2013 M6 Gran Coupe

Is the M6 Gran Coupe the best M Car yet?
By Imthishan Giado

BMW M6 Gran Coupe

Are you really serious about speed? Not just in straight line, but everywhere? Being the fastest on a real circuit where actual racing happens? Then you owe it to yourself to get behind the wheel of a BMW M car someday. Where rivals like Audi and Mercedes try to distract with sultry surfaces and hooligan antics respectively, the boys from M have only one thing on their mind: winning. Not first loser, but winning outright.

That’s why they brought me to Sepang International F1 Circuit in smog-struck Malaysia to try out the entire range of M cars in the kind of environment in which they were born to excel. X5M, M3, M5, M6 – and most importantly, the new crown jewel of the range, the M6 Gran Coupe four-door supersaloon. On a track. With no helmets. And no speed limits. And no rules.

I’m not going to waste your time talking about body creases, interior legroom and plastics quality. This is going to be all about speed. Which car will be the king of the track?

BMW M6 Gran Coupe

BMW X5M
Well, one thing’s for sure – the only thing the X5M is going to win at the track is the wooden spoon award. In fact, I’m not actually sure who it was made for at all. You’d think that 555bhp and 501lb ft of torque deployed to all four wheels from 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 would make for exciting progress. But it just…isn’t.

Blame physics, but there’s simply no way that something shaped like a housing colony and weighing nearly the same at 2380kg is going to cheat one of the natural sciences. In a straight circuit battle with its lither, nimbler saloon and coupe cousins the 555bhp (it bears repeating because it’s such a ludicrous figure) was repeatedly left behind in acceleration runs despite a competitive 4.7s 0-100kph time. That’s because Sepang features something quite unusual, a brave new invention known as ‘corners’.

Bend the X5M into a…bend, and despite the best efforts of the brilliant minds at the M division this American-built truck rolls like a particularly queasy extra on the set of Pirates of the Caribbean. The 20-inch tires do their damndest to grip but right from the start they were howling in protest and hopelessly outmatched by the titanic forces on display here – and so frankly, was I. Saw at the steering all you like, stomp on the brakes and watch the nose dip into the tarmac like a willing debutante, but there’s no thrills to be found here, except for the heartstopping ‘will-it-won’t-it’ variety.

BMW M6 Gran Coupe

BMW M5/M6
Ah, now this is more like it! Same engine as the X5M but now with the wick turned up to 560bhp and only having 1870kg to lug, the M5 took to the track like Richard Pryor hovered the produce of Columbia up his nostrils. A much, much faster sprint of 4.5 seconds to 100kph shows the beleaguered X5M a clean pair of heels all to the way up to a limited top speed of 250kph, although let off the leash, I reckon the engine could easily push this substantial saloon all the way to that pivotal 200mph figure.

BMW M6 Gran Coupe

Where the old M5 was lavished praise for its high-revving V10 engine but let down by an accompanying lack of torque, the new M5 suffers no such deficiencies. In fact, the M5 is almost annoying capable on track. For such a big, heavy vehicle it steers like a sportscar, stops on a dime and rockets away from the line like an old fashioned hotrod, dual-clutch boxes firing perfect changes every single time in its fastest mode. For breadth of ability, it can’t be beat.

But just because someone can juggle plates and cook pasta simultaneously without burning themselves, doesn’t mean that they can handle a football being lobbed into the mix as well. What that tortured analogy means is that when the M5 is driven within its performance envelope either on road or track it’s an absolute weapon, but loosen the electronic leash at your peril. Pressing the small M Dynamic Mode button on the steering wheel considerably limits the intervention of the standard well-tuned stability control. How loose? I spun twice seconds after pressing that button. Thank goodness I was on a track with loads of runoff…

Disable everything only if you have a deathwish. Without the guardian angels inside its TwinPower Turbo brain to watch over you, the M5 turns from demon to Satan, goading you on with hard-to-modulate turbocharged power delivery and then cackling in glee as you vainly try to keep the nose pointed for the apex with slighty uncommunicative steering. It’s a big car and when everything starts moving sideways, you’ll need to be very quick with your hand shuffle if you want to gather it all up cleanly.

Treat the M5 with respect and it remains a superb businessman’s express, if not with the quite the Ferrari-in-a-Savile row quality that was the hallmark of the E39 and E60 M5s. No, for that you’ll want the…

BMW M6 Gran Coupe

BMW M6 Gran Coupe
…which drives very similar to the M5 above. Similar but in small, meaningfully obvious ways, better. I promised not to talk about looks but honestly it’s leagues ahead of the ‘regular’ saloon chiefly thanks to the carbon fibre reinforced plastic roof panel, 2.5 inches lower than the M5’s  lid. The Gran Coupe is even longer by 93mm than the M5 but it’s all been put to good use and the interior – borrowed from the luxurious 6-Series with its chocolate butter leather and porcelain panels – is one of the best on sale of any vehicle at any price. And hey! Night vision is optional. Trust me, night vision is a good thing. Tick that option.

BMW M6 Gran Coupe

Despite being longer than the M5, the M6 GC is quicker doing the 0-100kph dash in a blistering 4.2 seconds. This discrepancy is further heightened by the fact that in every appreciable way, the M6 GC is better to drive. How they’ve done it I have no idea, but the steering is sharper, the car feels more nimbler through the bends and stops even better than the brick-wall solid M5 thanks to optional carbon ceramic bends. It is in every way, a superior high performance vehicle and one that a keen driver can fully exploit while novices will be flattered beyond their capabilities.

Actually, I think I do know how they’ve done it. The best cars are all about balance – a balanced chassis means you have faith in its predictable response, a engine providing the correct balance of power allows you to exploit that chassis and so on. The M5 is unbalanced in its bias towards performance married with a fairly pedestrian 5-Series interior, but the glorious sybaritic excess of the Gran Coupe restores balance to the force, providing a tailored experience to counteract the savagery of a 560bhp twin-turbocharged V8 surging to its 7200rpm redline.

Flaws? Well, headroom ain’t great, so I’m glad BMW didn’t insist on helmets at the track. Like all these new-gen M cars, I’d like a tiny morsel of bodyroll – the eerie flatness through the curves gives you little to no warning when traction is about to give out. And speaking of the effects of rubber, these big, heavy cars are so disproportionately dependent on their tyres that when they’re worn out (as can happen on the track) the computers will simply cut power to nothing in an attempt to keep it all together. Then you can have fun of a different kind – provided you have enough room.

BMW M6 Gran Coupe
BMW M3

Compared to the kind of muscle machines M Division is now producing to take on the rednecks at AMG, the M3 feels very old indeed. 2007 was an awful long time ago and performance has marched on quite a bit since the M3’s 8300rpm screamer was unveiled to the world.

414bhp seemed like a lot back then but in this company it’s hopelessly outgunned. Against the monster turbocharged demon chasing mills of the M5 and the M6, the M3 could do nothing but watch them recede into the distance. Still, I didn’t mind losing the drag race to its bigger brothers because the M3 remains a gorgeous thing to drive, like that chatty girlfriend who made all the neurons in your head fire at once. Take it through the bend and the steering is gently nudging you with a thousand different inputs about the road surface while the engine’s naturally-aspirated delivery can be put down to the ground with absolute, unerring precision time after time, lap after lap. Most importantly, the seat of the pants feeling of this car is still totally unrivalled – you are absolutely one with the machine through the corners, building up speed in a rhythm, clicking away at the DCT transmission and becoming an integral part of the driving experience in a way that the bigger saloons cannot rival.

BMW M6 Gran Coupe

Verdict
A memorable few hours at Sepang and a great chance to sample some of the fastest cars on the planet. If anything it once again shows how fast the pace of development is today; I thought the M5 was the dog’s dangly bits when I drove it last year, but compared to the M6 Gran Coupe, it’s desperately in need of…something.

Which doesn’t take anything away from the M6. In the metal it’s a stunning piece of kit, goes like absolute stink and genuinely does well on a fast F1 circuit for a big saloon car with four seats and frankly illegal levels of comfort. If I had to choose one car to drive everyday of the lot, the M6 captures the brass ring easily.

But if I was picking one from the heart…yes, it would still have to be the M3. Call me old fashioned, but there’s nothing on Earth to match the thrill of taking a naturally-aspirated motor up to an insanely high redline – and the M3’s glorious heavenly engine is a very special thing indeed.

It will be missed.

2013 BMW M6 Gran Coupe 

Specs
Price: AED565,000 ($153,000)
Engine: 4.4-litre twin-turbocharged V8, 560bhp @ 7000rpm, 502lb ft @ 1500rpm
Performance: 4.2secs 0-100kph, 255kph(limited), 14.7L/100
Transmission: Seven-speed dual clutch, rear-wheel drive
Weight: 1993kg

 

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