. All of them have a giant fixed iPad-like iDrive screen in the dash centre, which dominates visually, when it has no need to.

The M6 is a remarkable achievement. It's expensive and an indulgence, but I can't figure how BMW could have achieved what it does for less money.

But I'd still have the Gran Coupe, it covers more bases almost as quickly for less money. As well, BMW has announced an M Gran Coupe overseas and this, I think, could become the best 6-series of all.

BMW M6

Drivetrain: Front inline-mounted rear-wheel-drive M twin-power turbocharged 4395cc V8. Seven-speed M double-clutch transmission.

Output: 412kW at 6000-7000rpm, 680Nm at 1500-5750rpm, 250kmh, 0-100kmh 4.2-4.3secs, 9.9-10.3L/100km, 232-239g/km CO 2.

Chassis: Front double control arms; Rear multi-arm axle. Servotronic hydraulic-assisted rack and pinion steering. 20 inch alloy wheels.

Safety: Vented front and rear disc brakes, ABS, DSC, integrated chassis management, front and side airbags for front seats, head airbags front and rear. Five-star EuroNCAP rated.

Dimensions: L 4898mm, H 368-1374mm, W 2106mm, W/base 2851mm, F/track 1631mm, R/track 1612mm, Weight 1850-1980kg, Fuel 80L. Pricing: M6 Coupe $265,100, M6 Convertible $277,100. 6-series Gran Coupe $224,500.

HOT: Slick styling; lusty, unburstable engine; sound signature; uncanny cornering ability; first BMW alternative to a Porsche 911.

NOT: Cramped rear; ugly non-folding i-Drive screen; often feels just a little aloof on the racetrack; a proper manual would be nice.

VERDICT: Fastest ever BMW 2-door is a pussycat when it has to be, but erupts into action at the drop of a hat; immensely capable. However, I'd take the Gran Sport and feel slightly less in the public eye.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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