The highest-performance version of BMW's big two-door is back after a two-year absence during the changeover to the latest generation of the 6-series. Sporting a new powertrain, a revised look, and a simplified driver interface, this fast machine is every bit as impressive but much more livable than before.
From V-10 to turbo V-8
The M6 coupe joins the recently arrived convertible, following the same softtop-then-hardtop cadence as the standard 6-series. Naturally, the coupe is mechanically identical to the convertible, which means that it, too, uses the same powertrain as the M5 sedan. Thus, the M6, which was last seen with a 500-hp normally aspirated V-10, now is powered by BMW's 4.4-liter twin-turbocharged V-8. That engine's output is 560 horsepower and 500 pound-feet of torque, the latter coming in at a low, low 1500 rpm. BMW puts the 0-60 time at a brisk 4.1 seconds.
A better-behaved 7-speed
The better part of the powertrain switch is in the transmission department, where we bid an unsentimental goodbye to the herky, jerky single-clutch SMG gearbox, and welcome the dual, wet-clutch M-DCT unit seen in both the M5 and the M3. Still with seven speeds, the M-DCT doesn't just whip off lightning-fast gear changes when you're paddle-shifting it in manual mode, but it also does a polished imitation of a conventional automatic when left to shift for itself. This new transmission goes a long way toward making the M6 a much more refined, more pleasant coupe than before. (For those who still want a manual, there is good news on that front as well: BMW will offer a six-speed stick in the M6, just as it does in the M5, but it won't arrive for another year.)
Of course, the new M6 coupe benefits from the styling refinements that came with the latest generation 6-series, while adding a few special touches of its own. M-specific front and rear styling, front fenders integrating side gills, and quad exhausts help identify this as the maximum 6-series. Unique, twin-spoke nineteen-inch wheels are standard; the optional twenty-inch units look exactly the same but cost $1300 more.
As you like it
As before, the M6 has a myriad of adjustments -- to its steering, throttle, transmission, and dampers. Each has three options: comfort, sport, and sport-plus. What's new and most welcome is how much easier it is to call up the different ones to tailor the car to your liking. You still can make changes via the iDrive menu system, but there now are also buttons for each one readily available alongside the gear lever. Helpfully, there's also a display at the bottom of the tachometer that shows your current choice for throttle, damping, and steering effort. (Transmission shift speed is denoted by a graphic next to the gear indicator.) Also, there are now not one but two "M" buttons on the steering wheel, so you can save two different favorite combinations.
Supple Merano leather covers the seats, console, and door panels -- and, as an option, the dash and seatbacks as well. No matter how nicely upholstered, however, the rear seat is inhospitable to adults. The front seats, though, are a different story, as the M6 units include adjustable side bolsters and extendable under-thigh support. There's a new steering wheel that looks and feels great, and all the interior touch points feel rich. A wide, 10-inch display screen with navigation is standard. Buyers choose carbon fiber, gray wood, or traditional oak trim for no charge. (Of course, the BMW Individual program stands ready to lighten the wallets of those whose tastes run further afield.) Amusingly, the M6 also is equipped with auto stop-start (which can be switched off). Despite that bit of green technology, this 560-hp coupe probably will not be the first choice of environmentalists. We do, however, commend the fact that the EPA ratings inch up from 11/17 mpg previously to an expected 14/20 mpg.
On the track, and the street
We probably got somewhat less than that, tearing around Mazda Laguna Seca raceway, but it was well worth the hydrocarbons burned. The twin-turbo V-8 doesn't have the high-tech whine of the old V-10, but its deep-timbered voice is equally intoxicating. The optional head-up display is a fantastic way to watch the revs so you can know exactly when to flick a paddle for an upshift. BMW's twin-scroll turbos, located between the cylinder banks, make for lag-free response roaring out of corners and down the front straight. Speaking of powering out of corners, the M6 comes standard with BMW's active rear differential lock, which uses an electric actuator mounted on the differential housing to apportion torque across the axle. It helps the ultra-wide rubber put the power down reliably. Switch the stability control off completely, however, and the determined hooligan can get the M6 plenty sideways. The stability control's dynamic mode provides a nice compromise, albeit without the tire-spinning fun. The M6 weighs a not-inconsiderable 4255 pounds but the car's carbon-fiber roof panel helps lower the center of gravity a bit and that combined with the suspension's firm body control make the M6 feel extremely well planted on the track. The further good news is that the brakes held up brilliantly under a full day of track abuse; the less good news is that the cars all were equipped with carbon-ceramic brakes, which won't become available until next spring, at a price estimated to be between $8500 and $10,000.
Realistically though, the M6 is unlikely to be used as a track car, and that makes its improved on-the-road behavior all the more important. Besides the more accessible torque and its smoother delivery, the big coupe's ride quality also seems improved -- although the roads in Carmel Valley, California don't provide the most stringent test. We experienced no tramlining despite the wide tires, although they are pretty noisy on all but the smoothest pavement. And the steering is quite pleasant in any of its three settings -- it's not overboosted even in comfort mode. The M6 has always been an impressive performer, but it now also has the polish one expects in a $100,000 coupe.
On sale: September
Base price: $106,995
Engine: 4.4L twin-turbo V-8, 560 hp, 500 lb-ft
Fuel Economy: 14/20 mpg (estimated)