(c) 2013, Bloomberg News.
(c) 2013, Bloomberg News.
I pull a 2014 BMW M6 Gran Coupe, costing $131,000, into a New Jersey parking lot next to a rare $173,000 Audi R8 convertible supercar.
My four-door BMW is brilliantly blue, very beautiful and bad to the bone. I return an hour later to find the owners of the exotic R8 crouching next to it, checking out the shiny alloy rims. They are apparently in agreement.
"Tell me this car is yours," exclaims one. "It is awesome." They rhapsodize about the size of the wheels (20 inches), the horsepower (560) and zero to 60 speed (4.1 seconds). I try to steer the conversation to the R8 Spyder, one of my favorite convertibles, but no. It is the BMW they are entranced with.
I totally understand. This is the most gorgeous, desirable car from BMW in a long time. And since it's got four doors, the Gran Coupe gets a dose of practicality, too.
BMW's lineup is bewildering. The company's strategy of filling up every bit of white space in the market has given us any number of odd offerings, from the X6 crossover thing to brand-new i3 electric runabout.
The Gran Coupe is based off of the 6 Series, which is itself a niche car. The regular 6 is long and low, with two doors and back seats. It's a sensual object, long on style but short on utility, bought by the kind of driver who can name- check obscure fashion designers and star architects.
The 6 Series Gran Coupe ($78,000), counter-intuitively adds two side doors to the already sedan-like profile, officially making it a sedan.
(I won't even get into the Gran Coupe's ludicrous name, as by definition a coupe has two doors. BMW long ago exempted itself from a coherent naming strategy with models like the Z4 sDrive35is.)
The M6 Gran Coupe — stay with me — is the high-powered M version of the 6 Series Gran Coupe, with a headier engine, re- tuned suspension, bigger brakes and more aggressive body panels. Starting at $115,000, including a $1,000 gas guzzler tax, it is niche upon niche upon niche.
Almost 16 and a half feet long and 6.8 feet wide, the M6 Gran Coupe takes up a sizable footprint. The classic double- kidney grill is set above a trio of air-gulping intakes and headlamps located in the extreme top corners.
The really good stuff happens along the side profile, where you get a sense of leanness and length. The double doors fill out the body in a pleasing way, with the rear door opening just ahead of the back wheel.
A vertical crease runs through the body and door handles; the skin sucks into the body below that. It is dramatic and interesting, full of tension that relieves itself as your eye skirts to the rear. If only Maserati was making cars as pretty these days.
The black carbon-fiber roof emphasizes the narrow strip of medal skimming over the top of the side windows. My test car was painted "San Marino," a crackling blue that shows off the lines to best effect. White has been the en-vogue color for too long, perhaps the result of the recession and car buyers not wanting to draw unwanted attention. Take one look at this shade and you'll think: Enough. Color is good.
There's plenty of leg room and decent headroom in back for two passengers. Trunk space is only adequate.
There's a reason a buyer is going for the M model: speed and power. BMW has long offered a speedy sedan — the M5. The M6 directly competes with it, sharing the same 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8 with 502 pound-feet of torque.
The engine makes fine sounds when properly abused, and the car feels more like a hot rod than luxury sedan. My car had a splendid six-speed manual attached. How nice it is to use a clutch! Otherwise a seven-speed double-clutch automated manual is standard.
My test car also had carbon-ceramic brakes, an unnecessary $9,250 upcharge unless you're taking it to the racetrack (which you wouldn't). Like every 6 Series I've driven, the Gran Coupe is uncomfortable on very narrow roads, owing to its size and the inability to see the side fenders from the driver's seat. Also, given the sport suspension and big tires, the ride is punishing over rough pavement.
The car's speed and power may be the least interesting things about it. I couldn't stop thinking about the exterior, so I stopped in a bank parking lot to take another look.
A bank manager, a self-professed car lover, came outside to take a look. He called inside the bank, and soon we were joined by several co-workers who shared his passion.
I marveled at their interest. I've never been in a BMW that attracted more attention, or whose obscure specifications people knew so much about.
"The M6!" one young woman exclaimed. "It's got 560 horsepower, right?"