This time around, the M Coupe gets a racy tail, a sleek greenhouse, and lines that blend in beautifully with BMW’s flame-surfacing design themes. In keeping with tradition, the M Coupe also gets the larger M3’s six-cylinder engine, along with a full BMW Motorsport massage that includes the transmission, brakes, steering, and suspension. Minor cosmetic tweaks are made primarily out of necessity, and the interior receives special attention in the form of M sport seats, unique gauges, and other details.
The end result is one of BMW’s purest expressions of performance. Perhaps more than any other vehicle in the storied German automaker’s 2006 lineup, it is the new M Coupe that most vigorously waves the checkered performance flag. It is raw. It is rough. It is raucous. It ain’t no luxury car, even if you can order the sun visors trimmed in leather. The M Coupe is about going fast, having fun, and doing so in uniquely tailored style. Few may have mourned the previous M Coupe’s passing, but we’d bet many are glad to see its triumphant return.
Because the 2006 BMW M Coupe is built for driving first and everything else second, you could order it stripped of options and get off the dealer’s lot for $50,995, including the $695 destination charge and the $1,000 gas guzzler tax. For that outlay of cash, you’d get six-way manually adjustable M sport seats covered in premium Nappa leather, power windows with one-touch open and close functionality, power door locks with remote keyless entry, power heated exterior mirrors, automatic climate control, and a tilt and telescopic M sport steering wheel wrapped in soft, soothing leather. Other standard features include a 10-speaker stereo with a CD/MP3 player, rain-sensing wipers, automatic xenon self-leveling headlights with cleaners, heated washer jets, an engine immobilizer system, and lovely brushed aluminum or Carbon Leather dashboard trim.
Your basic M Coupe would be painted Alpine White or Imola Red, the latter an M-exclusive color, and you could choose between Black, Imola Red, or Sepang Bronze Light upholstery. Safety gear would include dual front smart airbags with passenger detection sensors, seatbelt tensioners and force limiters, side-impact airbags, active knee protection, and LATCH combined with a passenger airbag deactivation switch to make mounting a child seat in the right front chair a safe bet. No side curtain airbags are offered on the M Coupe, but BMW does provide free scheduled maintenance for the duration of the four-year/50,000-mile warranty, and promises rust won’t ruin your car for 12 years and unlimited mileage.
Ah, but BMW buyers like to load on extras, and the Spartanburg, SC, assembly plant is happy to add options that can push the price close to 60 grand. Start with the Premium Package ($2,500) which includes BMW Assist, auto-dimming mirrors inside and out, eight-way power M sport seats with driver memory, cruise control, a THX-certified Carver audio system, and storage nets on each seatback and on the right side of the center console. Then check the M Extended Leather option ($1,800) in Black or Sepang Bronze Light to upholster the door panels, A-pillars, sun visors, center console, and storage compartment door in genuine PETA-infuriating cowhide. Next, pop for the Navigation System ($1,800) which deploys from the top of the dashboard and includes an on-board computer and the audio system display. Much simpler and more intuitive to use than BMW’s oft-maligned iDrive system in other models, the navigation setup in the M Coupe is intuitively controlled through the radio’s tuning knob.
Those are the big-ticket items, the extras that can significantly inflate the 2006 BMW M Coupe’s price tag. If you want to skip the Premium Package, you can still get the BMW Assist system ($750), which connects you to the BMW Assist Response Center so that you can request emergency or concierge services. Airbag deployment automatically activates BMW Assist so that rescue personnel can reach you sooner, and the first year of the Safety Plan is free. Afterwards, the fee is $240 annually, and you can add $120 extra each year for BMW Assist Concierge service. The Premium Package’s eight-way power M sport seats are also available as a stand-alone item ($995).
Hold on a sec, we’re not done with the options list. Don’t like white or red for your paint color? A handful of metallic hues is offered ($475) including M-exclusive Interlagos Blue as well as Titanium Silver, Black Sapphire, and Silver Gray. Sepang Bronze, another M-exclusive color, is coming later. Trimming the M Coupe’s dashboard in Maderia Red or Brown walnut wood runs $250 and heated front seats are another $500. On top of this, the dealer can install an iPod adaptor kit, Sirius satellite radio, a six-disc CD changer, and maybe even a set of fuzzy dice. Our test car was decked out with just about every option, for an as-tested price of $57,595. Fuzzy dice not included.
Nuts and Bolts
If you’ve driven a BMW M3, one of the most gratifying automobiles on the planet, you’ll be familiar with the guts of the 2006 BMW M Coupe. Under that long, newly creased hood is the M3’s 3.2-liter inline six-cylinder engine, swallowing premium fuel at the rate of 16 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway. With 330 horsepower available just 100 rpm short of redline at 7,900 revs per minute, and 262 lb.-ft. of torque peaking at 4,900 rpm, this M-massaged motor makes plenty of motivation for a 3,230-pound sports car. Bingo, the M Coupe does make three fewer ponies than the M3, due to space restrictions under the car and the resulting effect on the low back-pressure exhaust system. However, since the M Coupe is carrying 185 fewer pounds than the M3, the power loss is a non-issue. BMW says the M Coupe rips to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds and quickly gets to its electronically limited terminal velocity of 155 mph.
The M Coupe’s engine is constructed using a cast-iron block and aluminum heads, with BMW’s Double VANOS variable valve timing and a high 11.5:1 compression ratio helping to maximize output. A dedicated hydraulic oil pump supplies pressure to the Double VANOS system, and the engine features machined intake ports and combustion chambers, along with a double camshaft chain, to ensure optimum efficiency and durability. Since maximum horsepower is available so close to redline, BMW knows that M Coupe owners are going to spend lots of time wringing the car out for all it’s worth. Therefore, BMW equips this brilliant piece of engineering with a semi dry-sump oiling system, a forged nitro-carbonized steel crankshaft, forged-steel connecting rods, and cross-flow cylinder head cooling with a beefed up water pump to insure engine durability under continuous high-rev stress loads. Each cylinder even gets its own individual throttle for faster response to driver input, and the M Dynamic Driving Control provides normal and sport throttle response settings to tailor the engine’s behavior to the pilot’s wishes. We drove in sport mode exclusively, and our reward was blistering acceleration, quick shifts, and an average of 16.4 mpg in mostly highway driving punctuated by numerous four-way stop intersections.
A revised six-speed ZF Type H manual transmission with a heavy-duty clutch delivers power to the M Coupe’s rear wheels. Upgrades include better gear synchronization, lighter shift feel, firmer gear engagement, shorter throws, and lifetime transmission oil that never needs checking or changing. At night, the shift pattern on the gearshift knob is illuminated – a slick touch found on all M models. Other powertrain goodies include a heavy-duty differential equipped with NACA air intakes to keep it cool, an M Variable Differential Lock that keeps the M Coupe buttoned-down on low- and split-traction surfaces, and an M Logic stability control system with start-off assistant to keep the car from rolling backward on hills while the driver switches from the brake pedal to the accelerator.
Like the M Coupe’s underhood hardware, the suspension, steering, and brakes are also significantly tweaked by BMW Motorsport. In front, the suspension track is half an inch wider, the aluminum lower control arms are more complex and lighter, new steering knuckles produce sharper response and save weight, and there are strut tower braces to further stiffen the car. At the rear, the sub-frame is larger and stiffer, and the M Coupe gets the M3’s wheel bearings, central suspension links, and stabilizer bar arrangement. Additionally, the springs, shocks, stabilizer bars, and bushings are all M-tuned for maximum performance.
The M Coupe’s steering is also donated by the M3, replacing the Z4’s standard electrically-assisted power rack-and-pinion setup with an engine-speed sensitive hydraulic assist unit equipped with a special power steering fluid pump. The result is greater steering effort at low speeds in trade for the kind of sharpened road feel and response at higher speeds for which BMWs are known, and loved.
Brakes are compound, cross-drilled, ventilated discs with brake drying, ABS, Dynamic Brake Control, start-off assistant, electronic brake proportioning, and cornering stability enhancement. The compound, two-piece rotor design cuts unsprung weight and reduces warping under high-pressure, high-heat conditions, translating to a reduction in vibration when running the M Coupe hard. Disc dimensions are identical to the M3 Competition Package – 345 x 28mm up front and 328 x 20mm in back.
The whole shebang rides on M Double Spoke 18-inch wheels wearing summer-spec 225/45ZR front tires and 255/40ZR rear treads. These are not run-flats, and there’s no spare. Instead, a standard tire pressure monitor keeps you informed about inflation levels and an M Mobility inflator and sealant kit helps you hobble to the next performance rubber shop. Or, you could just press the BMW Assist button, if you’ve opted for it, and summon a pimply-faced teenager to come fix the problem for you.
The 2006 BMW M Coupe might be the first visually appealing new BMW since everyone wet their pants over the whole Y2K hysteria. Actually, scratch that. The current BMW M3 was the last real stunner out of Munich, so perhaps it should come as no surprise that the new M Coupe, which shares much of its hardware with the M3, is such a striking machine. Either that or we’ve become better attuned to BMW’s flame-surfaced design language.
Undeniably, the M Coupe’s fixed fastback roof works well with the Z4’s folded-and-creased exterior design, flowing beautifully into the raised rear deck and making that bubbly butt a logical conclusion rather than an irrational exclamation. Plus, thanks to the M Coupe’s hatchback design, there’s additional cargo space, though it’s still precious. Pop the hatch and you’ll find that the trunk is roomy enough for a couple of soft-sided duffels, or a medium-size rollaway and a briefcase. A handy cargo cover is also included to keep valuables out of sight, and there’s a light to help you see in the dark.
In addition to the sleek fixed roof, BMW has made subtle, purposeful styling changes to mark the M Coupe. A distinct front fascia with the company’s traditional kidney grilles set deeper into their openings is decorated with black vertical grille slats and includes three air intakes under the bumper for added engine and brake cooling. The M Coupe comes standard with auto-leveling xenon headlamps with washers, luminous rings on the inboard lights, white turn signal indicators, and an aluminum hood with new character lines stamped into it. Other M-specific treatments include 18-inch M double-spoke aluminum wheels, M-logo badges, four chrome-tipped exhaust outlets, a unique rear bumper and lower diffuser, and adaptive LED brake lights that glow brighter the harder you stop.
Our test car’s interior was austere, trimmed all in black with the exception of “pearl-gloss galvanic” accent trim on the gauge hoods, door pulls, door releases, and controls. Though the no-charge Carbon Leather dashboard trim looks and feels good, we’d stick with the standard brushed aluminum to keep the mood lighter. Or, you could select the Imola Red, Sepang Bronze Light, or Sepang Brown Dark interior treatments to create a less depressing ambience, and don’t forget that Madeira walnut wood is also available. Unique features for the M Coupe’s cabin include M-logo aluminum doorsill trim plates, M sport seats wrapped in premium Nappa leather, an M sport steering wheel, and special instrumentation. The tachometer winds up to 9,000 rpm and includes variable tachometer warning lights that illuminate to depict safe rev ranges depending on engine warmth. The M Coupe also gets an oil temperature gauge, a 180-mph speedometer, red-on-gray dial pointers, and special gauge graphics.
For the most part, the BMW M Coupe’s materials and construction are commensurate with the price you pay to own one. There are a few cheap plastic bits and pieces, but mainly this is a no-nonsense driving environment, stiff, solid, and free of squeaks, creaks, and rattles. You might want to check out the extended leather option. It looks and smells good, and you’ll be delighted that it covers parts that would normally be hard plastic. We especially liked the black leather sunvisors and A-pillars in our Alpine White test sample. However, we did note a build quality problem garish in its blatancy. Right in front of the passenger, the seam between the upper and lower sections of the dashboard exhibited a giant gap that looked as though it could swallow a pen. Or a finger.
Rain turned out to be a good thing. Wisconsin’s Road America circuit, located smack in the middle of the doorway to beautiful Door County, was soaking wet from unrelenting showers, and the wind cleaved a chilly swath across the rolling hills of America’s Dairyland. Three BMW M Coupes idled in pit row, waiting for journalists possessing widely varying levels of skill to whip them around the four-mile road course. At the end of the day, not one of them was lost.
That is pure testament not only to the effectiveness of stability control and the importance of a 50.2/49.8 front-to-rear weight distribution, but also to how easy it is to feed the new 2006 BMW M Coupe fine inputs, and have it respond exactly as anticipated. Driving hard and fast in the rain heightens the senses, requires added concentration, and demands smooth shifting, steering, and throttle input. Under these conditions, ham-fisted and -footed driving usually results in a slide or a spin. Since most drivers cannot meet such requirements corner after corner, lap after lap, a street car also must be forgiving enough to accommodate missteps without threatening to turn sheet metal into scrap metal, or pilots into patients.
Driving on the track, the M Coupe was quick in the rain, and the DSC/ABS systems helped keep the slithering sports car aimed toward the next apex rather than the Armco. Obviously, we cannot assess grip due to the wet track conditions, though the summer performance tires did a dandy job of battling the elements. Likewise, since we didn’t punish the brakes or suspension, it’s impossible to determine how this car might fare on a warm, sun-dazzled track. However, note that the standard brake drying system, which intermittently puts the pads in contact with the rotors to squeeze moisture out for maximum braking capability in foul weather, worked brilliantly. We never felt the pads being applied, and we never lacked for bite diving down into one of Road America’s 90-degree turns. Finally, the M Coupe’s steering is a huge improvement over the electrically-assisted Z4, letting the driver place the car exactly where he wants it. This is a confidence-inspiring ride in unfavorable conditions – we just wish we could tell you what it’s like to drive in the dry.
One thing is certain: this 3.2-liter inline six is gorgeous – smooth, refined, subtle yet prodigiously powered. And it sounds terrific. Connected to a fluid six-speed manual that slips into each gear with a rubbery pop, the M Coupe really moves. Launching the car in first gear can be a little tricky, since the clutch take-up is abrupt, but once underway and accelerating hard it’s easy to snap off quick shifts. The pedals are set up for easy heel-and-toe action – action we’ve never quite mastered.
BMW provides a visceral driving experience in the 2006 M Coupe due to engine roar, road noise, a tight suspension, and hyper-sensitive steering. Traveling over Wisconsin’s expansion joints, the M Coupe sounded like a freight train rolling at speed: clickety-clack, clickety-clack. Traveling over Wisconsin’s lumpy country roads proved the M Coupe’s ride to be rough and choppy. The M Coupe’s engine-speed sensitive hydraulic steering is a huge improvement over the Z4, connected to a thick, meaty steering wheel that people with smaller hands might not like to grip. The stout brakes respond instantly and let the driver squeeze exact amounts of pressure to the binders.
Buy a 2006 BMW M Coupe because you love to drive, not because you love to be seen in it, since there are significant downsides to purchasing a purpose-built sports car. For example, getting into and out of the M Coupe is difficult. The sills are high, the seats are low, the greenhouse is squat, and the bolsters want to either hold you in the car or block access to it. Once inside, the seats are hard, confining, and tight, pinching middle-American middles. The extended thigh supports are nice, and you can find a good driving position, but the M Coupe doesn’t strike us to be a good cross-country touring machine. Plus, outward visibility is terrible. The side mirrors are oddly shaped and the upper edge of the rear window blocks distance viewing, allowing a patrol car to pace the M Coupe undetected – better get a Valentine One. The M Coupe’s nose is long, with plenty of it sitting in the driver’s lower field of vision, and because of the thick rear pillars and bulky seat backrests, reversing takes more than an ounce of faith.
Regardless of a few shortcomings, perhaps the best thing about the M Coupe is that it’s not overloaded with BMW technology. There’s no iDrive. There’s a normal turn signal stalk. The shifter operates intuitively, though it’s easy to accidentally engage reverse gear if you’re not paying attention. There aren’t a million different fine-tuned programs to select, tweak, disengage, and understand only after consulting a thick manual. The 2006 BMW M Coupe is a simple machine, built purely for speed, and that alone makes it worth investigation.
FAQs and Specs
What does the 2006 BMW M Coupe compete against?
The 2006 BMW M Coupe competes against a range of sports cars making between 300 and 500 horsepower and priced from the low $30,000 range to the $70,000 range. Those vehicles include the Chevrolet Corvette, Chrysler Crossfire SRT-6, Ford Mustang Shelby Cobra GT500, Mercedes-Benz SLK 55 AMG, Nissan 350Z, and Porsche Cayman S.
Why select the 2006 BMW M Coupe over any of these competitors?
Thanks to its unique design, you won’t see yourself coming and going in the 2006 BMW M Coupe – even in places like Miami Beach and Beverly Hills. So there’s exclusivity for starters. Then there’s the driving experience, which like every BMW ever loved by an enthusiast, puts you in direct contact with the road, the mechanicals, and the thrill of going fast in a competent machine. In this crowd, only the Porsche Cayman S can deliver equal amounts of well-rounded excitement. Finally, BMW gives you free maintenance for the duration of the warranty.
What are the deal breakers when it comes to the 2006 BMW M Coupe?
Outward visibility is not good, and the shape of the 2006 BMW M Coupe’s rear window makes it hard to see if a police car is creeping up on you. The interior is tight and confining, and the seats are stiff and narrow, so long-distance driving is not recommended. Not that you could go far anyway, since the trunk is rather small despite the convenience of the hatchback.
Test Vehicle: 2006 BMW M Coupe
Price of Test Vehicle: $57,595 (including $695 destination charge and $1,000 gas guzzler tax)
Engine Size and Type: 3.2-liter inline six-cylinder engine with variable valve timing
Engine Horsepower: 330 at 7,900 rpm
Engine Torque: 262 lb.-ft. at 4,900 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Curb weight, lbs.: 3,230
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 16/24 mpg
Observed Fuel Economy: 16.4 mpg
Length: 161.9 inches
Width: 70.1 inches
Wheelbase: 98.3 inches
Height: 50.7 inches
Leg room: 42.0 inches
Head room: 37.3 inches
Max. Seating Capacity: Two
Competitors: Chevrolet Corvette, Chrysler Crossfire SRT-6, Ford Mustang Shelby Cobra GT500, Mercedes-Benz SLK 55 AMG, Nissan 350Z, Porsche Cayman S
Photos courtesy of BMW