BMW finds the sweet spot – a sultry saloon with a real kick, Kevin Hackett writes.
Beauty and braun
Just a few months ago I spent a few days getting to grips with BMW’s 6 Series Gran Coupé and I really did feel let down. It’s difficult to say exactly why, but it’s probably that I wanted to love this car because it’s just so beautiful to behold. Yes, a beautiful (as opposed to handsome) BMW. And that beauty, I felt, should have been carried through to every aspect of the Gran Coupé’s driving experience. But it seemed, despite its impressive straight-line performance, to be remote, aloof and dull, when it should have felt alive, dynamic and exciting.
Somewhat inevitably, though, along comes the M model. And recent M cars have come under fire from purists for having lost many of the visceral thrills that they used to offer before engine downsizing and all manner of driver isolation tactics started meddling with a winning formula. And there was no reason to believe the M6 Gran Coupé would be any different.
Yet, as I prepare to hand back the key for this exceptionally good-looking automobile to its custodians, I already feel a sense of loss. Because, for the first time in ages, my expectations have been exceeded by a car that proves first impressions are not always correct. This is a car where looks are neither superficial nor deceiving – it is an exceptional automobile.
This example is painted in a striking metallic blue hue known as San Marino, and it turns heads wherever it goes. The heavy rock soundtrack from its booming, throbbing, twin-turbocharged V8 heart helps, but really it’s the sleek, contemporary and low-slung lines that grab your eyeballs and refuse to relinquish their grip. At first I thought I was overstating things but then a senior design director at Jaguar sealed things by telling me “I really like the look of that car”. Praise doesn’t come much higher.
The gorgeousness continues inside, where the cabin’s tactile materials and its enveloping, swooping, wraparound design make you not want to get out. Ever. There’s plenty of room for four adults and there’s a lap belt in the rear, should you find yourself with an extra passenger but this is, first and foremost, a sporting car rather than a family load lugger.
It’s longer than both the regular M6 and the M5 so should, in theory, be even less charismatic than either when it comes to the driving experience. But somehow it isn’t. Somehow it manages to blow both of those M cars into the weeds.
Like practically any large German car you could care to mention, the M6 Gran Coupé is beautifully refined when you want it to be. It’s quiet, comfortable and relaxing to pilot in normal situations and the last thing you want is for it to constantly feel as though it’s a caged animal waiting to be released. But, by the same token, when you want to take it by the scruff of the neck and get your adrenal glands working overtime, it delivers hit after glorious hit.
The centre console is festooned with rotary dials and other fanciful switchgear and this can, initially, be rather confusing. But fiddling with the car’s various settings is a worthwhile endeavour as it enables you to really delve into its various characteristics. Even in its normal settings, a stab of the throttle results in hair-raising acceleration but hit the Sport Plus button and it really comes to life, sending jolts through the drivetrain as it shifts between its seven ratios. With 680Nm of twist available at just 1,500rpm, performance is sensational. Point, squirt, arrive – it’s that simple and that instant.
Get it onto a twisting road and the chassis really starts to shine. The rear end feels lively even when it’s being driven normally, which is where recent M cars have been lacking. But this feels altogether more perilous and that’s actually a welcome trait in this instance. It’s a car that can be steered all day long on the throttle if that’s how you get your kicks and yes, you’d be really tempted to try it out on track. I never got the chance but I’d be fascinated to see how it performs on more technically demanding corners. Its brakes, too, are quite brilliant, wiping off colossal speed quicker with no fuss, no fade and no delay.
If you’re a fan of Mercedes-Benz, you’ll be thinking that the CLS 63 AMG does all of this too, for less financial outlay. And you’d be right. But the M6 Gran Coupé manages to shine brighter – it’s better looking, its interior is more welcoming and it just feels more finely tuned. Less of a hot rod, if you like.
It’s expensive, there’s no getting away from that fact, but it offers exclusivity and, for many, a price cannot be put on that. Its rivals, such as the aforementioned AMG and Porsche’s ubiquitous Panamera are neither as glamorous nor as exciting.
Is there anything about this car, though, that I don’t like? I’ve been banging my head on the roof when getting in and out because it’s a bit on the low side. But I could live with that because everything else just feels, looks, sounds and goes so right.
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