What do you get when you add two doors to a 6-Series coupé? Last year the answer was: a 7-Series. Of course that was last year, now BMW has an all-new answer: the Gran Coupe. Of course, calling your latest sexy sedan a “coupé” is nothing new (Mercedes has done it since 2004), what is new is the process by which this “coupé” arrived. Normally manufacturers introduce a new sedan, then within a year they delete two doors, lop off some trunk, give it a sporty grille and launch it as a coupé and convertible. The 6-Series Gran Coupe (GC) on the other hand is what happens when you take a an expensive coupé and add doors. In BMW speak, this process created a four-door coupé. Confused yet? Allow me to explain: apparently all you have to do to create a coupé is remove the sashes from the windows. (This means that Subaru buyers have driven coupés all these years and didn’t know it.) Can the sexy 6-Series beat Mercedes at their own CLS game? Let’s find out.
BMW’s engineers started with the 6-Series coupé and stretched the body 4.4 inches and the wheelbase by 4.5 inches. They kept all the stretching work in the middle of the 6 meaning the bumper covers are interchangeable and the parts that were changed stay true to the sleek 6-Series profile. Of course, BMW’s 5, 6 and 7 are all brothers from the same mother, and logically the 6 is the middle child in many ways. The GC’s curb weight and exterior dimensions certainly slot between the 5 and 7, but 6 is all about the sexy profile.
Quibbles about door counts and naming conventions aside, there’s something about the proportions and low-slung style that set my loins on fire. I had feared the 6’s perfect two-door dimensions would be destroyed by the additional entry points, but I was wrong. After mulling the GC over for a while, I came to the conclusion that while it isn’t as sexy as a “real” coupé, it is more elegant and certainly better looking than the 5 or the 7.
While the 6-series’ imposing dashboard and low seating position (shared with the coupé and convertible) made me feel “small” (at 6-feet tall and 200lbs this is no easy task), it also serves to highlight BMW’s impeccable attention detail. I have a sneaking suspicion that the only reason BMW designed the dashboard and center console to meet the way they do is to show off their french seam precision. BMW borrowed the 10.2-inch iDrive screen from the 7 series, but instead of placing it in a binnacle of its own (as in the 5 and 7), the high-resolution LCD gets perched high on the dashboard in a prominent satin-nickel frame. This is easily the most luxurious and elegant cockpit BMW has ever made, and that includes the new 7-Series.
Our tester came with optional 24-way front thrones which contort in more ways than a Cirque du Soliel artist. Upgrading from the 10-way seats opens the door to ventilated anti-fatigue cushions which use air bladders to cut road-trip butt-fatigue. They work as advertised but the feeling of having your backside slowly groped takes some getting used to. Should faux-suede and snazzier leather be your thing, BMW would be happy to slather the ceiling in acres of Alcantara, broaden your hide palate by an extra 6 colors and toss in more exclusive wood for the princely sum of $8,300. It’s good to be king.
Rear seat room is the reason to buy a GC over the regular 6, but it’s also the reason to buy a 7. Of course the 6 and 7 have different missions with the 7 targeted as much to those that drive as those that are driven. In the GC there is no question the driver’s seat is for the guy that owns the car. That being said, rear seat room in the GC is surprising good compared with the CLS but, rear legroom lags behind the Audi. All three can swallow four adults in comfort, but the GC with its optional four-zone climate control and attention to detail in the back will make your rear passengers feel more special. What sets the GC apart is the middle rear seat. Yes, it’s a joke for adults with nowhere to put your legs and the hump is so exaggerated your shoulders hit the ceiling, but child seats fit perfectly and thanks to the wide body, it was possible (but not comfortable) to fit one child seat and two adults in the rear. Try that in a CLS or A7.
Infotainment & Gadgets
Like the coupé and convertible, the GC can be had with more gadgets than a Best Buy checkout isle. The gizmos range from radar cruise control, lane departure warning, self-parking and pre-collision warning systems that are becoming commonplace to the unique full-color heads up display and FLIR (Forward Looking InfraRed) camera system with pedestrian detection. Of course they are expensive, so if you love gadgets and can’t afford a six-figure car, don’t stop at the BMW dealer.
iDrive has come a long way since its introduction, and although complicated at times, it’s still the ultimate in-car attraction for my inner nerd. For some reason the latest version of the system (found in the new 3-Series) hasn’t found its way to the 6 yet. The key differences are improved integration with the heads up display and a media button on the iDrive controller reflecting the relative importance of CDs and media devices in this century. iDrive still offers one of the better iPod/USB device integration systems in the luxury market although no iDrive version sports voice commanding your iDevice music library ala Cadilla’s CUE or Lincoln’s SYNC. Like the rest of the BMW portfolio, you can add the $250 apps package to your GC allowing you to Tweet, Facebook, Wikipedia and SMS message while you drive. (For our in-depth look at iDrive, check out the video review above.) Compared to Audi’s MMI, iDrive lacks the Google satellite view mapping but the system is more responsive, more intuitive and more polished than MMI. I’d like to compare it to Mercedes’ COMAND system but that woud be like comparing the GC to the Model T.
Until BMW introduces an M version of the GC, there are two engines on offer. Both mills were both borrowed from the 7-Series rather than the 5-Series to help set the GC apart. The 640i GC uses BMW’s new “N55HP” 3.0L twin-scroll turbo inline-6 that has been tweaked from the “N55″ engine in the 535i to deliver 315HP at 5,800RPM and 330lb-ft of twist from 1,200 to 5,000RPM, an increase of 15HP and 30lb-ft. Meanwhile, the 650i GC brings BMW’s 4.4L twin-turbo V8 to the party. Of course, as with the I6, the V8 has also had its power bumped to deliver 445HP and 480lb-ft of twist, an increase of 45HP and 30lb-ft over the 550i. Both engines are bolted to ZF’s 8-speed automatic and the 650i can be equipped with an optional $3,000 AWD system to help apply those 480 torques to the tarmac. If you opt for the fire-breathing V8, you’ll want that AWD option. Trust me. The ZF 8-speed is as up-shift happy in the GC as it is in the other BMW models and this does take a toll on spirited driving. On the up-side the 640i GC manages an EPA 20/30MPG score while the more powerful 650i GC somehow eeks out a 17/25MPG rating. During our week with the 640i GC we averaged the same 24MPG that BMW claims for the EPA combined MPG figure.
The last time I had a 535i on the track I was disappointed. In the relentless pursuit of creating the perfect Mercedes, the BMW felt nose heavy and lethargic, especially when driven back-to-back with the Lexus GS and the current Mercedes E350. Despite being heavier than the 535i and being closely related, the 640i GC was surprisingly neutral in the bends with a pleasant and predictable tail when your right foot gets happy. Of course expectation management is important, so you need to keep in mind the 6-Seies in any flavor is a quintessential GT car with grippy rubber, a heavy nose, soft suspension and plenty of shove. Because the GC leans more toward relaxed driving, the light and numb steering didn’t bother me much. Of course with electric power steering being all the rage among the luxury car set, everyone is this numb. The BMW however has two tricks up its svelte sleeve that compensate for the lack of feel in my mind: a self-parking system that will parallel-park your ride automagically and suspension tuning that can make this 4,200lb whale dance. In sport mode.
The GC proved a faithful companion in most driving situations with a glassy-smooth ride on the highway and roll-free corner carving in the mountains. If you want even more roll reduction BMW would be happy to sell 650i shoppers an active rear roll bar for $2,500. Into each life a little rain must fall and so it was with our week and the Gran Coupe. Driving in suburbia brings a questionable active suspension tuning choice to light: the rear suspension bottoms out easily in the softer “comfort” and “normal” modes. Driving at 20MPH over “road humps” or “undulations” (not speed bumps) caused the suspension in the GC to bottom out, even when I was the only cargo on board. The 6-Series coupé suffers from this problem as well to a degree, but it required 4 passengers and some cargo before it is obvious. The GC however exhibited this unfortunate tendency across a wider variety of road types and situations. While not exactly a solution, simply putting the adaptive suspension system into “Sport” mode solved the complaint. (Admittedly sticking to the 15 MPH speed recommendation worked as well, but no other car I have tested in the last 2 years has had this problem.)
Suspension complaints will likely subside when you plant your foot on the throttle. 315HP motivating 4,200lbs may sound like a leisurely activity, but the 640i GC scooted to 60 in an impressive 5.3 seconds (1/10th faster than the A7) thanks to the torque plateau and the fast-shifting ZF transmission. If that’s not fast enough for you, the 650i burnt rubber while taking 4.4 seconds and the AWD 650i xDrive pounded out the same task in an eye-popping (and drama free) 4.1 (2/10ths faster than the CLS and very close to the CLS 63 AMG). Because our love/hate relationship continues with Porsche, a Panamera was unavailable for direct testing but based on some quick tests with dealer-provided Panameras, the 640i and 650i are a few tenths faster than the Panamera and Panamera S while the Panamera Turbo and Turbo S win awards for the most insane four-door coupés.
Why all this talk of Porsches? It would be easy to think BMW had the A7 and CLS in their sights when crafting the Gran Coupe. Until you see the price tag. The 640i starts at $76,000, $18,000 more than an A7. If that’s not sticker shock, consider that adding $32,000 of options takes surprisingly little effort. If you’re looking at the CLS 4MATIC or the Audi S7, then the 650i xDrive is a quasi-competitor but starting at $86,500 and ending north of $123,000, it’ll set you back $14,500-$32,000 more than a comparable CLS and $10,700-$34,000 more than an S7. With prices like this and one of the best interiors this side of Aston Martin it’s obvious that BMW had different competition in mind: the Panamera and beyond. For only $2,000 more, the Panamera delivers a nicer interior, a brand with more sporting pedigree and the option of even more powerful engines at the expense of looks. Seriously, saying the Panamera is less attractive from some angles is being kind. While it may sound crazy to call a BMW fitting competition for a Maserati or even the budget alternative to the Aston Martin Rapide, this is the new Mercedes we’re talking about. Just don’t call it a sedan.
BMW provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.
Specifications as tested
0-30: 2.2 Seconds
0-60: 5.3 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 13.75 Seconds @ 103 MPH
Average Fuel Economy: 24.1 MPG