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After a lengthy hiatus, BMW's big coupe is back. The all-new BMW 6 Series delivers stellar performance, brilliant handling, and that arrow-like stability that marks this marque. The new 645Ci is a Grand Touring coupe. It's a unique vehicle in the current BMW lineup.
Though it has recently expanded its line to cover a broad range of vehicles, BMW has historically been known for its sports sedans. Its coupes and convertibles date back to the late 1930s, however. They started with the beautiful 1938 327 Coupe with sweeping fenders and available two-tone paint. That was quickly followed by a specially built 328 coupe that won the prestigious Mille Miglia in 1940. For most Americans, however, this new BMW recalls coupes of the mid-1970s: the 1968 2800 CS Coupe, the 1975 3.0 CSi, the 3.0 CSL, and the 6 Series cars that debuted in 1976. The highly regarded 635CSi was a member of this last-generation 6 Series. And the 8 Series coupes of the early 1990s are also considered part of BMW's big coupe lineage.
Now, a decade later comes this new line of 6 Series cars. The 645Ci coupe and 645Ci convertible models are essentially hard top and soft top versions of the same car. Bristling with the latest in technology, they are based on the superb new 5 Series chassis but are not simply two-door versions of the sedans. The 6 Series cars are modern GTs, or Gran Turismo cars. They offer greater luxury and comfort than the Z4 sports car, yet with higher performance, more agile handling, and sportier styling than the 5 Series sports sedans. The 645Ci Coupe and 645Ci Convertible each qualify as an ultimate driving machine, yet can be driven all day in perfect comfort.
Though launched as 2004 models, the new 6 Series cars are for all practical purposes 2005 models.
BMW's 4.4-liter V8 power the 645Ci models, delivering 325 horsepower to the rear wheels. A choice of transmissions includes six-speed manual gearbox (standard), six-speed automatic with Steptronic (a no-cost option), and a six-speed sequential manual gearbox ($1,500).
Options include Sirius satellite radio ($500); heated front seats ($450); park distance control ($700), active cruise control ($2,200); head-up display ($1,500). They come standard with a sports suspension, 18-inch wheels and xenon headlamps, but a Sport Package ($2,800) adds active steering, 19-inch sport wheels with run-flat tires, and sport seats. A Premium Sound Package ($1,800) includes Logic7 audio with six-disc CD changer. A Cold Weather Package ($700) includes heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, and a ski bag.
They look like no other BMW past or present, but people will instantly recognize the new 6 Series models as BMWs. The coupe and convertible drew lots of attention when we drove them around Beverly Hills and they looked right at home pulling up to the posh Beverly Hills Hotel.
The twin-kidney grille, quad headlamps and other classic cues quickly identify the 6 Series as a BMW. The 6 Series shares some key elements with the new 5 Series sedan, but it was designed from the ground up as a coupe rather than a sedan with two doors lopped off. Indeed, the new 6 Series is a classic BMW coupe: The front and rear overhangs (the distance from the wheels to the bumper) are short. The greenhouse is set back from the hood, observed by the relatively long distance from the trailing edge of the wheel well to the leading edge of the door. The 6 Series cars are shorter in overall length than the 5 Series sedans, yet the 6 Series benefits from a relatively long wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear wheels). In short, you know it handles great just by looking at it.
The turn signals are located above the headlamps allowing the headlamps to be moved farther around the corners to the sides of the car. The grilles take front and center stage with no ledge in front of them. When viewed from overhead, the front corners look rounded giving the 6 Series a shark nose.
In profile, the lines are sculpted but clean. Side marker lights at the trailing edge of the front wheel wells give the impression of attention to detail. The Hofmeister kink, a traditional BMW design feature named after an early designer, shortens and shapes the trailing edge of the rear side window, subtly conveying an impression of a BMW.
From the rear, however, the new 6 Series cannot be identified as readily. The tail lamps and badge label it as a BMW, but the rear looks different from past BMWs. The first time I caught a glimpse of one racing ahead on a winding road, my brain registered "Chrysler" before correctly identifying it. The tail lamps wrap around to the sides, so there's no precise point where the rear of the car ends and the side begins. As with the new 7 Series cars, critics don't like the way the rear deck looks somewhat disconnected from the rear fenders. BMW points out that the high deck improves rear grip at high speeds and allows for a big trunk. In any case this is a tidy, attractive car that looks very sporty. It looks best in silver and other lighter colors; the design details blend together on darker cars.
The roofline of the convertible is nearly identical to that of the coupe, and the soft top looks great when it's up. The convertible features a fastback roofline with fins on the trailing edges that frame the vertically mounted glass backlight (rear windshield); the rear glass can be raised or lowered like a side window by pressing a button. A reinforced B-pillar and extensive reinforcements on the lower sides of the convertible's monocoque were added to increase chassis rigidity.
The 6 Series comes standard with adaptive headlamps that aim toward the inside of a corner as the steering wheel is turned. This helps throw light around the bend, reducing shadows and improving visibility for the driver. Sometimes just that extra nanosecond of warning can make for a safer and more enjoyable drive.
The BMW 6 Series coupe and convertible are comfortable cars that encourage the driver to take the joy of driving seriously. The seats are comfortable and supportive, more comfortable than the ultra-firm seats found in some of BMW's sports packages. You feel safely ensconced in this car, partly because of its high waistline.
The 6 Series iDrive system is similar to the setup in the 5 Series sedan. A big knob mounted on the center console controls navigation, the audio system, climate controls, and other secondary functions. Various functions can be selected by sliding the big knob left or right, forward or aft, then turning it like a knob to work through menus displayed on a monitor on the center stack. The big knob doesn't move diagonally as in the 7 Series cars, which may simplify things, but we recommend sitting in the driveway with the owner's manual to master this system.
An optional head-up display projects speed, navigational information, cruise control status and other data onto the windshield.
The trunk is relatively large and can hold two sets of golf clubs. The BMW badge on the rear serves as the latch for the trunk. Press the button on the remote and the trunk lid pops open fully, nice when you're running through the rain with an armload of groceries. Gooseneck hinges are employed, but are shielded from the inside cargo bay, eliminating concerns of crushing things. The coupe has a larger trunk (13 cubic feet) than the convertible (12.4).
The Convertible is remarkably quiet with the top up, nearly as quiet as the coupe. As mentioned, the power rear windscreen can be lowered even when the top is up, though we didn't find it significantly added to air circulation. Conversely, the rear glass can be raised when the top is down to act as a windblocker, but turbulance with the top down was minimal, and raising and lowering the glass didn't seem to make a big difference.
The BMW 6 Series is smooth and precise. Always poised, it is easy to drive smoothly and quickly. The ride is taut but not harsh. The engine is silky smooth and tractable for easy going around town or in stop-and-go traffic. Yet you're rewarded with immediate response whenever you press down on the accelerator. This car immediately becomes and extension of the driver, smoothly and flawlessly executing his or her wishes. It's easy to modulate the brakes and throttle and the steering is very precise, all making for a smooth driving experience.
BMW's 4.4-liter V8 delivers 325 horsepower and 330 pound-feet of torque to the coupe and convertible. The 3,781-pound coupe with the manual or SMG can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph is 5.5 seconds, according to BMW. The convertible is heavier and about a half-second slower. The 32-valve V8 benefits from Valvetronic variable valve timing and variable lift; breathing is controlled entirely by the valves. There is no traditional throttle, so that pedal on the right is more accurately called an accelerator pedal. It's a fascinating engine for engineers and car buffs with technological marvels such as its Double VANOS steplessly variable intake manifold. But the bottom line is that there's lots of power throughout the rev range, so the 645Ci responds quickly and precisely in any situation. It's also an efficient powerplant, so energy is not wasted but is instead channeled into fuel-efficient power. The engine sounds great, emitting a guttural roar under hard acceleration through its nicely tuned exhaust system.
As mentioned, three transmissions are available. We recommend choosing the six-speed Steptronic automatic unless you're a serious enthusiast, in which case we recommend the six-speed manual. We did not care for the six-speed sequential manual gearbox, or SMG. The Steptronic automatic is smooth in normal driving and very responsive for spirited driving. In fact, a 645Ci with the automatic is nearly as quick as a well-driven 645Ci with the manual. As with all BMW automatics, it offers a Sport mode setting that moves shift points to higher revs for increased response; the manual Steptronic mode enables the driver to shift manually, imparting some of the sportiness of a manual. We found little need to shift into the manual mode, however, because it always selected the right gear automatically. The manual gearbox is smooth and precise, easy to shift, with easy clutch pedal effort; it's lighter than the six-speed used in the BMW M3. The SMG is the same transmission yet it operates the clutch electronically, eliminating the clutch pedal. Though I like the SMG in the M3, I found the 645Ci's SMG shifted too slowly and took some of the enjoyment out of driving it.
The 645Ci offers a nice balance of ride and handling. Though taut, it doesn't beat up your passenger on rippled highways. The springs and shocks are firmer than on the 545i, but not as firm as those on the 545i sport package, which are quite firm; and the 6 Series cars ride lower than the 5 Series. On a mountain road it's absolutely joyful. Handling is precise, with a superb self-centering feel to the steering. It goes around high-speed turns like it's on rails. It can be driven very hard into tight corners. The suspension is tuned to minimize undesirable behavior when lifting off the gas while cornering, braking hard, or accelerating hard.
Active Roll Stabilization dramatically reduces body roll in cornering. Under hard cornering, the anti-roll bars are twisted by little hydraulic motors, so the 645Ci motors around turns with little leaning. In addition to increasing driver confidence, the system improves handling over bumps, increases cornering capability, and improves steering response.
Drive the 645Ci past the limit of the tires and the Dynamic Stability Control and other active safety systems kick in, allowing the car to motor around the corner without undue drama. The DSC s
The BMW 6 Series coupe and convertible are comfortable and sporty. Driving these cars is a joy. The BMW 645Ci Coupe ($69,300) and 645Ci Convertible ($76,300) are priced between the Mercedes CLK Coupe ($52,800) and CLK Convertible ($59,850) and the Mercedes SL500 ($88,500). And in terms of wonderfulness, it falls somewhere between the CLK and SL.