BMW’s road-going rocket ship
BMW M6 – 2007 Review: Driving the BMW M6 might remind you of the Batmobile. After all, like the M6, the Dark Knight’s ride bristles with technology. But once we put the BMW through its paces, another car came to mind: The Green Hornet’s sleek, sophisticated and powerful Black Beauty. Like the Black Beauty, the M6 is capable of slipping quickly and quietly through the thick of freeway traffic. Or you can unleash the BMW’s power in demanding situations. Sleek styling cloaks a machine that’s as much finesse as brute strength. You can almost picture Bruce Lee as Kato behind the wheel.
By Bob Beamesderfer
Photo credit: Oliver Bentley
What We Drove
BMW provided us with an M6 Coupe equipped with the seven-speed sequential manual gearbox; a standard six-speed manual transmission is available at no extra cost. Base price for the coupe is $102,295, including $695 destination charge and $3,000 gas guzzler tax. Among the options were $3,500 Merino leather, $1,000 head-up display, $500 HD radio, $595 satellite radio, $300 carbon fiber interior trim and $1,000 comfort access system. All told, our test vehicle was priced at $109,190. Dealers almost always add a premium onto the price of cars like the M6. Expect a waiting list unless there’s one on the lot.
With 500 horsepower and 383 lb.-ft. of torque, the only question to ask about performance is: How much can you use at any given time? Acceleration is rapid to blindingly fast. Zero to 60 mph is achieved in less than five seconds. The 5.0-liter V-10 pulls strong from just off idle all the way to redline. BMW is coy about this engine’s relationship to the V-10 it used to build for Formula 1 race cars. But with stepless variable valve timing, a special lubrication system and 10 individually controlled throttles, “inspired” sells it short.
Our test vehicle had BMW’s SMG, a seven-speed, semi-automatic transmission. This is a manual gearbox without a clutch pedal. Sophisticated electronics engage the clutch, blip the throttle and hydraulics change gears in less than 100 milliseconds. The driver can select manual – paddle shifters or a stick – or automatic, and adjust how quickly it shifts. It’s a techno marvel, except for one annoyance: Shifting at lower rpm from first to second often caused the car to lurch. It’s far less noticeable from second to third and practically not there with higher gear changes. Still, not the ultimate driving we expected.
While the M6 won’t be mistaken for a small, light sports car, it still handles decently in slow, tight situations. Expect the traction control to step in often. But it really shines when the road opens up some and speeds are higher. There are several adjustments, including electronic damping control and stability control. With stability control at its next to lowest setting, the system didn’t engage during high-speed cornering. Immense disc brakes are capable of serious but stable stopping power. A large race track is the place to find the limits; suffice to say the M6 performs very well.
Visibility is very good out the sides and back, especially for a two-door coupe. The C-pillar doesn’t block a significant portion of the view to the right-rear. It should be noted that front visibility is somewhat dependent on driving position; for example, in some situations, the A-pillar impeded looking ahead into left-hand turns, but a slight shift in body position alleviated that. Mirrors are big enough to provide useful information, but more confident lane changes require a look over the shoulder. Our test vehicle came with the optional head-up display. It’s a nice feature, user programmable, but with polarized sunglasses it vanishes.
Fun to Drive
Exhilarating performance is always fun, and the M6 has plenty. It’s not like a small, nimble sports car, but that’s not what we expected. It is a very capable GT luxury coupe. The complexity of it will fascinate some and frustrate others, but it’s part of what allows some aggressive, no-compromise settings. BMW hosts an advanced driving class for M buyers at its track in North Carolina, and it’s essential for a car like this despite all of the safety features. If there’s one thing that might cut the fun factor it’s the poor fuel economy: We averaged 11.5 mpg.
Front seats are as comfortable as you can make them. Nearly every adjustment is available, including the vertical position of the lumbar support and the fit of the side bolsters on the seat back. A section of the seat bottom pulls forward to increase leg support. Passengers aren’t short-changed, they get the same adjustments. Head room was ample. The driver is treated to a slightly fat, leather-covered steering wheel equipped with paddle shifters, downshift on the left, upshift on the right. The gear selector lever is a nice, functional shape, leather and aluminum with a back-lighted indicator and M logo.
No surprise here, despite the 2+2 configuration, four large adults will not be comfortable in this coupe. While the front seats move up and forward to allow relatively easy entrance and exit, when they’re back in normal position foot room disappears. Headroom also shrinks compared to the front seats. Suffice to say that 2+2 translates to two adults + two smaller people.
We expect a quiet interior in a luxury car, but some noise in a car with high performance ambitions is acceptable and even desirable. That said, there is noticeable wind noise off the mirrors and some road noise. But overall the interior is quiet; enough so that you can hear the change in airflow when you pass other vehicles. Of course, you can treat yourself to the V-10 symphony by down shifting a couple of gears and stepping on the gas. Or you can leave it in seventh gear and turn up the audio system. Nice choices.
The trunk opening is low enough to make loading easy. Space is ample and, there are four tie-down loops. There’s ski bag port in the front of the trunk. Tubular hinge arms don’t interfere with luggage space. One drawback, however, is that the opening is only about 17 inches front to back. Still, only a steamer trunk will pose a problem. The entire trunk is finished in gray carpet and a couple of plastic panels. Under the trunk floor are the battery, a few tools, some fuses and a tow hook. No spare tire in order to cut weight.
Exterior seams were even and all the panels lined up except one joint – the driver’s door front corner/fender/rocker panel had a slight misalignment. Front turn signals moved a bit, but that could be because of vibration damping. Everything else was tight. Paint quality and finish was excellent and even across the various materials. The carbon fiber roof panel was very high quality with no defects. Interior quality was first-rate. Seams are tight and even. The only odd spot is the panel covering the knee airbag below the steering wheel. It seemed tacked-on; fit below the Start/Stop button was way off.
Despite there being a carbon-fiber shortage, BMW has plenty on this car, and the visible pieces are high quality. Inside, the leather seats and trim, the suede headliner and the carpeting are top-notch. What plastic exists is either black or “aluminum” finished. Nothing cries out as being inappropriate for the interior of a luxury car. Most surfaces are firmly padded. The ones that aren’t are covered in grain or suede leather and are pleasing to the touch.
Interior styling is fairly business-like, despite the car’s complexity and the iDrive, which does reduce the number of buttons considerably. The looks are neither boring nor garish. The black and white color scheme lends a classic look. Exterior is clearly BMW; the rear styling won’t be to some people’s tastes, but the car is sleek, muscular and beautiful. There are M logos on the sides, wheels, rear end, engine cover, door sills, gearshift, steering wheel and tachometer – 13 in all so you won’t forget what you bought.
Hold onto your hats, because there isn’t much storage available. A pocket in each door, a glove box that’s too small to hold either owner’s manual and a parcel shelf behind the rear seats. Stretchy net pockets on the backs of the seats. There’s one cupholder up front and one in the back. Maybe BMW is suggesting the driver only drive. The glove box does have a small flashlight clipped into a charger port. There’s an ashtray and lighter for those who smoke; unfortunately for those who don’t, it doesn’t convert to a storage bin.
All iDrive, all the time. Well, not quite. Volume, mode and channel can be controlled from the steering wheel. There’s also a nice rubber-covered volume knob next to the CD slot. But once outside the area for your broadcast presets, tuning is done from the central display using the iDrive knob. You’ll also need to switch to manual tuning mode. Satellite radio without presets can require several iDrive steps to change stations. In another section of iDrive are settings for bass, treble, equalizer, surround sound and HD radio on/off. Those set ’em and forget ’em items are fine in iDrive.
Simple, straightforward, clearly marked – in short, not iDrive. There’s one temperature knob for each side with a fan speed knob in the middle. The buttons in the middle of the knobs are max A/C, off and reset. Buttons on either side of the fan control rear window defroster, heated mirrors, A/C on/off, automatic and fresh air or re-circulate. But wait, iDrive gets involved in vent settings for upper, dash and lower ducts. The level of intensity in automatic mode is set in iDrive. In addition, there’s a parked car mode and timer programs, neither of would exist without iDrive.
Germans take pride in designing controls, and they do it differently from everyone else. Still, logic and function govern. Window buttons are normal size, shape and work as one expects. Mirror adjustment buttons are typical. Another button folds the mirrors in. Turn signals are electronic, with timed momentary operation at the first step and traditional operation at the second step. Trip computer button is at the end of the turn signal stalk and displays five different bits of information in the instrument cluster. Steering wheel buttons include audio controls, M performance button, a programmable button and cell phone.
The iDrive is a menu-driven, computerized system for all kinds of settings, and familiarity brings ease. Pushing the knob forward, backward, left or right, and turning it navigate through the system. Pushing down selects an item. The user can select Climate, Communication, Navigation, Entertainment or “i” modes. One of the “i” modes includes the performance settings that are engaged when the “M” button on the steering wheel is pushed. Many of the settings that can be tailored to the driver’s preference wouldn’t be available without the system. However, some of what’s in iDrive would be easier to use with regular controls.
The M6’s price and performance approach rarefied air. It’s not quite a pure sports car, but it is at the 500 horsepower benchmark. Comparisons can be tricky, however, Jaguar’s XK is a very similar car, although less expensive and less powerful. The Aston Martin V-8 Vantage is more expensive and gives up 120 horsepower to the BMW, but its performance is close. Spending more than $140,000 will put you in a 510 horsepower Mercedes-Benz CL600 V-12. With a six figure price, the word “bargain” doesn’t seem fitting, so we’ll just say the M6 is a very good value.
2ND Opinion –
SMG. BMW says it stands for “sequential manual gearbox,” but I think “sloppily mating gears” is a better term, at least at low revs in traffic. Let SMG do its own thing and you’ll think a 15-year-old with a learner’s permit is operating the clutch. From a purely technological standpoint it’s clever, with hydraulics and computers operating a regular ol’ clutch and selecting gears from a regular ol’ transmission with seven (count ‘em!) forward speeds. The practice is seriously flawed, and it’s sad that Jaguar’s XKR transmission is more satisfying to use.
MyRide.com Road Test Editor
2ND Opinion –
A hot and steamy Friday, too, which seemed fitting, for in my hand was a fob to a car as hot as any I’ve driven in quite a while: the BMW M6. With its SMG manual transmission, 5.0-liter V-10 engine and smoky, venomous styling, it’s the kind of car you spend a long time with, learning about and driving, and driving, and driving, until you’ve got that certain kind of smile on your face that can only come from a superb vehicle. Sure, there are flaws.