BMW's 6 Series Convertible gets an across the board refresh. Jonathan Crouch likes the cut of Munich's jib.
Ten Second Review
The improved second generation BMW 6 Series Convertible offers tidier styling, more equipment, a few worthwhile efficiency tweaks and a boost to interior quality.There's even a switchable exhaust valve to make the petrol engines sound even sportier. All good stuff, but is it enough? Over to you.
Just what is a BMW 6 Series? It seems this car has had a bit of an identity issue that is only latterly being resolved. Despite the prodigious power of the M models, the Six has never really convinced as an all-out sports car. It's just too big and heavy to fulfil that remit. How about as a syrupy GT cruiser? It's not really there either. The ride was always a bit too firm, the transmission and engine mapping just those few degrees too aggressive to be one of those effortless wafters. This latest car makes a few changes to rectify things and it might just be at its best in convertible guise. Here's a car that's not judged to quite same exacting tolerances as the coupe and appeals on a whole raft of other criteria. It's been heavily updated from the model we first saw in 2011 and offers a broader spread of talents, delivering more choice to the driver.
The Convertible gets exactly the same engine line up as the Coupe, which means that there have been a few tweaks to give the customers more of what they want. Those choosing a petrol engine tend to err towards a sportier drive and BMW deliver, with a switchable flap as standard for a more aggressive soundtrack. These engines comprise a turbocharged 3.0-litre six that's good for 320PS in the 640i, a twin-turbo 4.4-litre V8 with 450PS for the 650i, and the flagship M6 which uses a 560PS version of the turbocharged 4.4-litre unit. Choose diesel and you're delivered the more relaxed 3.0-litre 313PS 640d which can nevertheless still get to 62mph in 5.5 seconds. All models get an eight speed ZF automatic gearbox with wheel mounted shift paddles. Well, all but the M6, which drives through a seven-speed twin-clutch system. The suspension of the 6 Series Convertible has been given the once-over to improve ride quality and reduce noise entering the cabin. Set-ups can also be further personalised through options like Dynamic Damper Control, which varies its responses electronically according to where and how the car is being driven, Adaptive Drive, which includes roll stabilisation, and Integral Active Steering, which introduces an element of rear-wheel steer to reduce the amount of turning effort needed while offering the perception of increased agility.
Design and Build
The styling of the Convertible has been nipped and tucked a little, with a re-profiled front bumper with a broader kidney grille, revised headlights featuring an LED main beam, a redesigned rear bumper and different alloy wheels. The six-cylinder models get 17-inch wheels but most owners will upgrade to the eighteens which, incidentally comes as standard on non-M V8 models. The cabin has come in for a bit of a makeover as well, with materials quality taking a noticeable boost. The latest model gets some higher-quality dash finishes and optional two-tone leathers. There's still not a huge amount of space in the rear, the back seats best reserved for jackets and bags. The boots not a bad size at 300-litres, although it's still a bag or two down on that of the Mercedes SL.
Market and Model
Prices start at almost £70,000 and span up to £100,000 for the missile that is the M6. The trim levels open with the SE model and then step up through M Sport and Sport versions depending on engines, with the M6 at the top of the range. BMW has built a good deal more equipment into the car this time round, with the key item of user technology being ConnectedDrive. This provides full navigation and infotainment facilities, and includes a SIM card which gives the driver access to Concierge Services. This can be tailored to the owner's preferences and includes helpful information such as Real Time Traffic Information, BMW Teleservices and Intelligent Emergency Call. It can even reserve hotel rooms and find flight information, ATM machines and out-of-hours pharmacies. Can you imagine the buyer of an original 6 Series back in the Eighties being told a car could do all that? ConnectedDrive is also linked as standard to the latest version of the BMW Head-Up Display, which projects essential safety and guidance information - from speed limits to navigation instructions - onto the windscreen within the driver's field of vision. In certain circumstances, telephone number lists and entertainment information can also be called up. There's the almost obligatory camera and radar tech, in this instance called the 'Driving Assistant Plus' package, incorporating Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go, Lane Departure Warning and Pedestrian and Collision Warning with Braking.
Cost of Ownership
Agreed, running costs might not be the overwhelming priority when choosing an uber-convertible like the 6 Series, but if there's one thing we've noticed of late, it's that car manufacturers use their efficiency figures like a club to beat each other over the head with. He who gets the best economy per brake horsepower wins. The Germans are very much into this one and the Six is no exception. Whether you choose the TwinPower Turbo six-cylinder or V8 engines, there's the entire suite of BMW EfficientDynamics technologies to save fuel, reduce emissions and help the cars meet EU6 standards. The eight-speed auto has an ultra-high top gear for low-rpm motorway cruising and helps the 640d to emissions as low as 144g/km on the 640d SE, with corresponding 52.3mpg fuel economy. Even the petrol-powered 640i manages a combined 37.2mpg on the combined cycle, which seems incredible given the size of the car and the fact that it'll bludgeon its way through 62mph in just 5.5 seconds. The M6 is rated at 27.4mpg and emits 239g/km.
The issue with pitching itself between the Grand Touring and sports convertible camps is that the BMW M6 has ended up with a whole lot of rivals. Everything from a Mercedes SL to an Audi R8, a Porsche 911 to a Maserati GranCabrio enters the equation when pitched as a possible alternative. There's no way BMW can face down that many disparate contenders. Or can it? What the company has quietly done with this latest car is offer the driver more choices. The petrol-engined cars are now sportier in appeal, whereas the diesels offer a more relaxed feel. The M6 is still a bit of a head scratcher and this is one of those rare instances where the flagship vehicle is the one with the fuzziest appeal. The boost to the interior materials quality and the inclusion of ConnectedDrive as standard are tangible improvements that customers in this category will certainly value. The styling changes aren't going to convince too many floating voters but the 6 Series Convertible remains a class act. There's no convincing best buy in this sector. Decisions will largely come down to brand loyalty but staying true to Munich isn't going to be a bad decision, that's for sure.