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BMW 6 Series 2011 review

FOR more than 70 years, BMW has been making coupes. They are often the prettiest of their fleet and currently the sexiest Bavarian coupe is the new 6 Series which has just arrived in our showrooms.

"Coupes are always about looks," says BMW product and pricing analyst Christoph Priemel. "This car has a brand-shaping function for BMW."

It arrives with a choice of either 640i six-cylinder or 650i V8 with no plans to bring in the 230kW/630Nm six-cylinder turbo diesel. "We don't see any market demand for a diesel model here," says Priemel.

VALUE

He says the competitors are naturally the Mercedes-Benz CL and SL, but also more exotic models such as the Jaguar XK and Maserati GranTurismo. With its bounty of hi-tech features, power and acceleration figures it is also now a serious competitor against the Porsche 911 Carrera.

We're not sure many would go from a Porsche to a BMW, but the new 650i might just attract those intimidated by the Stuttgart sports car. On paper, the Bimmers (from $178,300 for the 640i and $232,300 for the 650i) are cheaper and less powerful than the exotic competitors, but the six-cylinder alternative adds some choice. 

Priemel won't comment on sales figures, but says the 640i will become the higher seller. Like most German vehicles, some of the optional extras can hit the hop-pocket nerve.

Some are worthwhile such as headlights that follow the corners ($2800), while others such as ceramic surrounds on a few knobs ($1100) are a pointless  excess and options like Bluetooth music streaming ($220) are standard even on most of today's small cars.

TECHNOLOGY

This is where the BMWs have the edge with hi-tech efficient engines, the most advanced suspension in the segment, Connected Drive with colour head-up display that shows a realistic presentation of the road ahead, optional active four-wheel steering, new night vision with pedestrian awareness, active cruise control, parking assistance with birdseye view and smart phone integration with email capability.

Options include a 14-speaker, heart-massaging B&O sound system ($14,000), digital radio ($950), LED headlights ($2800) for the first time in a BMW and active cornering lights ($2800), a first for the 6 Series.  What we won't get is speed limit information - Australia's constantly varying speed limits are too confusing. There is no in-car internet, except through pairing a smart phone. 

The 640i and 650i are called "twin power turbos". In the V8 it means two turbos working together while in the six-cylinder it is a single twin-scroll turbo. In other BMWs, a small and large turbo work in sequence.

The 650i has 300kW of power and 600Nm of torque, but the 640i is no slouch either with a good combination of performance and economy. In fact, it accelerates to 100km/h in 5.4 seconds which is the same as the SL500.

The 640i includes a driver mode called "Eco Pro" that adjusts the throttle and transmission for more frugal driving and gives the driver hints on conserving fuel. In conjunction with the satnav option it also suggests the most economical route.

It comes with the new eight-speed automatic transmission as standard with steering wheel paddles and M Gearshift logic for faster shifts, while at low revs it goes into an economy mode. Both models are rear-wheel drive. Australia will not get the all-wheel drive version, a first for a non-X model BMW, as it is only available in left-hand drive.

STYLING

The previous model was bloated and lethargic looking. Even though the new 6 Series coupe is 120kg heavier, it appears sleeker thanks mainly to the nose that looks like a great white shark. It's also lower, longer, wider and meaner looking with slit-eyed headlights and muscular rear quarters.

Priemel says group design director Adrian von Hooydonk was inspired by the way water flows around objects such as rocks in a stream. You can see it in the way the bonnet crease flows around the blue-propeller emblem.

The interior features overlapping layered surfaces and a cosseted feeling. Some may find it a little claustrophobic and will elect to raise the seat as high as possible. It was also designed with golfers in mind, so it can fit three sets of golf clubs in the back. The satnav-info screen is high on the dashboard for ease of viewing, creating an aircraft instrument appearance.

SAFETY

The head-up display is one of the most visible and useful safety features in the car. There is also a wide array of standard and optional driver aids to keep the 1770kg beast on the black stuff, including stability control, ABS, cornering and dynamic brake control, dry braking function and hill-start assistance.

Lurking underneath is a combination of lightweight chassis and body parts together with enough high-tensile steel to increase rigidity by 50 per cent. Passengers are surrounded by six airbags and inertia-reel seatbelts with latch tensioners.

Up front there are seat belt force limiters and crash-activated head restraints. There are not plans yet for a Euro NCAP crash test but Priemel says it would "meet all the requirements" for a maximum five-star rating.

DRIVING

At the world launch in Munich this year the sun shone on the fleet of 640i coupes. The reverse was true at the national launch in Queensland last week - drizzling rain and only 650i models. It felt like a recipe for disaster as we carefully tip-toed our way over the twisting switchbacks of Mt Glorious and Mt Mee.

With all that brutal turbo power cutting in so radically, the order of the day was a delicate right hoof and prayers that the driver aids were on full alert. The result was that the car twitched quite severely on occasions as traction broke very suddenly then just as suddenly the stability and traction control systems intruded.

While it felt like a chore to drive safely, a quick and short glance down to the handy head-up display revealed rapid progress on the glass-like road surface. We left the suspension settings on "comfort" for more stability in the wet, so there was no opportunity to fully test the suspension.

There was also little opportunity to push the engine and transmission, but the V8 rumble and growl was an audible joy. In fact, it sounded better in the standard model than in the variant with the $7500 M Sport option pack which, among other things that are mainly cosmetic accessories, also features an exhaust system with "characteristic" sound. To my ears it was a bit too muted.

The eight-speed transmission is a no-fuss box that copes well with steep grades and sudden throttle inputs, although we were conservative on the latter. Steering is the main concern. At high speeds the electric steering is numb and heavy while at slower speeds it responds better. Yet it never provides feedback or a feeling of connection with the wheels.

On the international launch, the brakes popped my eyeballs out of their sockets in a panic stop for a Bavarian farmer on his tractor. Thankfully we had no such cause for a panic stop on the rain-soaked roads through the Kilcoy cattle properties.

VERDICT

Performance, beauty, technology and efficiency collide in the new 6 Series coupe. No longer is it a lardy loper, but a worthy option to some Italian, British and German GTs.

BMW 6 SERIES COUPE

Price:  $178,300 (640i), $232,300 (650i)
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited km
Engine: 3.0-litre 6-cyl turbo, 235kW/450Nm; 4.4-litre twin turbo V8, 300kW/600Nm
Transmission: 8-speed auto 
Thirst: 7.6L/100km, 177-181g/km
CO2: (640i ); 10.5L/100km, 245-246g/km CO2 (650i )
Safety: ABS, stability control, cornering control, adaptive drive, 6 airbags
Weight: 1660-1845kg

Pricing guides

$41,635
Based on third party pricing data
Lowest Price
$23,100
Highest Price
$60,170

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
650i 4.8L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO $47,600 – 60,170 2011 BMW 6 Series 2011 650i Pricing and Specs
650i 4.8L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO $36,700 – 47,520 2011 BMW 6 Series 2011 650i Pricing and Specs
Pricing Guide

$36,700

Lowest price, based on third party pricing data

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