BMW 6 Series VS Lotus Exige
BMW 6 Series
- Heaps of space
- Feels plush
- Good standard equipment
- Feels big on the road
- A bit of a weird car, really
- Unassisted, unadulterated steering (at speed)
- Beautiful balance and stiff chassis
- Sheer impracticality
- Heavy steering (at low speeds)
- Getting in and out of it
BMW 6 Series
What happens when you struggle to sell an odd-bod, not-quite-a-coupe, sort-of-a-hatchback, almost-an-SUV model? Well, sometimes it gets axed, and replaced with a new model that bears a new name.
That's pretty much it in a nutshell for the BMW 6 Series Gran Turismo, which was formerly the 5 Series GT. It essentially takes the place of the 6 Series Gran Coupe - an alternative to the regular 5 Series sedan that's more attainable than a 7 Series limousine.
Confused? It's not as difficult as all that sounds - you just need to know that this model, the 2018 BMW 6 Series Gran Turismo, is supposed to offer a neat alternative to the go-to family luxury car or SUV.
I spent some time in the entry-level 630i to see if it can deliver on that promise. In fact, I spent more than 24 hours driving the BMW 6 Series GT over the past week, and I don't have a sore back, I haven't been left scratching my head over the intended purpose, I haven't been uncomfortable, and I haven't been left wanting for much.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
Driving naked is ill-advised, and possibly illegal, but taking a spin in the Lotus Exige 350 Sport is as close as you'd ever want to get. It's not so much that you feel you've left your clothes at home, but that the car has shed its accoutrements, and indeed its very flesh, leaving you with a kind of skeletal vehicle; just bare bones and muscle.
What this punishingly hard and fiercely focused machine does to your bones and flesh is best described as extreme chiropractry - in particular the stress of ingress and egress - but fortunately it makes up for the moans, bangs and bruises by fizzing your adrenal glands in a big way.
The question is whether the fun is worth the suffering, and the $138,782.85 price tag.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
BMW 6 Series7.6/10
This isn't a car for everyone's tastes, but if you fit in to the buyer group that just doesn't really know what they want in a luxury car, it could be the perfect fit for your family. The 6 Series GT is a practical large prestige car, albeit one that will likely find very few buyers.
Would you consider a genre-bending car like the BMW 6 Series GT? Let us know in the comments section below.
To say the Lotus Exige 350 Sport exists at the very pointy end of motoring is a sharp understatement. It is, in essence, a track car that you’re somehow allowed to drive on the road, which means it's hugely compromised in various ways as a vehicle for day-to-day use, yet it's not really fair to criticise it for those failings, because commuting was never its intended purpose.
While it would obviously shine in its natural environment of a race circuit, the fact is you could also enjoy it enormously between track days if you pointed it at a suitably smooth and winding bit of country blacktop.
The performance, handling, steering and stopping are all fantastic, in the right conditions, and you can see how someone might justify it to themselves as a far cheaper version of a ($327,100) Porsche 911 GT3. The difference being that a Porsche doesn't make you fold yourself up like a pocket knife every time you get in.
The Lotus, then, is a car for the extreme enthusiast, only. And possibly for nudists, too.
Would you put up with the Lotus's hard edges for the thrill rides? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
BMW 6 Series7/10
There is no denying the 6 Series GT looks better than the old 5 Series GT. It isn't as frumpy, it looks more sporty, and to me it appears to have grown into its identity with more conviction than its predecessor.
That said, I don't necessarily like the look very much - it's a bit like a BMW X6 that has been rounded off a little and lowered down substantially. But I can appreciate some of the finer design aesthetics that it offers up: the frameless windows are a nice touch, and the swooping roofline looks smoother than a duck's back.
Other things like the active grille shutters and the air breathers ahead of the front doors are nice functional touches, and to my eye it lives up to BMW's hope of it looking "smooth but muscular". You can get the 630i with either the M Sport package, like you see here, or the more sedate Luxury Line, which is, well, more luxurious looking.
The M Sport styling and equipment package you see in the images here - with M aero kit and 19-inch wheels (ours had been upgraded to optional 20s) - help out with the athletic look of this very big vehicle.
It's huge in fact. The length of the 630i is 5091mm long, it measures 1902mm wide and sits at 1538mm tall, with a lengthy 3070mm wheelbase.
All that equates to a lot of room in the cabin, and what a sumptuous and delightful place it is to be - leather, wood and plush finishes abound.
The Lotus philosophy is summed by this slightly absurd mission statement: "Simplify, then add lightness". In the words of the great Barnaby Joyce "you don’t have to be Sigmund Freud" to work out that lightness is not something you can 'add', but you get the idea.
Everything about a Lotus is focused on the power-to-weight ratio, and this 350 Sport version takes the Exige to the ultimate degree, weighing in a full 51kg lighter than the S version, at just 1125kg, and with its hefty 3.5-litre supercharged V6 it is capable of lapping the company’s Hethel, UK test circuit a full 2.5 seconds faster.
Lap times, rather than road manners, are what this car is all about, and as such there are no creature comforts of any kind.
The Exige is an eye-catching beast, though, looking a bit like Darth Vader's helmet strapped to a skateboard. Everything about it is a statement of intent, and while the interior is as bare as Barnaby's brain, the gear lever, with its exposed workings and shiny silver knob, is a thing of strange beauty.
BMW 6 Series9/10
Now, I said before that this is a bit like an X6, but it has heaps better interior space than that SUV.
As soon as you slide into the driver's seat, you feel like your inside a large car. The cabin space is plentiful, and there's an abundance of storage on offer, too: there's a split-lid armrest between the seats, a pair of cupholders, a phone storage nook with wireless charging, and big door pockets with bottle holsters.
In the back you have access to door pockets, a flip-down armrest with cupholders (that middle part of the seat can fold down completely to allow storage of longer items), and there's excellent room on offer. How many seats in the BMW 6 Series GT? Five - like, five full-size seats.
Because the roofline doesn't rake as sharply as a four-door 'coupe', headroom is excellent for adults (even of the 183cm variety, like myself), and legroom and toe room are equally very good. This is bigger in the back than a 5 Series, but maybe not as plush as a 7 Series… so I guess it makes sense numerically for its nomenclature.
Of course you get climate control in the front (and in the rear if you option it), and the materials are excellent. The media screen is tablet-style, proudly displaying 10.25 inches of high-def real estate that is both touch-capacitive and controllable by way of the central rotary controller with touchpad. And get this - you can even use gestures to control certain elements like volume, swiping and changing tracks… but you have to option that.
The fully digital instrument display is bordered by a set of incomplete dial rings, which is just odd. BMW, back yourself - your buyers can handle just having a digital screen in front of them, particularly when it's as good as this one.
This grandiose hatchback's boot is commodious - with the back seats in place it has a huge 610 litres of cargo capacity, which extends to 1800L with the 40/20/40 seats folded down using the quick release levers in the boot area.
There is no spare wheel (the BMW range is fitted with run-flat tyres) but it does have a secondary hidden storage area under the boot floor for hiding items or stowing wet gear, bathers/swimmers or muddy clothes.
For context, the X6 has 580L seats up, 1525L seats down.
Both the words 'practical' and 'space' have no place in a road test of this Lotus, so shall we just move on?
Oh, all right. There is no shoulder room to speak of and to change gears you have to fondle your passenger's leg. You're also in danger of breathing into each other’s mouths accidentally, you’re sitting that close.
Speaking of impractical, the door apertures are so small, and the whole car so low, that getting in or out is about as much fun as attempting to hide in a child's suitcase.
Cupholders? Forget it, nor is there anywhere to put your phone. There are two tiny oddment storage holes just near each well-hidden door handle, and a kind of slidey, slick shelf where a glove box might be, on which it’s not safe to leave anything.
Put things on the floor and they will slide under the super low seats and never be seen again.
The Lotus people pointed out a parcel shelf behind the seats, but I think they imagined it, and there is a tiny boot at the rear, behind the engine, which is smaller than some actual boots.
Price and features
BMW 6 Series6/10
The BMW 6 Series Gran Turismo range starts off with the model tested here, the 630i. It has a list price of $123,500 before on-road costs - and that's whether you buy the M Sport Line or the Luxury Line.
That's quite a lot of money. And while it has a lot of equipment to help justify the cost, the smarter dollars will probably find their way to a more affordable 5 Series.
Standard gear in this spec includes adaptive air suspension with multiple drive modes, a colour head-up display, semi-autonomous parking, adaptive cruise control with steering assistance, auto high-beam LED headlights with LED daytime running lights, DAB+ digital radio, a 16-speaker harman/kardon sound system, a 12.3-inch driver information screen and a 10.25-inch media display with sat nav, Bluetooth and 'BMW ConnectedDrive' online services.
Hey, you even get a panoramic sunroof as standard! Plus there are things like an active rear spoiler, two USB ports and four 12-volt outlets, leather trim, heated front electric seats, electric steering wheel adjustment, keyless entry, push-button start, and an automatic boot.
It also comes loaded with active safety assistance functions - we'll get to that in the safety section below.
Things it's missing at this price point? Well, heated seats are an option, but bundled nicely into the 'Comfort Package' ($3000) which was fitted to our car. The pack includes heated seats front and rear, quad-zone climate control, electric sunblinds for the rear side windows, and electric seat back adjustment. Oh, and BMW continues to gouge consumers $623 for Apple CarPlay (which seemingly didn't work in our car).
The only other 6 Series GT model available is the 640i xDrive, which is again available with the choice of M Sport or Luxury body styling. It's also pretty exxy, with a list price of $148,900, but gets a more performance-focused drivetrain, as well as extra equipment: essentially the Comfort package, plus vented front seats, interior fragrance (eight options), memory settings for the front seats, 20-inch wheels and metallic paint.
Plus the 640i has Sport+ settings - it's probably the wrong car for those - and 'Integral Active Steering' to couple with the all-wheel drive system.
The question of 'value' is a tricky one when you’re looking at a $138,782.85 car that’s about as useful in day-to-day life as a matchbox-sized handbag. But you have to consider what people buy a Lotus for, and the answer has absolutely nothing to do with practicality.
A car like this Exige 350 Sport is purely purchased as a toy, a track-day special that you can, in theory, drive to the circuit via public roads. Franky, if I was rich enough to have one I’d still transport it there on the back of a truck.
Relatively speaking, you could have a far more practical and infinitely more comfortable Porsche Cayman for $30K less, but the Lotus is $30K cheaper than the similarly track-focused and brutal ($169,990) KTM X-Bow.
In terms of features, you get four wheels, an engine, a steering wheel, some seats, and that’s about it. You can buy a circa 1993 removable-face two-speaker stereo, which you can't really hear over the engine and road noise, for $1199. Oh, and they do throw in air conditioning, which is also noisy.
Our slick-looking metallic black paint was also $1999, the 'full carpets' another $1099 (expensive floor mats, basically), the Alcantara trim pack $4499, cruise control (really?) $299 and the hilarious optional 'Sound Insulation' $1499 (I think they actually forgot to fit it). All up, our press car’s price climbed to $157,846, which, I have to say, is no one’s idea of good value.
On the plus side, the local Lotus people - Simply Sports Cars - do offer features a buyer would love, like regular Lotus Only Track Days, a chance to take part in the Phillip Island 6 Hour and the Targa High Country event, and various other racy experiences.
Engine & trans
BMW 6 Series8/10
Under the bonnet of the 630i is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, which produces 190kW of power (at 6500rpm) and 400Nm of torque (from 1550-4400rpm). It uses an eight-speed automatic transmission, and is rear-wheel drive.
That may not seem a lot considering the size of this machine, but consider that some of the steamiest four-cylinder hot hatches have nearly the same outputs, and you realise this engine offers up a far-from slouched approach to propulsion.
The 640i xDrive has a 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbocharged engine with 250kW of power and 450Nm of torque. It gets the same eight-speed auto, but as the xDrive naming indicates, it's all-wheel drive.
But this is the one you'd prefer if you want to hit highway speed in a hurry - the 0-100km/h claim is 5.3 seconds, where the 630i takes a full second longer (6.3sec) according to the company.
In the past, Lotus engineers were satisfied with the power they got from tiny four-cylinder Toyota engines, but this Exige 350 Sport is a Very Serious Car and thus has a relatively whopping 3.5-litre, supercharged V6 shoehorned into its backside, which makes 258kW and 400Nm, and that's enough to fire this tiny machine from 0-100km/h in just 3.9 seconds, although it feels, and sounds, a lot faster.
The six-speed gearbox feels like it's been stolen from an old racing car and is an absolute joy to snick shift at speed.
BMW 6 Series7/10
BMW claims fuel use of 7.0 litres per 100 kilometres, and you'll need to use 95RON premium unleaded when you fill up.
On my trip with the car, I saw about 9.0L/100km across mostly high-speed driving - some freeway, some highway, some country back road touring, and quite a bit of corners and city stuff thrown in as well. I think that's pretty respectable.
What wasn't so great was the lack of premium fuel in some of the 'away from civilisation' places on my route home. Keep that in mind if planning your own GT long-distance cruise.
BMW 6 Series7/10
But if you're in BMW's target market - that being older executive buyers who want space and luxury as a priority over thrills at the wheel, you could do a lot worse.
That's because the 6 Series GT lopes along the highway without fuss - the engine easily coping with the demands of overtaking moves, the adjustable drive modes allowing a light steering and wafting suspension feel to wile away the kilometres.
There are 'Comfort' and 'Comfort Plus' modes, but the latter is a bit too spongy and can be boaty feeling. The Comfort setting is made for the highway.
If you decide to deviate from the straight sections, you'll be able to explore a little bit of dynamic range, especially when you dial up the 'Sport' mode, which changes the damper settings, steering weight, throttle and transmission response, and even the digital dials in front of the driver to a more aggressive look.
Our car had the 'Integral Active Steering' setting, which is a variable ratio steering system that includes rear steering - that essentially helps make is more turnable in corners at highway speed, and easier to park at lower speeds. It's difficult to say whether the assistance is excellent or not short of driving a car without the tech, but to this tester it was hard to hide the size and weight (1835kg kerb weight) of the vehicle.
That isn't to say it's clumsy or lumbering - it is actually pretty agile for its dimensions, though it makes a lot more sense on long drives and coastal cruises than it does in the narrow and twisty alpine roads of the Snowy Mountains Highway that I tested it on.
There's good grip from the tyres, and strong response from the powertrain - but if it were my money, and I had to have a 6 Series for whatever reason, I'd be looking towards the 640i model, which has a thumping six-cylinder with 250kW/450Nm - certainly an engine that would be more at home in this car. Plus that model comes with AWD.
It's rare to find a car that is such an improbable mix of furious fun and infuriating annoyance. The Lotus is rattly, noisy, hugely firm to the point of punishing, with seats that offer encouragement but not support.
It is the opposite of comfortable and so hard to see out of that driving it around town, in any sort of traffic, feels borderline dangerous. There’s also the distinct sensation that you’re so low and so little that all those people in their SUVs won't see you.
Throw in the fact that it's so painfully, stupidly difficult to get in and out of and it's definitely not the sort of car you take if you're heading to the shops. I got so sick of its hard-edged annoyances at one stage that I became too grumpy to even take people for joy rides in it. I just couldn’t be bothered with the hassle, but then an inner-city suburb with high kerbs and even higher speed humps is not the Exige's natural environment.
Making it even more of a challenge around town, at low speeds or in parking situations is the steering, which isn't so much heavy as wilfully obtuse. Doing a three-point turn is the equivalent of 20 minutes of bench pressing your own body weight. At least.
Out on a winding bit of country road, however, the steering becomes one of the best things about the car, because its pure, unassisted weighting feels so alive in your hands. There’s a sense of actually wrestling, or finessing it around corners that makes you feel a bit Ayrton Senna.
Indeed, the whole car comes alive, and starts to make some kind of sense, once you're on a smooth, perfect piece of tarmac. It is fast, noisy, thrilling, utterly and overtly involving, stiff of chassis and firm of ride, with brakes capable of pulling you up with indecent haste. It’s also, thanks to its low centre of gravity and mid-engined layout, beautifully balanced.
The gearbox is a thrill a minute, as is the engine, particularly once you explore the upper rev ranges, at which point the scenery really does become a scary blur out the ridiculously small windscreen.
Sure, you can't see anything behind you other than the engine, but what a lovely sight that is, and nothing is going to catch you anyway.
It does feel edgy, of course, and sharp, and it’s not as easy or refined to drive as some cheaper sports cars; an MX-5 makes for a far more pleasant companion. But this is an extreme Exige, a machine built by and for genuine enthusiasts.
And, above all, for the sort of people who will take it to a race track, which is where it both looks and feels completely at home.
Unfortunately, on public roads, it would be annoying more often than it would be thrilling, but the truly hardcore Lotus aficionados would never admit such a thing.
BMW 6 Series9/10
The BMW 6 Series GT range has a five-star Euro NCAP crash test score based on 2017 testing, but it hasn't been scored by ANCAP.
There's the usual array of airbags - dual front, front side, full-length curtain and driver's knee airbags are included, plus parking sensors all around, and heaps of safety tech including the 'Driving Assistant Plus' package with lane departure warning and lane keeping assist, forward collision warning, auto emergency braking (AEB) front and rear, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, and adaptive cruise control with stop and go.
That's all great stuff, and so is the 360-degree camera system with adaptive display - so, if you're reversing and you turn the wheel to one side, the image on screen will move, too. It'll also go between a birds-eye view and a backing-up perspective, and that can take some getting used to.
What was less convincing in terms of the user experience was the rear auto braking, which seemed to be scared of the car's own shadow. On multiple occasions the car jammed on the brakes when reversing out of driveways on to empty streets - be it in the normal height, or the raised height setting.
The 6 Series GT has dual ISOFIX anchor points and three top-tether points are there and ready for baby seats or child seats.
Unsurprisingly, considering it will sell fewer than 100 cars in Australia, Lotus has not had the Exige ADR crash tested, so there's no star rating. You do get two airbags, passenger and driver, as well as ABS, 'Hydraulic Brake Assist', 'Lotus Dynamic Performance Management', driver-selectable ESP with three modes, cornering brake control and EBD.
BMW 6 Series8/10
BMW runs a condition-based servicing plan, which means the car will tell you when it needs servicing. But you can rest assured it won't (theoretically) cost you much, with the brand's 'Service Inclusive' pack. It covers you for basic maintenance as and when required for five years/80,000km. According to BMW, that includes "annual vehicle checks, oil changes, all filters, spark plugs and labour costs for the duration of the package".
BMW offers a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty plan, and you get the same cover for roadside assistance.