BMW has come late to the party of large four-door coupes, but the 6-series Gran Coupe is here now. David Thomson gets behind the wheel to see if it has been worth the wait.
Luxury cars that seek to deliver the once rare combination of saloon-car practicality with the visual pizzazz of a coupe, are very much the ''in thing'' in the modern automotive world: Mercedes-Benz has had its CLS for almost a decade now, and Audi with the A7, Jaguar with the XF, and Porsche with the Panamera have all followed suit.
Now it is BMW's turn to enter the fray, with a four-door version of the 6-series. Hitting our roads two years after the conventional coupe and convertible versions of the latest 6-series, and tagged the Gran Coupe, this new machine is to all intents and purposes a long-wheelbase version of the standard coupe. As one would expect, the wheelbase stretch (113mm) provides room for two rear doors, which give access to genuinely usable rear seats.
Two models are on offer. The opening gambit is the 640d, powered by a 230kW/630Nm turbo-diesel and listing at $199,200. The model supplied for appraisal was, however, the flagship 650i, which features 330kW/650Nm bi-turbo 4.4-litre petrol V8 power. The test car included almost $30K of extras, lifting the price from the usual $224,500 to $254,450.
Most would agree the Gran Coupe passes the crucial attractiveness test. To my eyes it is not only drop-dead gorgeous but also more elegantly proportioned than the standard 6-series coupe.
The test car looked particularly fine in its unusual Frozen Gray paint finish. First introduced as a limited edition hue on the M3 in 2011, Frozen Gray has a clear-coat matte finish applied on top of the regular paint. It's a $7000 option on the Gran Coupe.
Climbing aboard, the prospect from the front seats is almost identical to the 6-series coupe; you sit low, in snug, supportive BMW sports seats with all the usual adjustments (including my favourite, adjustable under-thigh support). Sweeping across the cabin, the dashboard sets the tone for the
whole interior with its clean lines and high standard of stitched leather finish.
Not surprisingly given the price, there is a generous array of standard equipment. Among the many items, the surround-view camera system proved especially helpful when parking a car that does not offer great close-quarters visibility.
In addition to the special paint scheme, key extras in the test car were nappa leather upholstery ($3850), an M-Sport performance package ($5500) and the latest and best Bang and Olufsen audio system ($9900). Both the audio system and its seamless wireless interface with my iPod were outstanding.
Access to the rear of the cabin is certainly easier than in a conventional coupe, but the rear doors are smaller than those of a saloon, and one also needs to drop under the plunging roofline to get into the back seats.
BMW has made an interesting choice of rear seat configuration, opting for a two plus very occasional one arrangement. Aside from being a little tight for foot-room, the outboard rear seats provide decent space for adults. The middle rear seat, though, is a raised platform, and those who
use it must sit awkwardly, with one leg either side of the centre console.
Boot space, meanwhile, is an excellent 460 litres, and is compromised only by the relatively high boot lip and small load aperture.
Grand touring is all about long-distance travel in style, so it was fitting that the cornerstone of this test was a weekend run from Dunedin to Queenstown and back. The opening leg of the trip involved some unexpected pressure, as a late flight arrival into Dunedin meant that we were tight for time getting to an immovable engagement at the Queenstown end.
Like all great luxury cars, the 650i Gran Coupe impressed immediately for its ability to relax its occupants; to such an extent in fact, that the probable late arrival at our destination no longer loomed as the stress-inducing annoyance it had upon stepping off the plane. Better yet, with all that available performance, there was every chance that as well as being more relaxing than expected, the trip was going to be quicker than allowed for too.
With all that power and torque on tap, the 650i is every bit as rapid as you would hope (or dare hope). BMW's official figure for the 0-100kmh sprint is just 4.6sec, and its acceleration out of corners or when overtaking is equally impressive. The 650i is also supremely smooth, both in the
feel and sound of its engine, and in the way the motor's power and torque is delivered to the rear wheels via its eight-speed automatic transmission.
Those after nimble sports-car like handling would be best advised to look at smaller models in the BMW range. However, if an assured, well-balanced and supremely confident big-car feel is what you are after, the 650i delivers this in spades, more often than not with an agility better than its considerable size and weight would suggest.
Of the various user-selectable drive modes on offer, sport mode is certainly the best for Otago highways, sharpening up the chassis (as well as steering, throttle and transmission responses) without having too much of an adverse impact on comfort.
Indeed, it was the ability of the test car - riding on 20-inch wheels and low-profile rubber - to deliver a decently cossetting ride on less than perfect surfaces that finally topped the long list of things that impressed about this car.
Combine that with low levels of wind roar and an engine with a delightful burble roused by serious throttle work, and the 650i Gran Coupe passes muster as a high-performance luxury car every bit as good to travel in as it is to drive.
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