2008 BMW M6 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Sometimes more can be too much.
The BMW 650i returns for 2007 all but unchanged from 2006. It delivers excellent performance, brilliant handling and that arrow-like stability that defines BMW. Available in coupe and convertible body styles, the BMW 650i is a premium grand touring car. It comes with a 360-hp V8 and a choice of three transmissions.
Changes to the 650i for 2007 are few, mostly limited to creature comforts, including an iPod interface, optional Pearl leather upholstery and other leather accents. New also is a tire pressure monitor that warns the driver when a tire begins to lose air.
The BMW M6 Coupe, introduced late in the 2006 model year, returns for 2007. The M6 boasts a 500-hp V10, seven-speed sequential gearbox, M-tuned suspension and electronic stability control, special wheels, Z-rated tires, and distinctive interior and exterior styling.
New for 2007 is the M6 Convertible, a first in the long and storied history of 6 Series BMWs. Like the 650i Convertible, the M6 Convertible is identical to its coupe counterpart, other than the one-button, powered folding top.
For 2007, the M6 gets a tire pressure monitor. Late-model 2007 M6s will be available with a six-speed manual transmission as a no-cost alternative to the standard seven-speed Sequential Manual Gearbox. The SMG substitutes an electronically operated clutch for the regular clutch pedal, and we don't love it. We recommend getting the six-speed manual.
Both coupes and convertibles have a back seat that can fit small people in a pinch, but are really intended to move two people and their belongings in high comfort, style and safety. The 650i is more luxurious than the Z4, and delivers higher performance, more agility and sportier styling than the 5 Series sports sedans.
The M6 sacrifices some of the Grand Touring comforts of the 650i in favor of a more aggressive handling package and stratospheric acceleration performance. At the same time, the M6, and especially its sequential manual transmission, takes the marque in a direction purists find distressing, increasingly transferring control of the car from its driver to its super-sophisticated electronics.
More generally, and more generously, BMW's corporate design themes, panned by many in recent years, seem to fit better on the long, low 6 Series. And an intricate top design blesses the convertible with the same, nicely integrated, fastback-like profile as the coupe.
The 2007 BMW 6 Series comes in four distinct forms: the 650i Coupe ($73,900), the 650i Convertible ($80,900), the M6 Coupe ($98,600), and the M6 Convertible ($104,400).
BMW 650i models are powered a 360-hp, 4.8-liter V8. Three transmissions are offered: a six-speed manual, a six-speed sequential manual gearbox with electronically operated clutch and shifting, and a six-speed automatic with Steptronic semi-manual shifting.
M6 models feature a 500-hp, 5.0-liter V10 with a seven-speed sequential manual gearbox. A six-speed manual is in the middle of the model year.
All 6 Series models come loaded with leather upholstery; a choice of interior trim; dual-zone automatic climate control with air cleaner; a high-power, eight-speaker stereo; xenon adaptive headlamps; moonroof; auto-dim mirrors inside and out; and BMW's Park Distance Control for front and rear. The 650i Convertible offers a choice of black or gray tops. New for 2007 is an auxiliary input for iPods and MP3 players; and a dealer-installed iPod interface is available. A four-year subscription to Real Time Traffic information is standard.
Options for 650i models include the Cold Weather Package ($750) with heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, and a ski bag pass-through from the trunk. The Sport Package ($1,800) adds sport seats and 19-inch wheels with high performance run-flat tires. Also available: Active Steering ($1,250), radar-managed Active Cruise Control ($2,200), head-up display ($1000), night vision ($2200), Logic7 sound system with DSP and simulated surround sound ($1200), HD radio ($500), satellite radio with one-year trial subscription ($595), Comfort Access keyless unlock and engine start and stop ($1000), heated front seats ($500), and pearl leather upholstery ($1350).
Options on the M6 models are limited to the head-up display, Comfort Access, HD radio, satellite radio, black carbon fiber interior trim ($300) and Merino full leather upholstery with suede-like, Alcantara roofliner ($3500).
Safety features start with multi-stage front airbags and front seat-mounted side-impact airbags. Coupes are equipped with curtain-style head protection airbags, while Convertibles have automatic rollover protection that deploys high strength roll hoops behind the rear seats. Rear seats have LATCH child safety seat hooks and anchors. Accident avoidance features that come standard include electronic stability control; ABS with brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution. BMW Assist telematics, with automatic collision notification, an SOS button and roadside assistance comes standard, including a four-year subscription. Tire pressure monitors come standard along with a really cool first-aid kit.
The styling of the BMW 6 Series remains essentially as it's been since the car was launched in 2004, and it's an interesting bit of design. The 6 comes in coupe and convertible body styles. All are two-door, four-passenger cars, and the coupes and convertibles are nearly identical save for their tops.
The twin-kidney grille, quad headlamps and other classic cues readily identify the 6 Series cars as BMWs. The M6 versions get a uniquely styled, more strongly sculpted front fascia. The 6 Series shares some key elements with BMW's 5 Series sedan, but the 6 was designed from the ground up as a coupe, and subsequently as a convertible, rather than a sedan with two doors welded shut or a coupe with the top chopped off.
This is a classic BMW 6 Series: The front and rear overhangs (the distance from the wheels to the bumper) are short. The cabin separates the long hood from the short deck. The 6 Series cars are shorter than the 5 Series sedans, but they benefit from a relatively long wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear wheels). In sum, you suspect these cars handle great just by looking at them.
The primary turn signals are located above squinty-eyed, compound headlamps, which wrap well around the corners to the sides of the car. The grilles take front and center stage with no bumper ledge in front of them. When viewed from overhead, the front corners look rounded, giving the 6 Series a shark-like nose.
In profile, the lines are sculpted but clean. Sleek, Euro-style combination side lights-cum-turn signals in a thin slit at the trailing edge of the front wheel wells give the impression of attention to detail and on the M's discreetly house the unique, stylized logo distinguishing those from the 650s. The 6 looks raciest in front three-quarter view, which happens to be our favorite angle on the car.
From the rear, however, the 6 Series cannot be identified as readily. The tail lamps and badge label it as a BMW, but the back end looks different from past BMWs. The tail lamps wrap around to the sides, so there's no precise break where the rear of the car ends and the side begins. As with the new 7 Series sedans, some critics don't like the way the rear deck looks somewhat disconnected from and perched atop the rear fenders. BMW points out that the high deck improves downforce, and therefore rear grip, at high speeds and allows for a big trunk.
In any case, this is a tidy, attractive car that looks sporty. It's best in silver and other lighter colors; the design details tend to blend together on darker cars.
There are also some interesting design features that aren't apparent to the eye, starting with extensive use of weight-saving materials. From the windshield forward, the 6 Series' load bearing structure is made of aluminum, just like a commercial airliner's. Its doors and hood are also aluminum; the front fenders and trunk lid are composite materials. A carbon fiber roof on the M6 Coupe reduces weight without compromising safety. At the same time, because it's the roof that's lighter, the effect is to lower the car's center of gravity. The underbody is shrouded in more high-tech plastic, much like the wind tunnel-groomed bottoms of F1 race cars, to improve aerodynamic efficiency.
The soft top looks great, featuring a fastback roofline with fins on the trailing edges that frame the vertical rear glass, much like vintage Ferrari coupes, giving the convertible the same side profile as the coupe. The rear glass can be raised or lowered like a side window by pressing a button. Replacing a metal roof with a convertible top often times tends to reduce structural rigidity, so BMW has reinforced the B-pillars and the lower sides of the frame, and built the windshield with an extra-high strength frame. This not only improves rigidity, but also adds an extra element of safety in the unlikely event of a rollover.
The 6 Series' standard adaptive headl.
From the driver's seat, both iterations of the BMW 6 Series seem to have it all: comfort, luxury, convenience and the ambience of a true high-performance car, with the M6 versions only adding to what the two 650i models promise. Coupes and convertibles inspire feelings of control, even of success, before the cars ever leave the driveway. These cars promise great rewards to drivers who take their driving seriously. And as far as the interior appointments go, with an exception or two, they deliver.
The 6 Series seats provide excellent support. The 650i base seats are the more accommodating, with the optional sport seats more firm than cushioned but still not as encapsulating as the M6's. Depending on the package, front seats are power-adjustable in either 12 ways or 14 ways (in the M6, either 16 or 18 ways, including seatback bolsters) and combine with a steering wheel that both tilts and telescopes, again with the push of a button, to allow drivers of virtually any stature to find a comfortable, if not perfect fit. All front seats also have BMW's signature, manually extendable thigh support.
The back seats will accommodate pre-adolescents on short trips, but will not work for two couples enjoying a night on the town. Access, though, isn't as difficult as in some cars, as the front seats readily move forward and, thankfully, return to their previous settings. Driver-side memory buttons are on the outboard side of the seat base, a much more convenient placement than in the 7 Series, where they're on the center console and unreachable before climbing into the car.
Interior materials and finish are generally up to standards expected in this price range. The headliner in both coupe and convertible looks and feels rich, and expensive. The standard trim, BMW calls Ruthenium (named for a hard white metal), is a metallic material, and we like the way it looks on the doors and dash. For 2007, a pearl-shade leather is the optional trim for the 650i. Those who prefer a more traditional look can choose either light or dark stained birch wood in the 650i at no charge. The M6 offers Olive Ash as a cost-free alternative to the standard Madeira Walnut. Our M6 came with trim designed to look like carbon fiber, but came off looking like something you'd see in a modified Honda Civic.
A Start button is used to start the 6 Series. The key is an electronic cartridge that slides into a slot on the steering column. Once that's done, the driver simply presses a button on the dash to the right of the steering column to start or stop the engine. That's the cool part. But turning on accessory power requires pressing the button once, then again, and then again, all while consciously keeping your foot away from the brake pedal so the engine doesn't start. James Bond would be in big trouble with this setup.
Comfort Access is an option that takes this keyless concept a step farther. It's proximity-activated, meaning you can simply walk up to the car, open the door, and press the Start button without having to pull the fob out of your pocket or purse. The car will warn you if you try to leave with the key while it's running.
The M6 adds another start-up challenge with its Sequential Manual Gearbox: The SMG has to be in Neutral to start. It has to be in gear when switched off or you get an annoying tone. You may grow to hate that tone, you hear it so frequently. The tone comes on immediately upon starting if you don't have your seatbelt buckled.
The gauge cluster features a large tachometer and speedometer framing an LCD box that displays a wide range of information. The package is crisp and legible and, if you like BMW's familiar orange backlighting, quite attractive. The optional Head-Up Display projects speed, navigational information, cruise control status and other data onto the windshield and can be programmed to show whichever data set the driver chooses. It works well and we find i.
The BMW 6 Series comes with complimentary (everything except travel) high-performance driving instruction at the BMW Performance Center in South Carolina, half a day for buyers of the 650i, a full day for buyers of the M6. We can't think of a better way to get to know these machines. Some reviewers have complained about BMW's latest high-tech control systems mucking up the purity and driving satisfaction that have long characterized the brand, but we have no such gripes with either of the 650i versions. That car immediately becomes an extension of the driver, flawlessly executing his or her wishes. Our take on the M6 is decidedly different.
Put simply, the BMW 650i is smooth and precise. It's easy to drive, always poised, and satisfying to drive at a brisk pace. The ride is taut but not harsh. The brakes take some getting used to but do their job with certainty. The accelerator is easy to modulate, and the steering is sharp. All the important controls work cohesively, making for a smooth driving experience.
The engine is silky smooth and tractable for easy going around town or in stop-and-go traffic. Yet you're rewarded with immediate response whenever you press down on the accelerator. The silky response of the 650i's 32-valve V8 benefits from Valvetronic variable valve timing and variable lift, which allows an impressive combination of low-rev, off-the-line acceleration and free-breathing, high-rev horsepower. The V8's breathing is controlled entirely by the valves. (Technically, there is no throttle, so the go pedal is rightly called an accelerator.) It's a fascinating engine for engineers and car buffs, but what it means for a driver is loads of power throughout the rev range, so the 650i responds immediately in any situation. The engine sounds great, emitting a guttural roar under hard acceleration through its nicely tuned exhaust system. Response is impressive in either the coupe or convertible, though convertible drivers enjoy those sweet engine sounds a little more intimately.
Of the three transmissions available on the 650i, we recommend the six-speed automatic, unless you're a serious enthusiast, in which case we recommend the six-speed manual. We're not big fans of the sequential manual gearbox, or SMG, which is a manual transmission with the clutch operated electronically, eliminating the clutch pedal, as we'll detail when we get to the M6.
The automatic is smooth around town and very responsive for spirited driving. In fact, a 650i with the automatic is nearly as quick as a well-driven 650i with the manual. As with all BMW automatics, it offers a Sport setting that moves shift points to higher revs and quickens downshifts for increased response. The Steptronic mode allows the driver to shift semi-manually, imparting some of the same involvement as a manual. We found little need for the Steptronic mode, however, because the transmission rarely selected the wrong gear in automatic mode. For everyday driving, we prefer to put it in Drive and leave it there.
The six-speed manual gearbox is smooth, precise and easy to shift, with easy clutch pedal effort. It's an excellent choice, unless hours of stop-and-go traffic is part of your daily routine.
The 650i offers a nice balance of ride and handling. Though taut, it doesn't beat up your passenger on rippled highways. The springs and shocks are firmer than those in the standard 5 Series sedans, and the 6 Series cars ride lower. A 650i is absolutely joyful on a winding highway, as we discovered on some mountain roads near Santa Barbara. Handling is precise, with a superb self-centering feel to the steering. The car can be driven very hard into tight corners, and it tracks through high-speed turns like it's on rails. The suspension is tuned to minimize undesirable behavior when braking hard, accelerating hard, or lifting off the gas while cornering. Our car was equipped with Active Steering, which is now.
The BMW 6 Series is a remarkable car, an intriguing attempt at blending state-of-the-art electronics with award-winning mechanicals. The BMW 650i coupe and convertible succeed, offering a combination of comfort, luxury, sportiness, exhilarating performance and ease of operation that's hard to beat in the class. On the M6 models, it remains an attempt, perhaps a misguided one, as it inserts unnecessarily isolating layers of electronics between driver and car, muddying a unique, symbiotic relationship that BMW has painstakingly cultivated over decades. We prefer the standard automatic and manual transmissions to the high-tech SMGs.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, and California's Northern Central Valley.
BMW 650i Coupe ($73,900); 650i Convertible ($80,900); M6 Coupe ($98,600); M6 Convertible ($104,400).
Options As Tested
Silverstone II Merino Leather ($3500); Comfort Access ($1000); Carbon Fiber black trim ($300); Head-Up Display ($1000); high definition radio ($500); satellite radio ($595); gas guzzler tax ($3000).
BMW M6 Convertible ($104,400).
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