BMW M6: 412kW twins strive for greatness

By Al Bryant

BMW's freshly-launched in M6 Coupe during an Ascari expression session. Photo / Al Bryant
BMW's freshly-launched in M6 Coupe during an Ascari expression session. Photo / Al Bryant

Ken Block would be right at home in the all-new BMW M6. A wicked drift is only ever a toe-tap away in the twin-turbo beastie, which has more torque on tap than anyone really needs.

It's capable of frying the tyres at silly speeds and also compressing time into space on a rapid overtaking run with all 412Kw pulling for the same team.

But there is more, much more, to the new coupe and convertible.

Each is capable of making an impressive entrance at any event, or wafting through an easy weekend, or creating instant envy in people who don't have $300,000-and-more for a car that's more of a toy than a family hauler.

Think of the M6 as a bigger, bolder M5 minus the back doors and with a tonne of added attitude. The nose screams 'get out of my way', the old-school folding canvas roof on the convertible says 'I don't need gadgets', and the lightweight carbon fibre roof on the coupe says 'I'm not that fat'.

It's a heady mix and it proves that an M6 is still something special, even in a world where Porsche has sharpened its Boxster and 911 to a finer edge and where the latest Mercedes SL63 AMG hunkers down harder than the All Blacks' front row.

But there is something new and different about these latest M-ster twins. They are not as sharp, or as focused, as we've come to expect from the M Division at BMW.

Things changed massively when M was told to bring the hulking X6 and X5 SUVs into the family, and resorted to eco-friendly turbocharging to get the right performance numbers without choking the world on CO2 for the hefty beasts.

This green-machine approach carried on to the M5, which picked up the same engine and dropped the F1 inspiration of the wonderful and memorable V10-powered model, and now it's come to the M6ers.

So they can do the job, and do it well, but they are ... well, a bit porky, a bit soft and a bit middle-aged.

That's not bad if - in your secret corner - you are the same.

But the world expects bigger, badder and bolder from an M6 and - even with a 4.2-second sprint to 100km/h and a top speed that can top 300 - these cars fall short. It's not by a lot, but it's enough to know that they could (should?) have been better.

M gets a chance to rewrite the rules with its upcoming M3, but the green push at BMW is like rust and we're not expecting too much.

So, back to the M6 twins.

The newcomers have the same mechanical package as the M5, which means a 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 with 412 kiloWatts and 680 Newton-metres, M division's signature seven-speed double-clutch manumatic transmission, rear-wheel drive with an active differential, giant brakes and driver-adjustable steering, transmission, engine and suspension settings.

The attention to detail includes huge work to get enough cooling air into the engine bay, and even a tiny lip spoiler on the boot of the M6 coupe.

They are slightly longer than the sedan, but shorter in the wheelbase, but providing a genuine four-seater There is still the deep-down quality and attention to detail you expect - and owners demand - from an M badge.

It's three cars in one if you have the convertible, reckons BMW. The predictable M equipment runs from special seats to a heads-up instrument display.

It is super-quick in any conditions, and Ken Block-style silly in an expression session at Ascari, with instant go in any gear at almost any speed.cabin means the convertible almost hits two tonnes despite the coupe losing weight from the M5.

The predictable M equipment runs from special seats and a heads-up instrument display to signature four-pipe bazooka exhausts.

BMW M says it hit all its targets for the M-sters, just as it plans to do with the M version of the latest Gran Coupe coming in 2013.

"You have at least two cars in one," said Siegried Friedmann, head of M6 development.

"You have a very comfortable car on one hand and you can run it like a real sports car on a racetrack. It's three cars if you have the convertible, which is my favourite."

BMW brings the new M6s to southern Spain, its favourite M-car playground, for a day of on-road driving and then a hit-out at the privately owned Ascari racetrack.

The man who built it made his money on oil rigs and has a fabulous collection of racecars, including some ex-Schumacher F1 Ferraris, that he likes to exercise at the extremities.

First up, it's the M6 convertible. Except it's 40-plus in the Spanish sun and the top stays up for the early kilometers.

The car looks as you expect, and have seen in pictures, but there is still the deep-down quality and attention to detail you expect - and owners demand - from an M badge.

But it still feels heavy, visibility is not great, and traction is tough on the slippery Spanish bitumen. It's like the M5 coming out party again.

That means the car has a huge wave of performance you can surf at any time, but it's honestly best at 60 per cent on corners where you roll through on torque rather than trying to hussle. The next day, after a nice top-down evening cruise in the cabrio, it's time for the hotrod coupe and some serious speed.

And the M6 delivers. It is super-quick in any conditions, and Ken Block-style silly in an expression session at Ascari, with instant go in any gear at almost any speed.

The optional carbon ceramic discs - expected to spread rapidly across the M-car range - also mean you're not restricted to a couple of flat-out track laps before the stoppers turn to porridge.

The M6 will keep doing the job, and doing it hard, with great turn-in, fantastic cornering balance at most speeds, and incredible punch when coming out of turns.

And yet, it also feels a bit ponderous and the muffled turbo sound is nothing special.

And you get to thinking how M once added lightness and tapped its racetrack experience to create cars that were fast but also very, very special and memorable.

So the new M6s are fast, and rewarding, and enjoyable. But, in a world where Porsche and Benz have raised the bar, the new M6 is good but not great.

Both the coupe and covertible will be in New Zealand in November, priced at $265,000 and $277,000 respectively.

- NZ Herald

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