Tuesday 16th May 2006


BMW M6

Nick Hall grabs the brutally efficient machine by the scruff of its neck.

BMW M6
BMW M6

The superbike rider tried so hard to make up the gap, scraping into bends on his knee, rolling back out and gunning the throttle, popping the front end into the air. It was fun, for a while, but all things must come to an end so, with a small push on a discreet button, the BMW M6 blasted into the distance as trees cowered from the noise. Game over.

It was a chilling display of the almighty, crushing power on offer from Munichís latest Bahn-stŁrmer, which dumped one of the fastest machines on wheels with absolute contempt.

Engine-led

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The five-litre V10 installed here and in the bay of the M5 has gained more column inches than Brooklyn Beckham and already secured yet another Engine of the Year Award for the Roundel. Offering 400bhp during quiet moments of introspection and the full 507 stamping horses in ĎPowerí mode. Thatís more than 100bhp/litre, for those struggling with the maths.

Itís a rev-happy engine with the peak power coming high up and 383lb/ft of torque is a figure bettered by the 535d, but pushed anywhere near its stratospheric 8250rpm redline this car pulls like a bullet train. And it sounds fantastic, yes the V10 resembles a clanking diesel at start-up, but punch a few revs through the system and the dramatic baritone lets fly with both lungs through the twin-chamber exhaust and four exit pipes. In the M6, blasting through tunnels at speed is more-ish, in the same way as crack cocaine.

And the acceleration is frankly daft, especially if you flatten the gas and then push the steering wheel-mounted M button to release the full stampede. Leave the traction control firmly on and this beast will hit 62mph in 4.6 seconds, 125mph in just 14 seconds and, without the pesky limiter cutting in at the standard 155mph, would crack the 200mph mark in comfort. It doesnít take any skill at all, either: this is car that can impose its authority with a shaved monkey at the wheel.

Ultimate driving electrickery?

Like Debbie McGhee [who? Ed.], the engine mates with an even bigger bag of tricks: that seven-speed sequential. Now I still maintain it was a mistake not to offer a clutch pedal and gearbox, but it looks like the tri-pedal system is heading the way of Mr Danielsí card tricks after David Blaine presented public liver failure as magic.

Somehow, a six-speed H-pattern just isnít good enough for the masses anymore, so itís time to stop whining and embrace the new world. Niche cars will continue to offer the full-bore driving experience, but this is the future and, judged purely on its relative merit, and in full attack mode, the seven-speed SMG is as good as any -- right up there with the new Messiah that is the Audi DSG.

This is no tarted up auto, itís a full-bore manual purpose-built for the paddles and will change in approximately 0.00001 per cent of the time it takes us to stir a manual box -- probably. The engine blips on the downchange and 11 different settings take the box from a racing set-up to fully automated Ďsoftí changes.

The auto mode seizes control of the car for what feels like seconds at a time, though, and progress is smoother in a broken lift. Itís absolutely at its best when cranked right up to frenetic mode, and the day that flexing a finger is simply too much effort will be a sad one indeed Ė unless youíre Stephen Hawking, of course.

Heíd love the M6, which is a technical masterclass,. festooned as it is with buttons and sub-menus on the iDrive that gets easier with practice and has probably taken more of a kicking than it truly deserves from journalists expecting to figure it out in the first minute of operation.

And everyone loves launch control does, though, which gets this car to its maximum velocity from a standing start in the shortest possible time without any meaningful input beyond pushing a few buttons and flattening the throttle. Itís so savage that the gearbox should be reduced to expensive scrap metal by the end of the first run.

Would you drive one?

The target market is the 45-year-old executive, who should have grown out of such things, but you just donít. Itís the ultimate showoff, leaving a manually operated Ferrari in the rear view while shuffling through Cherís Greatest Hits Ė or whatever 45-year-old executives listen to these days.

But we know all this. The technology is already here, for £20,000 less, in the BMW M5, and that car comes with four real seats. So why buy an M6 with its token rear seats?

Well this is the more hardcore version. Suggesting that the 5 is in some way deficient is ridiculous but, with the shorter, lower 6 Series, BMW has gone to work in CSL-style, with a carbon-fibre roof and other appendages combining with a plastic boot panel.

At 1,710kg itís lighter than the M5, but more importantly much of the weight has come from high up in the frame Ė bringing inherent handling advantages. This is a car that will bite even harder into bends than the M5 that provided a shock and awe approach to cornering skills for such a heavy car itself. Thereís even a liberal dousing of carbon-fibre on the interior, just to remind you that this is the fast one.

The balance for such a big machine is prodigious, and the fat ballet dancer advert offered by another manufacturer would have been far more appropriate here.†

GT or 911-killer?

It was never going to beat the 911 that the major mags hurled it into battle with, though. The Porsche is a more visceral driving experience, is lighter and so much smaller it could hide in the BMWís shadow; putting them together did this car a great disservice.

Had they pitched this car into war with the Vanquish S, Bentley Continental GT and even more exotic fare, though, it would have walked the contest on capability and value-for-money grounds. It doesnít have the badge or the style to match the competitors, itís a bit of clubbing bruiser in that company, but itís better than any of them on pure merit. In that context the M6ís near-offensive fuel consumption becomes perfectly reasonable, too.

As the M3 is a practical and relatively cheap sportscar, so the M6 is a reliable and value-packed Grand Tourer, it shouldnít even be considered in the same company as big power Mercedes and Audis, which are to this car what a ZX81 is to a lunar shuttle. The fact that it routs its immediate competition, can take the fight to cars in a supposedly higher stratosphere and comes so close the more focused 911 is no failure Ė itís a monumental achievement and marks this car out as one of the very best all-rounders in the world.

That monstrous engine is heavy and a lap of a wet Bruntingthorpe circuit while awaiting the arrival of Nobleís M15 proved revealed gentle understeer that can comfortably be balanced on the throttle. It bites significantly harder than the M5, though, and wonít slip wide until preposterous speeds have been reached.

Once sideways, the M6 belies its weight and slides with ease. Of course we wouldnít condone such things but, in the dry, the BMW will burn its tyres with reckless abandon, and in the damp it was actually easier to† slide than the much lighter Noble.

The best there is?

But the truth is, despite its supercar-challenging speeds, itís not that kind of car, it will spend 99.9 per cent of its life simply despatching corners, straight lines and superbikes with ruthless efficiency.

An extra 50bhp and a tenth off the 0-60mph time would help justify the price premium over the M5, but then thatís a job for the impending CSL. And those in this kind of market are unlikely to be swayed by the wedge of extra cash, or the impractical rear seats, they simply want the best there is for fast, comfortable travel.

And at this moment in time, that really is the BMW M6.†

Author: Nick Hall