Sunday, April 14, 2013

BMW M6 Convertible - a Supercar for a Special Occasion

Photo: Victor Llana, Boundless Captures Photography
After more than 21 years of testing cars, I knew I was approaching a milestone -- the 1,000th car! With this in mind, I approached one of my two fleets to try to get something special to commemorate the occasion. They came through big time, with the BMW M6 Convertible. My week with it was everything I hoped for.

Cars, at their essence, are about mobility -- transporting yourself, your family, your friends and your stuff around. Of course you want some comfort, some entertainment, and some functionality, but beyond that, it's all gravy. Depending on what you can afford and your personal tastes, you can pilot a humble Kia Rio hatchback or a Rolls-Royce Phantom.

The M6 is somewhere in the middle. No BMW is an inexpensive economy car, but the M6 sits high in the lineup. Based on the midsize 5 series chassis, its a low-slung coupe with a set of rear seats that are mostly for show and grocery bags. The driver and front seat passenger, once they lower themselves in, are treated royally.

The M designation comes from BMW's Motorsports program. Various M cars have delivered high-performance racecars and upgraded road cars since 1972. The first M6 goes back to 2005, but there have been and still are a range of M vehicles in different sizes and shapes for sale today, including the esteemed M3 compact sedan. All are highly prized.

If power is a differentiator, the M6 has gobs of it. Its 4.4-liter V8, with twin scroll turbochargers, puts out a whopping 560 horsepower and 502 lb.-ft. of torque. This vortex of power applies itself to the road through a seven-speed automatic and standard 19-inch alloy wheels. You can order 20-inchers if that's not enough for you. The automatic provides paddles on the steering column for manual gear selection.

It's easy to find yourself moving much too fast, so the head-up display shows your speed as two (or three) digits floating somewhere ahead of you on the road. The gauges themselves are classic circles on a flat panel -- a no-nonsense approach appropriate to a sports car. The speedometer goes up to 200 mph. I didn't even get halfway there during my test, although you could certainly make it well into the second hundred given enough closed road or racetrack opportunities.

The car sounds great as you roll along and push that handsome right pedal, but it's not overwhelming or distracting. I found that I used the accelerator carefully so as not to jump ahead in the typical in-town and freeway commute traffic I got stuck in much of the time.

As a special car, the M6 got my top-line treatment. I took Victor Llana, my ace photographer, to the Pacific Ocean beach for a photo session. We got a field of yellow mustard on the landward side and crashing surf on the other. With the top down, the sleek body looks just right against sea and sky -- and contrasts well with the bright yellow of the floral backdrop.

My tester wore a special, limited edition paint called Frozen Silver Metallic. It's one of a special category of flat, matte-finish coatings that you normally see on show cars. Certain Mercedes-Benz and Audi models are now available in this surface. It is mighty impressive, but my research turned up a caveat: you can't apply normal wax or rub out imperfections, so you have to baby-sit the paint diligently. At the first bird dropping, get out that soft, damp cloth and remove it. I'd think a garage and car cover would be a necessity.

The M6 provides awesome power and performance. The official 0-60 time from BMW is 4.3 seconds. A test in the May 2013 issue of Car and Driver recorded 3.8 seconds. That's mighty quick.

Besides this stunning acceleration, you can also alter the way your car performs using little buttons along the wide center console, next to the panel below the shifter. Adjust the steering feel and the suspension to Comfort, Sport or Sport Plus. The acceleration you can set in Sport, Sport Plus or Efficient.

I played with combinations of these settings and found that for freeway travel and around town, Sport, the default setting, was just fine. When I traversed the gorgeous Highway 84 snaking trail across the San Francisco Peninsula after our photo shoot, I dialed in Sport Plus and it tightened up the steering to make a small effort move the car more quickly, with more feedback and a firmer effort needed.

My 9th test car, March 1992. It's a Chevy Lumina LTZ.
Twenty-one years of driving a different car every week has made me acutely sensitive to the feeling you get from sitting behind a wheel, looking out the windshield and sensing the cabin around you. As a BMW, the M6 is not frilly or fussy, but the materials are fine and well crafted, and the design shows a strong hand. You can feel the value and worth in the car, but unlike some other brands, particularly the Japanese upscale brands, the design is not swirly or overdone. It says, "I know I'm a BMW" -- no bones about it.

High-priced cars often feature wood trim, and BMW has that in some of its models. My tester, however, featured genuine carbon fiber, a silvery fabric weave, presented behind an apparently thick coat of protective plastic. It toned in perfectly with the black and gray interior scheme.

Fuel economy is a big point for many buyers, and you wouldn't expect a 4,500-pound car with a huge engine to be economical. In fact, the M6 is hit with a $1,300 Gas Guzzler tax on top of its jaw-dropping price. However, in my test week, over several hundred miles, I averaged 19.3 miles per gallon. The EPA says 14 City, 20 Highway, 16 Combined. I beat the numbers this time. The EPA Green Vehicle ratings show a Smog number of 5 and a Greenhouse Gas figure of just 3. No real surprise there. If you order up the manual transmission, you'll improve the Greenhouse Gas number to a 4 and add 1 mpg to the fuel economy numbers.

As a convertible, the M6 gives you the sky and the stars in just about 20 seconds. Like any upscale drop-top, all it takes is holding down a tiny switch on the console. The windows drop, the rear tonneau cover opens up, the top unlatches from the windshield header and gently folds into the space below the rear seats, the cover settles down over it, and the system beeps to tell you it's done.

BMW used a soft top for this car. One of my friends questioned this, but it makes for a lighter, more compact top and leaves some (but not a lot) of trunk space for a soft suitcase or two.

I enjoyed the car immensely and felt like I had a special week driving it. However, I would never be able to afford one. The base price of the M6 Convertible, with delivery and Gas Guzzler penalty, comes to $116,845. Despite being loaded with top-level equipment, including a 20-way adjustable driver's seat and a 12-speaker, 500-watt  audio system that uses a wide 10.2-inch screen, the M6 can be further enhanced with options. See your banker before you visit the dealer.

I'm already finishing up test car number 1,001, but I'll never forget this BMW M6.

See my video review for the Castro Valley Auto Show on Castro Valley TV.


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