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In common with every other luxury brand in the world — and we're talking designer label anything, not just cars — BMW has its gaze fixed longingly upon the bountiful riches, there for the taking, in China.
The Middle Kingdom has high-end Western brands totally in its thrall. The enthusiasm with which wealthy Chinese people are opening their wallets to acquire the baubles, big and small, of the decadent, capitalist Occidentals is breathtaking.
So BMW has added rear doors to the 6-Series coupe — a necessary feature for Chinese luxury car buyers — and extended the wheelbase to liberate a liveable rear seat. Going deep into Beijing bling territory has created the new 6 Series Gran Coupe.
The 3.0-litre straight six turbo 640i goes on sale here in July. The 4.4-litre V8 twin turbo 650i follows in October. The 3.0-litre twin turbo diesel 640d is a maybe. Hopefully, it will soon become a definite.
No prices are fixed for Australia but the Gran Coupe will sit between the two-door and the convertible. So the 640i will cost about $190,000, give or take a few dim sims, while the 650i will occupy the low-mid $240,000 range. If the 640d gets here, it will be pricier than the petrol six but not by much.
You'll pay similar money for a 3.6-litre six-cylinder petrol or 3.0-litre turbo diesel Porsche Panamera but the Porsche V8 is a $297,100 ask. The Mercedes CLS350 is $159,200. The bargain in this class is Audi's beautiful and underrated A7, which kicks off at $142,700 for the 220kW 3.0-litre V6 supercharged petrol TFSi quattro.
The Gran Coupe is a design exercise. That said, BMW tech is always interesting and, with a few exceptions, extremely effective. The 640i's petrol engine, six years on, runs one turbo instead of two, to improve fuel efficiency. On our drive around the mountains of Sicily, it averaged 12.9L/100km. The official number is 7.7L. This version has 235kW and what makes it remarkable in the petrol donk context is a torque curve as flat as the Nullarbor: the full 450Nm is all yours from from 1300rpm to 4500rpm.
The eight-speed automatic, and drivetrain maps that range from ECO to nuke-the-planet Sport+, allow you to drive it any way you choose. The auto never leaves you wondering what it's going to do next, or when. It's only when you hop into the 640d that the petrol engine feels underdone.
This is the world's best turbo diesel six. With 630Nm, it seems to pull with half the effort of the turbo petrol, yet with 230kW it's hardly short on power, either, and happily spins to a most un-diesel-like 5800rpm. I averaged high 11L/100km; the official 5.5L is probably wishful thinking. Both sixes hit 100km/h in 5.4 seconds. The V8 (which was unavailable on launch) takes 4.6 seconds.
The Gran Coupe looks stretched and tight, like a good BMW should, emphasised by the famed Hofmeister kink here extending deep into the rear pillar. But I'm not sure if it's a true coupe. The boot has a flat deck rather than a Kate Winslet-esque rump, so this is really a sedan. They probably wanted to avoid, at all costs, giving it a barge-arse like the Panamera.
A striking new matt colour, called Frozen (burnished, to the eye) Bronze, is exclusive to the Gran Coupe. Inside, the theme is nautical but this is no tinnie. The test car's cabin featured a wild combination from the BMW Individual custom design palette: white leather seats, dash and door trim, enveloped by an earthy brown hue on the roof, doors and floor. Think Vegas brothel meets Birdsville pub. It should look horrible but it works. I like it. I can't believe I just wrote that.
No NCAP results yet but this car will be eminently crashworthy. The head-up display allows you to monitor your speed and navigate without taking your eyes off the road. Active cruise control can automatically stop you rear-ending another car at low speed. Infra-red light can detect an errant pedestrian stumbling into your path at night; he's then caught like a bunny in a bright LED beam while you think about how pleasant it would be to contribute to this year's Darwin awards.
Whatever engine you choose, performance is not an issue. The 640d, though, is an absolute wonder. If you think a diesel is a weird, or low rent, choice for a car such as this, drive this one. Hopefully, BMW Australia will give you the opportunity.
The Gran Coupe, 5m and a smidge long and nearly 2m wide, is not to be confused with a genuine sports car. It takes open sweepers as fast as you like and with tenacious precision. However, in tight corners it requires help from the adjustable suspension and (optional) anti-roll system to get around with its dignity intact. That said, at 1825kg the 640i is light for a car of this size, so when you set everything to Sport or Sport+ mode, it's almost athletic. The diesel weighs only 40kg more, and there's no discernible difference in dynamics between the two.
Electric steering is suitably light, a touch remote and not too direct, the brakes are up to it and the ride might be a bit lumpy on our goat tracks. The sporty suspension settings actually work better in this regard than the two Comfort modes. These offer no resistance at all to big hits, which crash through the body.
Long, low, louche and loaded, the 6-Series Gran Coupe says you take your pleasure very seriously. And why not?
BMW 640i Gran Coupe
Price: From $190,000 (est)
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited km
Service interval: On demand
Safety: Not rated
Engine 3.0-litre, 6-cyl turbo petrol, 235kW/450Nm
Ttransmission: 8-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Thirst: 7.7L/100km, on test 12.9L, 183g/km CO2. Tank 70L
Body: 5m (L), 1.9m (W), 1.4m (H)
Spare: None. Run-flats
|650i||4.4L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO||$37,300 – 48,290||2012 BMW 6 Series 2012 650i Pricing and Specs|
|650i||4.8L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO||$41,000 – 52,470||2012 BMW 6 Series 2012 650i Pricing and Specs|
|650i Gran Coupe||4.4L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO||$51,200 – 64,790||2012 BMW 6 Series 2012 650i Gran Coupe Pricing and Specs|