By on March 25, 2005

The hard-charging BMW 645Ci  I swear I've haven't clipped a curb in decades. And yet there I was, cutting in front of a line of traffic in the great Rhode Island tradition, when I heard the muffled whump of the 645Ci's rear tire cresting concrete. It's not the kind of sound you want to hear when piloting a $70k "Ultimate Driving Machine"– if only because it makes you seem a lot less than the ultimate driver. Not guilty. I blame mechanical foul play.

Firstly, the 645Ci is a hard charger. The moment your right foot touches the go pedal, every one of the coupe's 325 horses stampedes towards the horizon. That may not sound like enough horsepower to make you lose your bearings, but by God, it is. Thanks to a stepless intake manifold, double VANOS variable valve timing and other Bavarian black arts, the 3781lbs. luxobarge steams to sixty in a scarcely credible 5.5 seconds. More importantly, it strains to do so at every possible opportunity, to the point where the traction control idiot light sends out a steady stream of Morse Code.

BMW should come clean about the 6's handling: it's not for the faint of heart. Secondly, the Bimmer's variable assistance steering system offers about as much tactile feedback as one of those arcade racing games that teaches children that 'heft' somehow equals 'feel'. The 645Ci's helm is heavy and notchy at the straight ahead and Novocain numb in the corners. James Bond/Thomas Crown might as well pilot the car via his PDA for all the precision and satisfaction the steering provides.

The 645Ci's active suspension also conspires to deny speed freaks adequate car control. The quick-thinking system keeps the big coupe's chassis flat at all times in all conditions– which is all well and good if you could hear or feel the tires doing their thing. In this case, you can't. In fact, a little body roll would help the spirited driver judge his or her angle of attack.

BMW deep-sixes its legendary steering feel for a luxury bias.  Shame. Strangely, the 'Sport' program actually makes things worse. Press the macho button and the 645Ci's computer instantly transforms the lunatic-oriented gearbox into a stark raving mad lunatic-oriented gearbox, and dampens body lean even further. All chance of mechanical synergy disappears is a cloud of smoking rubber. No question: the 645Ci's handling is an open invitation to miscalculation. While extended wheel time increases driver confidence and ability (as you eventually learn to rely more or less entirely on visual stimuli), familiarity does nothing to enhance driving pleasure. Luckily, aesthetic pleasure is an entirely different matter…

When illustrated guides chronicle Chris Bangle's reign at the roundel, the ones hailing the Chief Designer's work will begin with the 645Ci. None of the criticisms leveled at Bangle's earlier creations– the awkward 7, the fussy 5 and the unfathomable Z4– apply to the 645Ci. All the details that jar in the other cars work perfectly here. From its shark eyes, to the "flame surfaced" side panels, to the infamous rear "bustle", the 645Ci's design communicates pace and grace with Jaguar-humbling élan.

iDrive you nuts, Mk. IIThe 645Ci's interior is equally impressive. The brushed aluminum and leather cabin is as elegantly understated as a Manhatten penthouse. The steering wheel is a meisterwerk: the ideal shape, thickness and texture for cruising and thrashing. And The Museum of Modern Art should reserve a place for the 645Ci's cupholder in their permanent collection. Of course, the 'simplified' iDrive controller is still a constant reminder that proper ergonomics means never having to say 'where's the owner's manual?'. And the 645Ci's rakish roof makes its back seats suitable only for children with a proven ability to sit in a motorized cave without throwing up. But why quibble when you can nestle in one of the world's finest automotive bank vaults?

In short, the 645Ci is a beautifully-made, upmarket style statement with plenty of German feel-good factor, offering no dynamic exhilaration other than tremendous forward thrust. Fortunately, all is not lost for BMW purists. The company is selling the new M5 without the newfangled steering system, and will delete the iDrive controller upon request. No doubt the forthcoming M6 will follow suit. So if you want a 6-Series whose performance matches its athletic appearance, wait for the M6. If first-class stunting is your thing, the 645Ci suits. Just try not to curb your enthusiasm.

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