The M6 puts its power down well, turns relatively sweetly - it's not a Toyota 86 in size or response. Photo Gallery
Paul Gover road tests and review the BMW M6 at its Australian launch.
The orca of the BMW family has landed. And it's not half bad. The M6 is big and bulky but still deadly serious and seriously quick, with the sort of performance you rarely find in a luxury coupe or convertible.
The downside is prices that straddle $300,000 and mean an M6 buyer can also consider a wide range of exotics - including Aston Martin and Porsche - and not just make a straight-out choice against a Benz SLS with the AMG treatment.
After driving the M6ers at the global press preview in Spain I was not sure how they would translate to Australia and Australian roads. Driving on sand-slicked summer roads in Europe they felt heavy, slightly unwieldy and over-powered in a lot of conditions.
But it's possible to drive an M6 in Australia without fear, and also to crack the whip and enjoy the experience - and whip-crack exhaust bangs on serious up changes - without worrying about your license. You can also cruise and collect some smiles, or just go for the whole luxury experience in a car that's wrapped up in leather, carbon fibre - including the roof in the coupe - and a thumping sound system.
How does $292,500 sound? What about $308,500? If that's too rich for you, and it likely is, then the orca twins will only ever be a dream. But BMW Australia says the prices for the new Msters are actually slightly lower than the cars they are replacing, and also loaded with a lot more standard equipment.
That means everything from a 2+2 cabin to the old-school folding canvas top on the convertible, which comes complete with a roll-up electric wind blocker just ahead of the boot that doubles as the back window when the roof is in place.
The M6 deal is sweeter because so much of the car is shared with the M5 sedan, from the twin-turbo engine to the chassis and the latest iDrive infotainment system, but it's still a big and heavy car. BMW Australia says the most-likely rivals are the Benz CLS and perhaps the lovely SL roadster - which I drove and loved as the SL63 earlier this year - as well as the chunky and punchy Jaguar XK-R S hotrod.
M6s will never be common in Australia but there are still plenty of people who want one and are prepared to pay their $300k. "We will deliver close to 30 cars this year. As for next year, we would expect to out-perform the predecessor model and that sold 65 cars in the first year," says Piers Scott, BMW spokesman. In total, BMW sold 156 of the outgoing model but it has - slightly - higher hopes for the newcomers.
"This is the most responsive turbocharged engine in the world. And the benefit is not just the performance, but way better fuel economy," says BMW Australia's M6 product manager, Christoph Priemel. The force-fed V8 is lifted straight from the M5, complete with 412 kiloWatts and 680 Newton-metres from 4.4 litres.
There is no such thing as a manual M6, but the seven-speed double-clutch manumatic is driver adjustable between slur and speed shift and the car will thump to 100 in 4.2 seconds with a top speed - if you're prepared to pay a little extra on tyres and things.
As Priemel says, the fuel economy is impressive with an official rating of 9.9 litres/100km kilometres for the coupe and 10.3 for the convertible. Look under the M6 and you find an M5, although the wheelbase is a little shorter despite a slight increase in length, the coupe is 20 kilograms lighter, and there is an active differential to improve handling. Extra work went into the M6 to ensure there was enough cooling for the engine room and a late change to the coupe brought a tiny spoiler at the tail edge of the boot.
Orca looks big and tough, but still M6 sleek and purposeful. For me, the coupe is a little sweeter without the complication of the flying buttresses at the tail of the convertible, but the design is really about making an impact. That means an aggressive nose, giant alloys and the M division's signature four-pipe exhaust system.
Inside, M tweaking includes special seats, a driver focussed wheel and a bunch of switches to control the various engine, transmission and suspension settings. Thankfully, the designers have worked with the engineers to add a pair of programmable M buttons on the steering wheel that allow you to drive sedately at the start, then switch to M1 for more fun, then M2 for extra excitement up to and including a full-on track attack with super-slick shifts and zero intervention by the stability control.
We're never going to get an ANCAP rating on the M6ers, but they should rate a five-start tick with all their technology. They might be big and fast, but BMW has built in all sorts of airbags and electronic safety systems that go way beyond standard ESP. The idea is to have fun but always with a safety net, regardless of the roads or conditions. But the only safe place to really run wild in an M6 is at a racetrack. Full stop.
The sun is shining on a lovely Brisbane morning as we head for the hills. And the promise of Lakeside raceway hot laps. Heading out of the city, the pod of orcas - close to $2 million worth - keeps close company and there is fun and big smiles as the drivers thump away from the lights and whip-crack the exhausts on the 1-2 changes.
But things settle down quickly and there is time to settle into the comfy sports buckets, enjoy the punch of serious zircon, and also marvel at BMW's latest 3D satnav display. There's not a lot of boot room in the M6ers, and you could only carry kids in the back, but it's not intended to rival a Kia Carnival for family hauling.
As the road climbs and turns twisty it's time to see what the suspension can do. And it's surprisingly compliant for such a heavy car with such big wheels. It's obviously not a Porsche, or even an SL, but this is a big GT car and not an all-out sporty.
As I start to enjoy the drive, I realise the M6 convertible is much more helpful than the M6ers I had driven in Spain, which felt floppy and never really connected with the road. I now realise it was probably the very slipper Spanish roads.
This time around, the M6 puts its power down well, turns relatively sweetly - it's not a Toyota 86 in size or response - and is always ready with a brutal twin-turbo thump. It's not a quiet car, but there is minimal disturbance with the top down at 100km/h and you get what you get with wide low-profile tyres on coarse Australian bitumen.
The kilometre roll past as easily as you expect in a $300,000 car, and then it's time for Lakeside. The track is very fast with some serious corners, but the orca coupe is right in its element. There is more than enough power for anyone, the brakes handle things surprisingly well, the gearbox is a delight, and the steering has just the right balance between grip and feel.
It's not as quick as I remember an Audi R8 or a Nissan GT-R, but it definitely lives up to the M heritage. The weight works against it, and the front wants to push wide at times, but it's a car you could happily thrash on weekends. Not that BMW expect many M6 owners to do it.
The combination of road and track time has softened my complaints about the M6, and made me more of a fan. I'm never going to love it the way I do a Porsche Cayman, or crave it the way I do a Benz SL63, but the M6 is better than I expected and definitely better than I thought in Spain.
Which just goes to prove that you should never pass final judgement on any car until you get it home. I was only lukewarm on the new M6 when I drove it in Europe, but now I can see it's a good thing and a worthwhile member of the BMW M family. But I'm still not sold on the deal when the price is so high.
The M6 twins are not for everyone, but for some people they will be everything they want and need.
BMW M6 coupe and convertible
Price: From $292,500 (coupe) $308,500 (convertible)
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km
Service interval: 15,000km/12 months
Safety rating: Five star (estimate)
Spare: Space saver
Engine: 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 412kW/680Nm
Transmission: 7-speed manumatic; RWD
Body: 4.8m (L); 1.9m (w); 1.37m (h)
Thirst: 9.9-10.3/100km; 232-239g/km Co2
Aston Martin V8 Vantage
Priced: from $231,500
Engine: 4.7-litre 4-cylinder, 313kW/470Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual, RWD
Thirst: 13.9 litres/100km
Maserati GranTurismo MC Stradale
Priced: from $388,800
Engine: 4.7-litre 8 cylinder, 331kW/510Nm
Transmission: 6-speed auto, RWD
Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG
Priced: from $468,820
Engine: 6.2-litre 8-cylinder, 420kW/650Nm
Transmission: 7-speed auto, RWD