BMW's 6 Series makes elegant sense in improved four-door Gran Coupe form. Jonathan Crouch tries it
Ten Second Review
It took BMW a long time to develop an entrant in the Mercedes CLS-Class-dominated four-door executive coupe segment but their 6 Series Gran Coupe proved to be well worth the wait. Elegant, beautifully finished and astonishingly efficient, it's very impressive indeed, provided that your concept of coupe motoring is that of grand touring rather than grand tyre-smoking gestures. An expensive indulgence? Perhaps. But a very desirable one, especially in the smarter, more efficient guise we look at here.
BMW is a fiendishly smart company in the field of engineering but it's rarely first to the punch when it comes to cars that break new ground. Perhaps that doesn't matter. The important issue, after all, isn't who arrives first in the ring. It's who's left standing at the end. This Munich maker invariably is, having sized up the opposition and delivered a knock-out punch. Such is the case with this car, the 6 Series Gran Coupe, a premium four-door coupe that didn't make it here until the Summer of 2012, seven long years after Mercedes had pioneered the concept for the modern era with their CLS and two years after Audi and Porsche had copied it, respectively with the A7 Sportback and the Panamera. Now it's been usefully improved, with greater efficiency, extra equipment, smarter looks and sportier-sounding petrol engines. A class leader then? Let's find out.
The are no real changes under the bonnet for this improved model, though all the engines have been made slightly more efficient and the engineers have provided a rortier-sounding sports exhaust system for petrol models. So how does the 6 Series Gran Coupe drive? BMW engineers reckon that the longer wheelbase makes it more stable but I think you'd have to be on a test track to really notice any difference between this car and its coupe stablemate. So yes, that car feels exactly like this one, quite a compliment given that the existing second generation 6 Series two-door model is very good to drive indeed, provided you don't expect it to be an out-and-out sportscar. That BMW doesn't really shrink around you and neither does this one: hardly surprising perhaps, given that it's over five metres long, something you're reminded of every time you glance in the rear view mirror and realise just how far away the back window is. If it wasn't for that, you could probably kid yourself you were in the two door coupe for though the centre console has been reconfigured, the basic dash layout is otherwise very similar, with much the same cosy, rather intimate feel up front and an agreeably low slung driving position. And under the bonnet? Well, BMW will sell you a trio of petrol powerplants, a twin-turbo 320bhp 3.0-litre V6 and also a turbocharged 4.4-litre 450bhp V8 unit, plus the fearsome 560bhp engine used in the flagship M6 variant. The reality is though, that almost all British buyers will give them little more than a cursory glance on their way to sign up for the 313bhp 640d diesel.
Design and Build
Not all recent BMW designs have been really elegant - but this one is. Here, we've an executive saloon on a casual dress-down day, a car with all the proportions of a classic Grand Touring coupe, yet most of the spaciousness you'd find in a luxury four-door. Styling changes to the front of this improved version include smarter LED headlights, a BMW kidney grille that now features nine bars where previously it had 10 and a single, full-width air intake in the restyled apron. At the rear, this 6 Series now appears wider thanks to a horizontal chrome bumper insert which aims to draw attention to the wide rear track. Six-cylinder models also have 10mm larger chrome tailpipe embellishers in enlarged cut-outs and re-styled side mirrors improve the car's aerodynamic properties and contain slim horizontal indicator strips. Finally, the the side window surround has been revised and houses a black painted aluminium section with raised "Gran Coupe" lettering at the foot of the Hofmeister kink on the C-pillar. Inside, the standard leather dashboard with contrast stitching - previously an option on all but the M Sport versions - is an immediate clue to the enhanced quality and luxury of this revised range. Plus there's a modern, stylish high-gloss black finish on the centre console around the switches for the climate control system and audio system. This contemporary look complements the iDrive system's more precise Control Display with its chromed surround, the slicker multi-functional instrument panel and the LED lights to illuminate the footwells, door openings and glovebox. Dakota, Nappa or Merino leather trim is standard. As before, there's also a usefully sized boot. This boasts a volume of 460-litres, slightly more than a Panamera but less than an A7 or a CLS, a figure you can extend with a through-loading hatch for longer items, or fold the rear seat backs forward to free up as much as 1,265-litres of total space.
Market and Model
Pricing for this 6 Series Gran Coupe sits in the £60,000 to £70,000 bracket - though the top M6 requires a £95,000 budget. Overall, that mainstream pricing approach means a model-for-model premium of around £1,800 over the Coupe bodystyle. With that in mind, we can't see too many potential 6 Series customers going the two-door route. Whichever 6 Series Gran Coupe model you choose - the 320bhp V6 petrol 640i, the 313bhp six cylinder diesel 640d, the 450bhp V8 petrol 650i or the 560bhp petrol M6, you'll find your car to be as well equipped as you'd have a right to expect for this kind of money. So included are lovely alloy wheels, park distance control front and rear, xenon headlights, Dakota leather upholstery with heated front seats, electric steering adjustment, 2-zone climate control, a high quality USB-compatible stereo and a 10.2-inch colour flatscreen infotainment system via which you can select Bluetooth for your phone and operate the sat nav system. This car also gets an updated version of BMW's 'ConnectedDrive' system, via which, on the move, drivers can access news and information from the internet and SMS and are able to receive locations and notes sent to the car. As for safety stuff, well the absence of curtain airbags is surprising, but otherwise, there are all the expected airbags and electronic assistance features for braking, traction and stability control.
Cost of Ownership
As for efficiency, well it's really not bad at all given that here we're talking about a five-metre-long car with over 300bhp under the bonnet. A Gran Coupe weighs between 70 and 90kg more than the Coupe model but that extra bulk seems to have made very little difference to running cost figures which are pretty astonishing for something weighing 1.85 tonnes. Even the petrol 640i returns 37.7mpg on the combined cycle and 174g/km of CO2 but of course, that's nowhere near as good as the diesel 640d. This diesel carries an extra 40kgs of weight but even so, delivers 52.3mpg on the combined cycle and 143g/km of carbon dioxide. Think about that for a moment. A car of this size and power getting what would have been a creditable economy figure for a supermini not so very long ago. The rival Mercedes CLS 350 BlueTEC, a car with an engine that puts out 55bhp less, can only just match these figures. Small wonder that BMW's engine technology is widely perceived to be the very best in the business. You'll need to have the Drive Performance Control set to the 'ECO PRO' mode to get these kinds of returns of course, a setting that'll also give you a series of efficiency driving coaching tips (whether you want them or not).
Of all the motivations you might have for spending over £60,000 on a luxury car, perhaps the most important is the need for it to make you feel special. And that's exactly how you'll feel with one of these in your driveway. It's what sets this executive four-door coupe apart from the BMW 7 Series saloon you could have for the same sort of money. And it's also what makes this a rarer, more exclusive choice than a rival Mercedes CLS or Audi A7 and a more beautifully resolved design than the only other direct alternative, Porsche's Panamera. It all means that this improved 6 Series Gran Coupe continues to bear all the hallmarks of a product that's been better thought through than any of its competitors. It's a pity that you have to spend quite so much on the options list to make it into the 'ultimate driving machine' the Munich maker's ads promise but at least the dynamics are as efficient as the marketing would lead you to believe, this car delivering a set of running costs that the competition can't match. Is the best car BMW makes right now? There are many who would say so. And the best four-door premium coupe? Yes, that as well.