Friday, July 1, 2011

2012 BMW 6 Series Coupe

2012 BMW 6 Series Coupe

2012 BMW 6 Series Coupe

We tried the open version back in January and, despite a couple of BMW's "I'm a niche car" choices for the model that are open to debate, largely enjoyed the 6 Series Convertible. Despite a serious keys-in-hand base price of $91,375 for the skybox 650i, the 6 Series is perhaps the best overall package in this small segment of near-millionaire large convertibles and coupes (i.e. sub Bentley/Aston Martin).

Just considering sheer finish and accommodation for four real-sized adults, this new 2+2 BMW fairly well beats the Jaguar XK, Audi S5, and Mercedes E-Class Coupe – with or without a metal roof. The Cadillac CTS Coupe lineup suffers by comparison in the total package, though its discount pricing will convince some, and none of the premium Japanese brands currently offer anything even close in ambition to this latest 6 Series.

Having just alluded to a few iffy choices by BMW, the first thing we have to talk about with this third generation 6 Series is its face, which is one only a mother could love. It's particularly disturbing because we really do like most everything else about the design, and the hardtop tested here is a much more holistic thing than the slightly odd looking convertible. In profile, the coupe's proportions are great, and that view – along with a variety of angles from the rear three-quarter school – is its best look. Start walking around to the front, though, and that honker just lands like poop on a princess.

2012 BMW 6 Series Coupe side view
2012 BMW 6 Series Coupe front view2012 BMW 6 Series Coupe rear view

We've been told and retold that the discrepant front end with its schnozzola double kidneys and heavily recessed lights was a solution concocted to satisfy global pedestrian impact regulations. BMW designers have basically told us that this new 6 Series was selected by company authorities spanning the Atlantic as the first major new model designed to live up to all of these regulations. Or maybe they just felt picked on and needed an ear to bend.

Well... did we mention yet that it looks great in profile and from the back? And it's built to run like Secretariat – if Secretariat also had a super sophisticated suspension available. The front is just out of whack with itself and with the rest of the design, looking like a variety of Japanese and American treatments from years past. To be fair, it's certainly not as though this car replaces a model that had no aesthetic challenges of its own. For most folks, the outgoing Bangle/van Hooydonk E63 and E64 6 Series still looks like a bundle of design schools took to fighting each other with rulers. On visuals alone, the smaller Jaguar XK and Audi S5 crush the last 6 Series and shame at least the face of this new car, and many would include the CTS coupe alongside the Jag and Audi in such a statement.

2012 BMW 6 Series Coupe Logo
2012 BMW 6 Series Coupe Logo2012 BMW 6 Series Coupe Logo2012 BMW 6 Series Coupe Logo

Enough already. We have some shining and delightful news to report that you may have already read earlier in an Autoblog news brief. We came to this drive event for the 6 Series Coupe with the understanding that the only 6 Series that North America was going to receive was the big-motor model, the 650i coupe and convertible. This was, after all, the way it worked out with the outgoing generation. We dug around and around all over Munich and finally got someone of authority to tell us otherwise. It turns out that the U.S. and Canada will be able to get this exact 640i trim as tested in both coupe and folding soft top spec, with the first examples due to arrive near the end of October.

In our opinion, this is great news. It's great because the 316-horsepower, 3.0-liter N55 inline six-cylinder with its single twin-scroll turbocharger and Valvetronic is the most current mill in BMW's already cutting edge engine lineup. Certainly, it is so versus the N54 biturbo (but not twin-scroll) 3.0-liter found in the 740i and the N63 4.4-liter V8 nestled in the 650i, neither of which comes with Valvetronic. The N55B30 used in the 640i coupe and convertible is 32 percent more fuel-efficient in the city versus the 402-hp N63 in the 650i, 20 percent more frugal on the highway, or 26 percent better on the combined cycle. And while the 650i coupe may be able to get to 60 mph from a halt in just 4.8 seconds or less, the 640i holds its own at around 5.3 seconds, and it's lighter, too.

2012 BMW 6 Series Coupe engine

Granted, all the V8s we care to talk about here feel more like rumbling rebels of the road, but this inline powerplant from BMW is arguably the best civilian tune six in a premium passenger car. In this 6 Series, taking all things emotive and practical into account, the inline six is a better choice than the pretty good 4.4 biturbo V8. The 640i convertible with either an eight-speed ZF Steptronic sport automatic or a six-speed manual should start out at around $80,700. The 650i coupe will start out nearer $83,000, while the 640i coupe will be the entry level sleeper to go for at $72,000. There is no discount for choosing the manual shifter, and interestingly enough, the U.S. is the only market on the planet that gets a manual shift model. In an indicator of how important the United States is to the 6 Series' business case, the 650i coupe starts customer deliveries here on October 1, while the rest of the world (even Germany) will have to wait until October 15.

We worked this 640i Coupe on the autobahn and on the many squeaky clean and manicured twisting two-lanes southeast of Munich where the low hills start to rumple up toward the Bavarian and Austrian Alps. Here, the 640i's 3.0-liter six with its hardworking twin-scroll turbo and Valvetronic proved to be a great driver according to our right foot, hands on the wheel and the ol' inner ear bone. Bundle its 316 horses (peaking between 5,800 and 6,000 rpm) and the 332 pound-feet of torque (1,300 to 4,500 rpm) with BMW's latest iteration of Driving Dynamics Control, optional Integral Active Steering ($1,750) and active roll stabilization ($2,000), and you've got a recipe for good times. The last 6 Series was absolutely never this polished over the road – at least not without an M logo on its decklid. Sitting still, the lock-to-lock of the Servotronic power steering is just 2.0 turns, so the maneuverability of this big 2+2 is actually pretty damned good in tight quarters.

2012 BMW 6 Series Coupe interior
2012 BMW 6 Series Coupe driving2012 BMW 6 Series Coupe driving

Our wheels and tires in Germany were slick optional 19-inch Star-spoke units (17-inch alloys are standard on the 640i) wearing high-end Michelin Primacy HP rubber – 245/40 front, 275/35 rear. The single-piston floating calipers clamping on heavily vented discs (13.7-inch in front and 13.6-inch out back) were up to the task, and we weren't exactly pussyfooting around. Putting Dynamic Drive Control in Sport+, we found it challenging to not spin the Michelins on this 3,825-pound coupe (a whopping 700+ pounds less than the 650i convertible) from rest when accelerating swiftly or not.

The Driving Dynamics Control fairies govern everything from throttle tip-in to suspension firmness, steering input, transmission shift points, the integral rear-axle steering rate and active roll stabilization equipment (if so optioned). To run through them all, DDC modes on the 640i auto equipped cars include Sport+, Sport, Comfort, Comfort+, and Eco Pro. Everything but Comfort+ made our day. In this weird setting that's available only when one opts for both Electronic Damper Control and Adaptive Drive, any and all feedback goes away, leaving the driver on a plush, fluffed pillow with vague steering feel. Choose the tree-hugging Eco Pro mode and everything on the optional 10.2-inch iDrive screen goes blue, and the already decent fuel numbers of the 640i can swell by nearly 20 percent.

2012 BMW 6 Series Coupe shifter
2012 BMW 6 Series Coupe paddle shifter2012 BMW 6 Series Coupe driving mode display2012 BMW 6 Series Coupe driving mode controls

Eco Pro mode is only available on the 640i because the N55 engine has been engineered to incorporate Start-Stop in Eco Pro, Comfort, and Comfort+ modes. The Eco Pro setting keeps everything in the low revs zone at all costs. We tried this out, and it's best reserved for all those hours spent on the interstate when you're of a mind to sail along in the flats. The savings in fuel we observed held pretty much true to BMW's estimates, too.

Our vote in this new 6 Series range is clearly for this least expensive 640i Coupe, though one with a cloth roof will be a good call, too. It is the only model in this pricey lead-with-your-heart segment where four adults can feel properly treated while carrying practically anything they need for an easy weekend thanks to the well arranged 16.3 cubic feet of space. Life in the rear seat is about as nice as life in the front seat in this coupe, getting in and out is doable, the cabin sound is good and quiet, and fuel economy is more than acceptable (official EPA numbers will be published this autumn shortly prior to the start of U.S. deliveries).

2012 BMW 6 Series Coupe rear view

When the 640i and 650i coupes start arriving in the States this October, xDrive versions of the 650i hardtop will also start to become available, most likely carrying a $3,000 premium. At the same time, back in the Old Country, Europeans will be able to get their mitts on the most frugal 6 Series of all, the 640d coupe with its 3.0-liter twin-turbo six offering 308 hp and 465 lb-ft of torque. It will average nearly double the mileage per gallon of the 650i coupe without giving up much in sportiness.

Hey, if you always approach your 6 Series from the side view, you'll never have to deal with the aesthetic challenge posed by the grille-headlight combo on your car. As happened on the last generation 5 Series with the extravagant Dame Edna headlights and "flame surfacing" wildfire, we're certain that the M version aero add-ons will make almost everything better on this new Size 6 proboscis. Until then, all that is great about this 6 Series makes it beautiful to us – all the moreso with its terrific new six-cylinder and coupe sheetmetal.