M range breathes fire but cleanly

By Matt Greenop

Take your pick: M6 convertible, coupe or the Gran Coupe

'Nice colour - what do you call it, flat brown?"

By the look on the BMW PR guy's face as I suggest this, you'd think I'd nicked his lunch money.

The colour is actually called Frozen Bronze and, while it still looks pretty good in the pictures on these pages, it's only when you see these matte paints in the flesh that you get the full effect. Every bulge and crease is highlighted more vividly than more traditional metallics, giving the car a stauncher, muscled look, and it turns as many heads as you'd hope a $7000 paint option would.

Driveaway pricing for the M6 is already $273,100 before you start ticking boxes. As it stands, the car you see here is a $281,000 machine, with the matte paint and the $900 addition of speed limit information to the head-up display (this car's more than capable of furnishing you with tickets that dwarf that amount) and a non-cost option of double-spoke 20-inch rims.

Germany's big three are seriously taking the fight to each other these days. In this hyper-competitive environment, gaps in the marketplace - perceived or otherwise - are plugged as soon as they appear.

BMW's M6 now comes in three flavours, giving one of the most complete offerings from the M Performance arm of the company. With the M6 convertible and coupe, and now the Gran Coupe, people could be forgiven for a degree of confusion. The convertible's fairly obvious and, like the drop-top, the coupe has two doors while the Gran Coupe is a four-door with - for want of a better word - "coupey" looks. It's long and low, but, unlike the other two in the M6 range, can take rear-seat passengers of normal size.

The Gran Coupe is a good car - filling in a gap in the range between the ever-popular 5-Series and the big 7-Series ranges with something a bit sexier than a normal-looking sedan. The M6 offers a flashier ride than the M5, but does so with an almost identical toolbox - 4.4L twin turbo V8 engine putting out a ground-shaking 412kW and 680Nm. You've got to love the competition that causes fire-breathers like these to be produced - the 400kW club is mainly populated by the German brands with an Aussie interloper about to join.

These force-fed V8s aren't like the big donks of old, with high-tech fuel systems and hyper-efficient heads to offer the fuel economy that you'd expect out of far smaller machines in recent years. This engine does 230g of C02 per kilometre and 9.9L/100km combined consumption, according to the factory claim, and when you pull on your tie-dyed Grateful Dead concert shirt, set the car into Eco mode and drive like Nana, it's possible. And while BMW's EfficientDynamics systems are impressive and allow us to drive very fast machines without having to stop at every second service station, using a car with an M badge to chase economy figures is not really representative of those buying one.

When you're not chasing those numbers, another one you can have a crack at is the 4.2 seconds it takes to hit 100km/h. The top speed is not a number that you really should be chasing on public roads, and those figures are generally never seen. You don't need to be driving like a complete maniac to get the best of the M6 though and, with a hugely versatile driver dynamics package on board, you can adjust everything from damper settings to the savagery of transmission shift points.

This trickery is done via the 10.-2 in control display and "iDrive" jog wheel which is mounted in the centre console between the two electrically adjustable front seats. A colleague reckons it's like someone has jammed an iPad into the dash, but I don't mind the position - it's a large display and needs to be somewhere easy to read. I find looking down in any car while driving - particularly one knocking on the door of $300,000 - a bad idea indeed.

Through this screen you get all of the information you could possibly want, right down to web pages, service information and the all-important navigation as well as access to your media, either using the 12GB of onboard flash memory, Bluetooth audio streaming or, if you're feeling a bit old school, CDs or DVDs.

There are a pair of M buttons on the steering wheel that can be configured via this comprehensive interface, which can each be set to give one-touch access to different tuning levels. If you're still wearing that Dead T-shirt it is possible to set for environmental friendly or for comfort. I found the factory "normal" mode was a great state of tune for ordinary, around town driving, and set the M1 button to supply "Sport" mode across suspension and steering, with the seven-speed double-clutch automated manual gearbox's Drive Logic set to shift fast and hard; the M2 button set everything to Sport +, backing off traction control significantly and totally removing any manners that the M6 exhibited.

The M6 Gran Coupe is slightly less frenetic to drive than its M5 counterpart and seems to be slightly tamer in standard sport mode than the coupe or cabriolet. Traction control is interruptive, and when trying to throw 680Nm at some of our bumpier rural roads it's nothing short of infuriating. Faffing around with the M button settings is the best way to find the right balance - I found that setting the car on Sport Pro, for steering and suspension but keeping DSC switched on was most usable out of town, but for pure comfort it's easiest just to leave everything at its default settings for motorway boredom and driving around town.

Who should be looking at the M6 Gran Coupe? Those who don't want the sleeper look of the M5 but want the same potential level of performance - tied up in a slicker package. There's a bit of legroom in the back, but you wouldn't be offering Dylan Boucher a ride.


- Hamilton News

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