THIRD TIME'S A CHARM? - BMW 6 Series Coupe (2011-2014)
Independent Car Review - overall score 76/100
By Andy Enright
For four decades, the BMW 6 Series has built upon a performance coupe heritage that for the Munich maker, now stretches back over seventy years. Cars like the classic BMW 3.0 CSL were amongst those that in race trim established this German brand as a force to be reckoned with across race tracks the world over. In road form, their emphasis was a little different, with most models aimed more at Grand Touring than Grand opposite-locking gestures. M versions were provided for lead foots, but the majority of buyers were more likely to be setting off for a wine tour around Burgundy than a lap of the Nurburgring. That was certainly the way of things with the second generation version, launched in here 2003 and it's an approach that was further refined by its successor, the third generation 6 Series - or F13 coupe - launched in 2011.
This car looks more dynamic, with styling in this form that looks arguably more elegant than that you get in the mechanically identical Convertible model. More importantly perhaps, it can claim to be a proper sports car, providing you press the right buttons and tick the right options. This is thanks to a whole phalanx of high technology provided to sharpen the driving experience on offer as and when owners feel it to be necessary thanks to the standard Drive Dynamic Control system and the optional Adaptive Drive and Active Steering features. An evolutionary approach perhaps, but an impressively thorough one. But does it stack up as a used proposition?
2dr coupe (3.0, 4.4 petrol, 3.0 diesel [SE, M Sport, M6, M6 with Competition Package])
Second-guessing BMW is always a risky tactic. The German giant often embarks upon directions that at first seem baffling but usually prove profitable. Either the market eventually warms to the idea or BMW has a better-clarified vision of latent wants and needs than us. We suspect the answer might be a bit of both, supplemented by a fiendishly smart promotional machine. The BMW 6 Series coupe, launched back in 2000, was not a car that found instant favour. Unlike the lithe and lovely Seventies predecessor, the second generation Six was bullish, complex and effective, but never a vehicle that was so endearing that the normal rules of car buying were suspended. It was a Grand Tourer that prioritised destination over journey.
The third generation car of 2011 adopted an evolutionary approach, improving each objective attribute while massaging away the egotistical excesses of Chris Bangle's styling work in the older MK2 version. The result was a sleeker, more cohesive product. It's a big coupe that doesn't crave cheap attention and to many, that will be instantly attractive.
When the MK3 6 Series Coupe first rolled into dealers, buyers got a choice between the 4.4-litre 407PS 650i flagship and a 320PS 640i with petrol engines, plus the 313PS 640d, powered by a 3.0-litre turbodiesel, which BMW dubbed 'the world's sportiest diesel engine'. The powerhouse M6 appeared at the 2012 Goodwood Festival of Speed and instantly attracted a slew of orders, buyers keen to get the ultimate 560PS Six. Those that did enjoyed that accolade for just one year before BMW introduced an even more powerful version, the M6 with Competition Package, good for 575PS. The good news for existing M6 owners was that they could pay BMW £6,500 to have their cars upgraded to the more aggressive specification.
What You Get
Many found the styling of this car's predecessor to be a little heavy-handed: imposing perhaps, but never beautiful. This 3rd generation model is much easier on the eye, arguably in fact more shapely than its Convertible stablemate. Longer, lower and wider, it's larger in every dimension than the model it replaced, the only exception being height: it sits half a cm lower to the ground. Yet despite the extra bulk, designer Nader Faghihzadeh has still managed to create a lithe, agile look apparently inspired by the feeling of surging through water. Imagine the movement of waves sent out by the bow of a powerful motorboat and you're supposed to be able to relate the impression to these harmoniously curved surfaces, from the long sweeping aluminium bonnet with its distinctive 'shark nose' past the frameless doors and on through to the muscular wheelarches. At the rear, BMW aficionados will recognise the V8 650i by its switch from these circular tailpipes to trapezoidal-shaped ones.
At the wheel, the gorgeous interior with its fastidious attention to detail is very difficult to fault and is especially nice if you've specified the expensive option of a leather finish for the instrument panel that dials the cabin ambiance up a few notches. The interior design is based around what BMW calls a 'twin cockpit' approach, intended to feel like an upmarket powerboat. The dash is dominated by a large colour screen and the instruments are canted carefully towards the driver, though many of them are recognisable from the brand's cheaper models. To reduce button clutter, most of the functions and features are taken care of by the infamous iDrive system, here much easier to use, despite many functions and menus.
And in the rear? Well the seats in the back are restricted in size of course but they do benefit from this model's extra 74mm of body length and 39mm of extra width to the point where they're significantly bigger than those provided by rivals and perfectly comfortable for children and adults on short journeys. They could be easier to get into though, despite an Easy Entry function which electrically slides them back and forward. The boot too, is decently sized for the class at 460-litres - that's 130-litres bigger than a Jaguar XK. BMW betrays the target market by letting on that this is enough to hold three 46-inch golf bags. More relevantly perhaps, you'll be able to fit in two medium-sized hard-shell cases, plus a flight case.
What to Look For
No significant problems have yet to be reported with the F13 6 Series, although minor niggles such as blown LED lights have been reported. Be aware that the desirability of the car is very dependent on colour choice. Stick to safe silver, graphite or black and you shouldn't go too far wrong but some of the more colourful hues won't be so easy to sell on. Check the electronic functions work as some of these can be a very expensive fix. Also check the tyres for signs of uneven wear and make sure that if somebody tells you they've added the Competition Package upgrades to their M6 that you see convincing documentary evidence.
(approx prices based on a 2013 650i ex VAT) An exchange starter motor retails at around £245 while a windscreen will set you back around £350. Expect to fork out £475 for an exchange alternator while front brake pads costs a hefty £150. An entire headlamp pod will relieve you of £375. Replacement xenon bulbs are £99 a pair.
On the Road
Spend serious money on a luxury high performance coupe of this kind and you've a right to want it to feel special behind the wheel. Thunk shut the door, then settle back into the beautifully appointed driving position and this one does. Fire the engine and there's a purposeful burble from whichever of the six or eight cylinder engines you've had installed upfront. If the journey you have ahead of you is a short one, it's almost a disappointment: few cars would be better than this one at a length cross-continental dash.
Most used buyers will want the variant that almost all UK 6 Series Coupe buyers originally choose, the 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged six cylinder 640d. You might think the fact that this is a diesel would tell you everything necessary about the performance priorities of this model's target market. Perhaps, but this is quite a diesel. The 313PS engine is hugely torquey, with more than enough pulling power - 630Nm - to make unnecessary as many as eight ratios in the Steptronic automatic gearbox, but BMW has provided them anyway, along with a set of paddle-shifters behind the steering wheel for when your favourite secondary road opens up and you can access performance that'll catapult you to 60 from rest in a Porsche-worrying 5.5s. B road dawdlers are dispatched with disdain and flat out, the engine has to be artificially reined in at 155mph.
For those less bothered about benefit-in-kind taxation and the like, there are two mainstream petrol options, the 320PS six cylinder 640i that delivers similar performance to the diesel. And a potent 407PS 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 which demolishes the 0-60mph sprint half a second quicker than its direct Jaguar XK and Mercedes SL rivals in just 4.9s. So any 6 Series Coupe is fast: well you expected it would be. What might be more of a surprise is how adroitly this car is capable of tackling the twisty stuff.
It's on this kind of tarmac that you'll be tempted to start playing with the standard
Drive Dynamic Control system, which allows you to choose how responsive you want the gearbox, steering and throttle response to be. So if you want to push on, you can use a rocker switch by the gear lever to move from 'Normal' to 'Sport' mode. The throttle then sharpens, the steering tightens and the gearbox revs a little longer in each ratio. Not enough? Well, if you've a really challenging road ahead, a further prod on the rocker reveals a third 'Sport +' setting where things are sharper still and the stability and traction control systems allow more wheel slip for playful cornering. Many original models were fitted with the extra cost Adaptive Drive package which adds an extra 'Comfort' mode to the rocker switch options, thanks to the way you can adjust the dampers and anti-roll bars to create a really laid-back driving set-up for long distances. Or alternatively sharpen them up by selecting one of the controller's sportier modes. Dynamic Stability Control allows an amount of slip to the rear wheels. Dynamic Stability Control allows an amount of slip to the rear wheels.
After trying all the settings, we reckoned that there wasn't one with a perfect all-encompassing ride/handling balance you could leave the car in all the time - but maybe that's not the point. BMW wants its drivers to be able to set this machine to their liking on any given day to any given preference. And to be fair, whatever mode you select, there are a few constants. One of them is well regulated body roll, courtesy of a stiffer underlying structure this time round. Even so, you'll need to remember before throwing this car about that any 6 Series remains first and foremost a Grand Touring GT rather than a sports car. Or, to put it another way if it makes more sense, more a Mercedes SL than a Porsche 911. The electric power steering is further evidence of this, with a lightness not designed for enthusiasts, but you can sharpen it quite a bit with a more direct variable ratio set-up if you're prepared to pay extra for 'Integral Active Steering', a package which also includes four-wheel steer for sharper cornering turn-in.
The third-generation BMW 6 Series is a car that came good on the quiet. The lower-key styling failed to generate too much in the way of column inches, but the truth was that in MK3 guise, this model morphed into a very good car. A Mercedes-Benz SL might do the grand touring thing with more conviction and a Porsche 911 delivers a bigger sporting adrenaline hit, but if you want a car that can do both, the third generation 6 Series coupe makes a strong case for itself.
The 640d diesel would be our choice, but there's something to be said for the sheer eyeball-flattening acceleration of the M6. Either way, you've a very complete luxury Grand Touring sports coupe indeed.