When was the last time you saw an M6 on the street? Unless your neighbor owns one or you have one in your driveway, it’s likely been some time – if you’ve ever seen one. The M6 is not a sports car for everyone. Its price and mission isolate most potential buyers, rendering it an exclusive sports car for those who drink 12 year and up.
It all started back in 1983. BMW launched a new M car based on the 6 Series, as a premium model within the stable. A proper grand tourer, it was comfortable and spacious on long trips while 50:50 balance and gobs of power gave it sports car moves, almost. Almost, because the 6 Series has never been lithe, light and focused. It’s always been a mixed bag of leather, tech, comfort and sport: a compromise. An ideal compromise for most, mind you, if you can open your wallet and have enough left for your mortgage and fuel, which it drinks a lot of.
After a 15 year hiatus, the 6 Series came back in E63, E64 form. Both of these cars impressed with their vicious F1 inspired V10 engines, while providing a similar level of comfort and luxury to the original E24 model M6. Another 3 year hiatus has passed, and once again BMW have launched an M6 model to sit at the top of the M family.
The new 6 Series upon which the new F12 M6 is based is a brilliant car. It is a car that hides its size and weight better than nearly any other car on the market. Of course, it’s missing that zing, that special touch and focused aggression that M enthusiasts long for. If you fancy a track day every few weeks, you’ll want something with a wild side. Meet the 6 Series’ alter-ego brother; the angry one who throws things and tends to talk too loud.
It’s no secret that BMWs are softening. That’s not necessarily to say that they are less dynamically competent – they’re not, in fact every model currently in production is quicker than its predecessor. But with each new generation, BMWs are less intimate. They whisper less in your ear, tingle your fingertips less on the wheel, and grab your backside a little less. Flying into Monterey, I wasn’t sure what to expect of BMW’s latest M car. Does it connect you intimately to the road, or isolate you from it in the name of comfort or perhaps efficiency? We drove the new M6 to find out.
To the Hills.
BMW invited us to test the M6’s metal around the challenging and storied Laguna Seca circuit after enjoying a drive along California back roads at leisure. Knowing the brilliance of BMW’s M5, I was certainly optimistic.
My optimism was vindicated not long after pressing the dashboard mounted ‘Start’ button. The M6 clears its throat when woken up, grumbling and rumbling until it settles into a harmonic hum at idle. From outside of the car the noise is loud and glorious, audible enough to turn heads within a 50 foot radius. From inside the car, the exhaust note is muted just enough so as not to be annoying over longer trips, quiet enough to allow for relaxed conversation at speed. The exhaust system seems louder than that of the M5.
Out of the parking lot I programmed the M6 to its most relaxed settings; my first goal was to measure this car’s daily-driving competence. With the ZF sourced 7-speed dual clutch transmission (DCT) left in automatic mode, the M6 smoothly rolls forward at parking lot speeds, slipping the clutch a good measure. This may waste more clutch pad than a human left foot, but the resulting engine noise and silky smooth modulation is in no way a bad thing. If you’re attempting to sneak away from the house for midnight blasts you’d be better off waiting for the truly stealth i8.
Those who are unlikely to use the DCT’s manual mode will be satisfied with its automated performance. The only thing differentiating this transmission in automatic mode from a true slush-box is engine revs and subsequent noise at low speeds. The DCT achieves superior fuel milage, as a benefit over a competitive automatic. Speaking of fuel mileage, if driven with restraint the M6 will return EPA figures of 20 and 14 city and highway, respectively.
There are four parameters that can be tuned for comfort or sport. The steering feel and weight, suspension damping, engine and transmission aggression, and finally the traction control can all be adjusted independently to your mood and the road or track you’re driving on.
We’ve established that the transmission and engine combo are up to par with the highest standards of daily driving comfort and ease, but what of the suspension? The M6 rewards with a supple, smooth drive over rough roads, only translating the larger bumps and undulations into the chassis. With its shorter wheelbase and lighter weight, the M6 is less comfortable than the M5 over similarly rough roads, but still delivers excellent levels of damping.
The hydraulic steering assist in the M6 delivers plenty of information to your fingertips, if a bit muted in comfort mode. The steering tends to give you greater amounts of info the harder you push, allowing you to the find the limit quickly and safely. We’d still prefer a little more raw, gritty steering feel from the tires to our hands as found in previous renditions of the M6.
Traction control is flawless, I wouldn’t change a thing. When left in full nanny mode, you simply can’t put a tire wrong, no matter how clumsily you attempt to unleash all 500 lb-ft of torque. Those with a hankering for spirited drives will appreciate M dynamic mode (MDM) which allows for a good amount of wheel-spin and yaw before taking the reigns. You cannot drift the car in MDM mode, but you can manage mild slides before system intervention, enough to put a smile on your face. Less experienced drivers will appreciate MDM mode during track days, particularly wet track days, as 500 ft-lbs is a lot to manage.
Without a doubt, California offers some of the best driving roads in the country. I soon found myself carving a narrow strip of asphalt, ascending up a mountainside. Even with comfort settings in use, the M6 feels agile and balanced. Turn in is clean and immediate, corner exits brisk, pulling strongly. You can’t take the ‘M’ out of this M6.
I encourage automotive extremism. The middle settings ring of mediocrity: not too comfortable, not too sporty. Throw everything into sport plus and be amazed. The M6 exhibits one of the most drastic personality changes in the industry. Its sporty comfort is transformed into sport – full stop.
Now growling and edgy, the chassis begs to be pressed and pushed while the engine searches for revs and the transmission shifts with aggression. Like its four-door sibling, the M5, this car will get you in trouble with the local PD. The programmable speed warning chime (goes “Bing!” once you’ve reached a pre-set speed) is a close friend who’s advice should be embraced at all times.
After you’ve gotten your jollies from the M button, you can press “M2″ and throw the comfort presets back into the system. Why not turn up the incredible Bang and Olufsen sound system? This sound system is one of the best I’ve ever experienced in a road car, it has crisp highs and tight, clean lows: the commensurate high fidelity sound system.
Luxurious, yet sporty.
While relaxing in the cabin you’ll also appreciate the beauty and craftsmanship of the interior. When you’re frequently surrounded by a gold standard, it can be hard to recognize the standard as gold. I’ve always appreciated the functionality and form-follows-function design of BMW interiors since the company’s inception. But after driving a V12 Vantage and spending some time sitting in the new Vanquish – I have a new appreciation for BMW’s interior quality. Aston Martin claim that second to Rolls-Royce, no car has as much hand-assembly involved in the production process. I would never have guessed. The Aston’s seats, dash and doors are beautifully crafted, but the center control column is made of plastics that look cheap and feel cheaper – barely a step above a base model GM car. When you press the buttons, they click like a child’s toy instead of offering up a positive feeling of engagement at your finger tips. They’re also a forensic officer’s dream as every finger laid upon the dash leaves a perfect fingerprint behind.
Not so in the BMW. At roughly 1/3 the price, the M6 presents a gorgeous interior, flowing with rich layers of leathers, metals and high quality plastics. When you press a button it says, “thank you Mr. Molnar” instead of offering up a cheap “Click.”
And what of the ‘special quotient’? This car feels amply special, from start button to steering wheel. Unlike the Aston which left me thinking the price-tag is steep, the M6 rewards in so many ways it leaves you with a feeling of value – not that its price tag is any more accessible for it.
As it typical of most 2+2s, the M6 offers a tight fit for adult rear passengers, though far more spacious than competitors from Porsche, Aston Martin and others. Driver and front passenger room, however, is ample; the car feels large without feeling bulky. Storage room is also vast, with a large rear trunk swallowing up suitcases, groceries and golf bags with ease.
At $106,995 USD the M6 find itself in the company of very stiff competition from the likes of the Porsche 911, Aston Martin Vantage, Mercedes SL, Audi R8 and if you stretch your imagination a little further, a few others.
Is the M6 a worthy competitor to the above cars on your wish list? Only a track test can tell: standby for BMWBLOG’s M6 racetrack review from Laguna Seca.