Driven: 2014 BMW M6 Gran Coupe

By Tom Martin

July 16, 2013

BMW recently invited us to Austin, Texas to drive the new M6 Gran Coupe through the winding roads of the Texas Hill Country and at the Circuit of The Americas. Willing, as we always are, to take one for the team, we accepted.
First, let us say that, yeah, we know, this isn’t a coupe. It is a Gran Coupe, and just like a prairie dog isn’t a dog, we once again observe that adjectives matter. For those of you confused by this debate, we summarize by saying that ever since Mercedes-Benz discovered, with the CLS, that some sedan buyers would actually like a car that looks a bit sexy, the industry has dished out a series of four door cars with swoopier backlights. They’ve been calling these sensible creations “four-door coupes,” which grates a bit on the rules of logic, but expresses the idea well enough.
With that bit of pedantry out of the way, let us consider what BMW hath wrought. And, it turns out, BMW has built a very nice car. Rather than running you through our excellent track day vacation story, we’ve answered the questions we think you might have about the M6 Gran Coupe (if you have others, we’ll answer those we find intriguing and helpful).
How is the M6 Gran Coupe different from the M5?
Really, the differences are small. You aren’t far off if you view the M6 Gran Coupe as an M5 with a slightly different shape. Same 560-horsepower engine, same 4400-pound weight (to be exact the M6 weighs 43 pounds more), same features or close enough. Of course, when we’re talking about high-end cars, small differences matter to actual buyers.
We’ll cover driving dynamics in a bit, but suffice it to say, the M6 Gran Coupe has a slightly softer suspension setup than the M5, in keeping with the somewhat more delicate sensibilities of the audience BMW imagines for the car. We take it that this audience wants design, comfort and sports cred. In that order.
You will also note that the M6 Gran Coupe looks different from the M5. You’ll have to decide whether you think that difference is desirable or not; we’d say that each has its charms, but for two relatively similar cars, the feeling on approach is rather different.
You might expect the roofline differences to mean that the M6 Gran Coupe has a rear seat of borderline uselessness. But not so, with headroom and legroom that are adequate for 6-foot-tall, 180-pound people. Certainly the M5 is a bit roomier, and rear seat ingress/egress are slightly easier, but the differences are not night and day unless your rear seat passengers are right on the borderline between the two cars.
Why does the M6 Gran Coupe so much more money?
The pricing of the M6 Gran Coupe makes sense, but not if you still harbor the strange idea that price relates to cost of materials. The base price on the M6 Gran Coupe is $113,000, while a box stock M5 will set you back “only” $90,200. There are some equipment differences, of course. The M6 has a carbon roof panel, carbon fiber interior trim, Alcantara headliner, 20-way seats, soft-close doors, BMW apps, Sirius satellite radio and a few other detail-level options included as standard which are missing on the base M5. The M5 has a sunroof, on the other hand, and is, as they say, “nicely equipped.”
But we’d say content is not the driver of price here. Much of the price difference is there to ensure exclusivity. There just won’t be anything like as many M6 Gran Coupes on the road as there will be M5s. That, perhaps logically enough, means that the extra freight for the M6 Gran Coupe is actually a desirable element of the package to the target market. If you don’t get that, you’re not the target buyer.
We do imagine that the target buyer would like a bit more differentiation in design from the plain-Jane 6-Series Gran Coupes that, at $71,000, will be flooding your gated subdivision. But perhaps the subtlety of the M6 badge and carbon trim is more suitable to the task. Choose your friends and valets wisely.
A little context also makes some sense of the M6 Gran Coupe pricing. While the Audi S7 at $78,800 undercuts the M6 considerably, the Porsche Panamera Turbo at $141,300 or the Maserati Quattroporte S at $127,250 almost make the M6 Gran Coupe look like an exercise in frugality. And none of these cars can match the power spec of the TwinScroll turbo V-8 in the M6.
Can I get it with a manual transmission?
Saints be praised, the answer is “yes” and “yes.” The double positive is because the M6 Gran Coupe is available with two transmissions, both of which are manual in a meaningful sense of the word.
First of all, you can optionally get a three pedal, six-speed, move-the-lever-through-an-H-pattern gearbox. BMW deserves some kudos for continuing to supply the US with 20th century technology. They won’t sell many of these, and honestly a conventional manual in a car like this doesn’t fit the target market. Europe has rejected manuals, too, so it isn’t like BMW can just ship over here what everyone is buying over there. Nope, BMW just stubbornly caters to a niche within a niche. Well done.
But wait, there’s more. The standard transmission is a seven-speed, double clutch (DCT) affair, which can be paddle-shifted, console-shifted, or automatically shifted. Because a DCT uses clutches and not a torque converter, it gives a car like the M6 Gran Coupe a responsiveness to throttle inputs that is often missing on cars with conventional automatic (planetary torque converter) systems.
We drove the M6 Gran Coupe with both transmissions and can recommend either one. As we’ve noted before, the BMW six-speed shift mechanism isn’t the tightest, most pleasurable oar you’ll ever row, but it works. What surprised us was that on the plain 6 Series we thought the manual was so out of character that it made the car less enjoyable than the autobox. But on the M6 Gran Coupe, we loved the full manual experience and thought it added perceptibly to our sense of involvement. On the track we’re pretty sure we were slower with the manual, but it felt faster. And the M6 has enough power and torque so that the manual doesn’t simply make the car problematically unsmooth.
That said, the DCT works well, with quick, smooth shifting that is pleasurably responsive. As we always say, the smoothness of modern DCTs is their strength and their Achilles heel. You cannot have your cake and eat it too, unfortunately. Of course, for some, the DCT is there because it is acceptably responsive and it can be put in full auto mode for drivers and conditions that demand it.
What’s it like to drive?
Frankly, we’ve struggled with BMWs over the last ten years. There is no doubt that the company has tremendous engineering skills or that it works assiduously to make cars that by some definition are truly great. But BMW is not the company of legend, the small group of people who brought you the 2002 or the E30 M3. BMW is now a huge, mature automaker, with a vast line of cars mostly targeting semi-mainstream buyers rather than enthusiasts. And, even in the legend-making phase of its existence, BMW’s real point of difference was that it made cars that combined good driving dynamics with high ride quality and usable space. BMW is not, and never was, Lotus or Porsche.
Still, we’d say more and more BMWs in recent years have struck us as characterless and perhaps even charmless. Good features, reasonable comfort, but boring to drive. We’ve started to think of BMWs as either being good ones (1-Series, M3) or blah ones (Z4, 3-Series, 6-Series). Fortunately, the M6 Gran Coupe is in the former group.
The evaluation of the driving character of a BMW really means coming to grips with the fundamental compromise it strikes. How and where does the M6 dish out dynamic excellence and where does it compromise for the sake of usability or comfort? Really, this is true of every street car, but it helps to sweep away the ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’ mythology and face facts.
And the fact is that the M6 Gran Coupe is a large, very heavy luxury car. But then again, it has a vastly powerful engine and careful sport suspension tuning. All of which left us wondering how that soup would taste?
One aspect of the answer is that the M6 Gran Coupe is a bit like the E9X 3-Series of old. Not in its exact dynamics, but because it is entertaining to drive and yet very comfortable in the real world.
The entertainment is there because the suspension tuning is supple enough to create some action on turn in and over bumps when you are running at less than 10/10ths. That action requires a little driver input, which is good, but at the same time the damping is controlled so you aren’t fighting the car. The entertainment is also there because 502 pounds-feet of torque from 1500 rpm is enough to make the M6 Gran Coupe respond quickly to your right foot.
From a handling standpoint, this performance is good but not exceptional. Frankly an Audi S4 or S7 or an E92 335i will pretty much do the same thing, generally speaking. If you drove these cars back to back, you’d notice the smaller cars feel more willing to turn and the bigger cars feeling more like you are guiding their flight path. But if you start by thinking that you want a big car, then the M6 Gran Coupe’s handling is about as responsive as you can get.
We also thought the ride quality was well judged. We prefer a firm ride, and the M6 delivers it, but without punishing you. Still, you really should judge this on your roads, there being no area of the country with ‘typical’ surfaces.
The Porsche Panamera S provides a useful reference as well. In terms of price and brand it would seem a logical competitor. And yet the two cars feel completely different. The Porsche feels significantly more luxurious and massive, but less responsive to steering inputs. At the same time, the Porsche has more character.
That said, the Porsche feels slower. Now that may be no surprise, and you might think that the 560-horsepower powerplant of the M6 would dominate the discussion of this car. But we didn’t find it to be so. The car moves with alacrity, but honestly it doesn’t cross the threshold into gut-wrenching territory. Weight is part of the issue. With the same power but 15 percent more weight than a Nissan GT-R, you would expect the M6 Gran Coupe to be less impressive at changing speed, and it is. The M6 weighs about 50 percent more than a Corvette Z06 (C6), but has ‘only’ 10 percent more power. And, so, it doesn’t feel as fast.
The other part of the issue here, if it is one for the target market, is sonic. The M6 sounds okay, but is rather muted. That fits with the general sense we have of a target audience that would like to have it all, but in a world of tradeoffs places comfort ahead of performance. In the event, the muted character makes acceleration somewhat less eventful than it would be in, say, a Boss 302—a car with a similar power-to-weight ratio.
But those faster feeling cars aren’t realistic alternatives. And they shouldn’t take away from the quickness of the M6. Especially because the two clutch-based gearboxes mean that above-average pace seems more integral to the driving of the M6 than it does with many other large and powerful cars which honestly feel like you need to whip them a bit to get them reluctantly off the dime.
Was it fun on the track?
Driving the M6 Gran Coupe at Circuit of The Americas was a pleasant surprise, though perhaps it shouldn’t have been. BMWs have a habit of feeling better on a track than their street sensations would lead you to believe, and so it was with the M6.
We’ve driven CoTA in a variety of cars (Radical SR3, Boss 302S, Spec Miata) and so we have some references for what we found with the M6 Gran Coupe. But the keys for us started with the basic sense of balance. Yes, the M6 tends toward understeer, but not in a way that detracted from the fun. More importantly, the balance inspires confidence, so, for example, it wasn’t long before we had the throttle flat at the apex of 9 and were taking turn 10 wide open.
CoTA is a long circuit with long straights and the big V-8 gave us a lovely shove coming off each corner. Still you can’t hide 4400 pounds. More than anything, though, we wish BMW would create a track setting for the exhaust. 10 decibels more wouldn’t do anyone any harm.
The brakes were easily up to the task of track day style lapping (short sessions). And we appreciated the ABS system, because as you’re learning the car you’d like to avoid flat spotting expensive rubber. Actually, we’d always like to avoid that.
Speaking of assistance, BMW also offers a brilliant app for recording track performance. It works on iOS devices with GPS, and they hinted that an Android version might come. But the app makes it really easy to get lap times and complete acceleration data (including all-important braking performance) in graphical form. You can overlay your data on the data from another car or driver, so it is perfect for learning and coaching. The software was in prototype form, so we couldn’t use it ourselves at CoTA, but the demonstration made it look simpler to use and yet perhaps graphically more usable than the AIM and Traqmate systems we’re used to in race cars.
BMW will also offer a Competition Pack later this year. This firms up the suspension beyond what is on the base M5 and perhaps is what you would want if you plan to regularly track the car and your local streets are, well, in Germany or France.
We have a hard time seeing the M6 Gran Coupe as a car that will do a lot of track time, but it is nice to know that you can and you can enjoy it. If you do go to the track with any regularity, our best advice would be to get some R compound rubber and then spend time looking at the traces from the BMW track app.
So, what’s the summary?
The M6 Gran Coupe is a very nice “do everything” car. It looks good, it is comfortable for four people, it has a vast array of electronic capabilities, it cruises well but isn’t too big for the city, it is enjoyable to drive on back roads and you can have fun with it on the track. That is an achievement given the breadth of those capabilities. At the same time, the car’s overall character is muted. This isn’t a four-door 911 or an autocross monster. You can have a lot, but you can’t have it all.
2014 BMW M6 Gran Coupe
Engine: Turbocharged V-8, 4.4 liters, 32v
Output: 560 hp/502 lb-ft
0-60 MPH: 4.1 sec
Top Speed: 155 mph*
Weight: 4430 lb
Fuel Economy, City/Hwy: 14/20 mpg
Base Price: $113,000
*electronically limited