The 2006 BMW 6 Series delivers stellar performance, brilliant handling and that arrow-like stability that defines BMW. It's a premium grand touring car and is available as a coupe or convertible.
The 2006 models bring a slight change in 6 Series nomenclature and more of what we like best in this car: power. Thanks to a new engine, the 645Ci Coupe and 645Ci Convertible have become the 650i, respectively. The new 4.8-liter V8 is slightly larger than its predecessor with 10 percent more horsepower and torque. (Apparently 648i didn't have quite the ring as 650i.)
Other changes for 2006 include new wheel designs, new exterior colors and some interesting, if minor, tweaks inside. Active Steering, a high-tech BMW system appreciated by some driving enthusiasts and hated by others, is now a stand-alone option and no longer required as part of the popular Sport Package.
The coupe and convertible are essentially hard- and soft-top versions of the same car. Bristling with the latest technology, they are not simply two-door versions of BMW 5 Series sedans. The 6 Series is a modern interpretation of the classic GT, or Gran Turismo.
While both the coupe and convertible have a back seat that can fit small people in a pinch, they are really intended to move two people and their belongings in high comfort and style, safely, at truly impressive velocity. The 6 Series offers more luxurious accommodations than BMW's Z4 sports car, yet with higher performance, more agility and sportier styling than the 5 Series sports sedans. BMW's corporate design themes, panned by many in recent years, seem to fit better on the long, low 6 Series.
All 6 Series buyers now get complimentary high-performance driving instruction at the BMW Performance Center in South Carolina. It's a nice ownership perk, because the 650i Coupe and 650i Convertible each qualify as an ultimate driving machine, and the chance to try them on a track will be well-appreciated. Yet either can be driven all day in the most mundane driving situations in perfect comfort. These cars might just represent a well-respected automotive marque at its very best circa 2006.
The BMW 650i Coupe ($71,800) and 650i Convertible ($78,800) are nearly identical in temperament and equipment. A slight change in nomenclature for 2006 (both were previously called the 645Ci) reflects an increase in engine size.
The V8 has grown from 4.4 to 4.8 liters, with an increase of 35 horsepower and 30 pound-feet of torque, peaking at 360 in both cases. This engine is packed with the latest in materials and control technology. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, but either a six-speed automatic with the Steptronic manual shift feature or a six-speed sequential manual gearbox (no clutch pedal) is available as a no-cost option.
Both the coupe and convertible come standard with a long list of luxury features, including leather upholstery, a choice of interior trim, dual-zone automatic climate control with air cleaner, a high-power, eight-speaker stereo, xenon adaptive headlamps, moonroof, and BMW's Park Distance Control front and rear park-assist system.
There are three major option groups. The Premium Sound Package ($1,800) includes Logic7 audio with 13 speakers and a six-disc CD changer. The Cold Weather Package ($750) includes heated front seats, a heated steering wheel and a ski bag pass-through from the trunk. The Sport Package ($1,800) adds sport seats and 19-inch wheels with high performance run-flat tires, but no longer includes BMW's Active Steering system.
Standalone options include the Active Steering ($1,250), radar-managed Active Cruise Control ($2,200), satellite radio hardware, ($595) and heated front seats ($500).
The 6 Series comes with the full range of active and passive safety equipment, starting with front and side-impact airbags. The 650i Coupe is also equipped with curtain-style head protection airbags, while the 650i Convertible has automatic rollover protection that deploys high strength roll hoops behind the seats. Accident avoidance features include electronic stability control, ABS with brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution. BMW Assist telematics, with automatic collision notification, an SOS button and roadside assistance, are standard, including a one-year subscription. There's also a really cool first-aid kit in every 6 Series.
The BMW 650i Coupe and 650i Convertible have a new, attractive dual-spoke wheel design for 2006, and new red or blue metallic paint options. Yet 6 Series styling remains essentially as it's been since the car was launched in 2004, and it's an interesting bit of design.
A twin-kidney grille, quad headlamps and other classic cues readily identify the 6 Series cars as BMWs. The 6 Series shares some key elements with BMW's 5 Series sedan, but the 6 was designed from the ground up as a coupe rather than a sedan with two doors welded shut.
This is a classic BMW coupe: The front and rear overhangs (the distance from the wheels to the bumper) are short. The windshield is set back from the hood. The 6 Series cars are shorter than the 5 Series sedans, but they benefit from a relatively long wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear wheels). In short, you suspect these cars handle great just by looking at them.
The turn signals are located above the headlamps, and the headlamps wrap well around the corners to the sides of the car. The grilles take front and center stage with no bumper ledge in front of them. When viewed from overhead, the front corners look rounded, giving the 6 Series a shark nose.
In profile, the lines are sculpted but clean. Side marker lights at the trailing edge of the front wheel wells give the impression of attention to detail. The 6 looks raciest in front three-quarter view, which happens to be our favorite angle on the car.
From the rear, however, the 6 Series cannot be identified as readily. The tail lamps and badge label it as a BMW, but the back end looks different from past BMWs. The tail lamps wrap around to the sides, so there's no precise point where the rear of the car ends and the side begins. As with the new 7 Series sedans, critics don't like the way the rear deck looks somewhat disconnected from the rear fenders. BMW points out that the high deck improves rear grip at high speeds and allows for a big trunk. In any case, this is a tidy, attractive car that looks sporty. It's best in silver and other lighter colors; the design details tend to blend together on darker cars.
There are also some interesting design features that aren't apparent to the eye, starting with extensive use of weight-saving materials. From the windshield forward, the 6 Series' load bearing structure is made of aluminum, just like a commercial airliner's. Its doors and hood are also aluminum; the front fenders and trunk lid are composite materials. The underbody is shrouded in more high-tech plastic, much like the fairing on a crotch rocket-style motorcycle, to improve aerodynamic efficiency.
When the top is up, the roofline of the convertible is nearly identical to that of the coupe. The soft top looks great, featuring a fastback roofline with fins on the trailing edges that frame the rear glass. The rear glass can be raised or lowered like a side window by pressing a button. Replacing a metal roof with a convertible top tends to reduce structural rigidity, so BMW has reinforced the B-pillars and the lower sides of the frame, and built the windshield with an extra-high strength frame. This not only improves rigidity, but adds an extra element of safety in the unlikely event of a rollover.
The 6 Series comes standard with adaptive headlamps that aim toward the inside of a corner as the steering wheel is turned. This helps throw light around a bend, reducing shadows and improving visibility for the driver. Sometimes just that extra moment of warning can make for a safer and more enjoyable drive. The 6 Series also features BMW's adaptive LED brake lights, which illuminate for intensely in a panic stop. This is supposed to convey the gravity of the situation to drivers following when you slam on the brakes, but it presumes they know how to interpret the brighter brake lights.
From the driver's seat, the BMW 6 Series seems to have it all: comfort, luxury, convenience and the ambience of a true high-performance car. Both the coupe and convertible inspire a feeling of control, even a feeling of success, before the car ever leaves the driveway. These cars encourage the driver to take driving seriously.
The 6 Series seats provide excellent support, and they're more comfortable than the ultra-firm seats found in some of BMW's sports packages. Driver and passenger feel safely ensconced in this car, partly because of its high waistline.
Interior materials and finish are generally up to standards expected in this price range. For 2006, the contrasting color (the one that's the same in all 650is, regardless of which color is selected for the seats and carpeting), has been changed from a deep gray to almost pure black. The default trim is a metallic material BMW calls Ruthenium, a hard white metal, and we like the way it looks on the doors and dash. Those who prefer a more traditional look can choose either light or dark stained birch wood at no charge.
For 2006, the 6 Series gets something that BMW has been rolling out across its model line: a Start button. Rather than a conventional key, the 6 now has an electronic cartridge, shaped something like a key fob remote. The cartridge slides into a slot on the dash, and the driver presses a button to the right of the steering column to start or stop the engine.
The gauge cluster features a large tachometer and speedometer framing an LCD box that displays a wide range of information. The package is crisp and legible and, if you like BMW's familiar orange backlighting, quite attractive. The optional Head-Up Display projects speed, navigational information, cruise control status and other data onto the windshield, and can be programmed to show whichever data the driver chooses.
The central feature inside the 6 Series, at least when it comes to operating the stereo, climate controls and other systems, is iDrive. iDrive uses a big knob mounted on the center console to set and adjust the various systems, and for 2006 the knob itself has been reshaped and covered with a leather insert for a softer touch. iDrive works a lot like the mouse on a personal computer, without the arrow. Various functions can be selected by sliding the big knob left or right, forward or aft, turning it to work through menus displayed on a monitor in the center stack, and pressing it down to select options or confirm settings. The system has been simplified somewhat since it was introduced in BMW's 7 Series, and the knob doesn't slide in the diagonal directions. Regardless, we recommend spending some time in the driveway with the owner's manual to master this system. We're not big fans of iDrive. Some owners master it, but we find it too difficult to operate and too distracting from the business of driving.
The back seats will accommodate pre-adolescents on short trips, but will not work for two couples enjoying a night on the town.
The trunk, on the other hand, is relatively large, with room for two sets of golf clubs. The BMW badge on the rear serves as the trunk latch. The lid pops open fully when a button on the key is pressed, handy when running through the rain with an armload of groceries. The 6 Series coupe has a slightly larger trunk (13 cubic feet) than the convertible (12.4 cubic feet), though the convertible's trunk shrinks (to 10.5 cubic feet) when the top is down.
The 2006 BMW 650i's purchase price includes complimentary high-performance driving instruction at the BMW Performance Center in South Carolina. We can't think of a better way to get to know this machine. Some reviewers have complained about BMW's latest high-tech control systems mucking up the purity and driving satisfaction that have long characterized the brand, but we have no such gripes with the 6 Series. This car immediately becomes an extension of the driver, flawlessly executing his or her wishes.
Put simply, the BMW 650i is smooth and precise. It's easy to drive, always poised, and satisfying to drive at a brisk pace. The ride is taut but not harsh. It's easy to modulate the brakes and throttle and the steering is sharp. All the important controls work cohesively, making for a smooth driving experience.
The engine is silky smooth and tractable for easy going around town or in stop-and-go traffic. Yet you're rewarded with immediate response whenever you press down on the accelerator, and the reward is a bit more lavish for 2006. BMW has bumped displacement in the 6 Series engine from 4.4 to 4.8 liters, increasing the output to 360 horsepower and 360 pound feet of torque. The 32-valve V8 benefits from Valvetronic variable valve timing and variable lift, which allows an impressive combination of low-rev, off-the-line acceleration and free-breathing, high-rev horsepower. The V8's breathing is controlled entirely by the valves. (Technically, there is no throttle, so the pedal on the right is more accurately called an accelerator.) It's a fascinating engine for engineers and car buffs, but the bottom line is that there's loads of power throughout the rev range, so the 650i responds immediately in any situation. It's also an efficient engine, so energy is channeled into fuel-efficient power. The engine sounds great, emitting a guttural roar under hard acceleration through its nicely tuned exhaust system. Response is impressive in either the coupe or convertible, though convertible drivers enjoy those sweet engine sounds a little more intimately.
Of the three transmissions available, we recommend the six-speed automatic, unless you're a serious enthusiast, in which case we recommend the six-speed manual. We're not big fans of the SMG. The automatic is smooth around town and very responsive for spirited driving. In fact, a 650i with the automatic is nearly as quick as a well-driven 650i with the manual. As with all BMW automatics, it offers a Sport setting that moves shift points to higher revs for increased response. The Steptronic manual mode allows the driver to shift manually, imparting some of the same involvement as a manual. We found little need to shift into the manual mode, however, because the transmission always selected the right gear in automatic mode. The manual gearbox is smooth, precise and easy to shift, with easy clutch pedal effort. It's an excellent choice, unless a driver spends hours daily in stop-and-go traffic. The sequential manual gearbox, or SMG, is the essentially same transmission as the manual, but it operates the clutch electronically, eliminating the clutch pedal. Though we've enjoyed the SMG in the M3, the version in the 650i shifts too slowly and takes away some of the joy of driving this car.
The 650i offers a nice balance of ride and handling. Though taut, it doesn't beat up your passenger on rippled highways. The springs and shocks are firmer than those in the standard 5 Series sedans, and the 6 Series cars ride lower. A 650i is absolutely joyful on a winding highway, as we discovered on some mountain roads near Santa Barbara. Handling is precise, with a superb self-centering feel to the steering. The 6 can be driven very hard into tight corners, and it tracks through high-speed turns like it's on rails. The suspension is tuned to minimize undesirable behavior when braking hard, accelerating hard, or lifting off the
Coupe or convertible, the BMW 6 Series offers a combination of comfort, luxury, sportiness, great performance and ease of operation that's hard to beat. The 650i delivers excellent handling, exhilarating acceleration and supreme stability, and it comes with the latest active safety features. It's not a four-seater, however, it's a 2+2; the rear seat might better be described as a pet or package shelf. If seating for four is not a priority, the biggest decision with the 650i is choosing between the coupe and the convertible. You can't go wrong there.
NewCarTestDrive.com editor Mitch McCullough filed this report from Beverly Hills.
|Model Line Overview|
|Base Price (MSRP)|
|BMW 650i Coupe ($71,800); 650i Convertible ($78,800)|
|4.8-liter dohc 32-valve V8|
|6-speed manual; 6-speed automatic with Steptronic; 6-speed sequential manual gearbox (SMG)|
|Safety equipment (Standard):|
|two-stage front-impact airbags; front seat side-impact airbags; front safety belt tensioners and force limiters; automatic-locking retractors on all safety belts and Isofix attachments for child restraint seats; Dynamic Stability Control skid-management electronics; ABS with electronic brake proportioning and dynamic brake control; BMW Assist telematics with automatic collision notification and SOS button|
|Safety equipment (Optional):|
|head protection airbags (standard on coupe); rollover protection system (standard on convertible)|
|4 years/ 50,000 miles|
|Specifications As Tested|
|Model tested (MSRP):|
|BMW 645Ci Coupe ($71,800)|
|automatic dual-zone climate control with micron air filter; Dakota leather upholstery; moonroof; rain-sensing wipers; Park Distance Control obstacle sensing front and rear with graphic display; heated windshield washer jets; AM/FM/CD with 8 speakers; voice command system; power windows with one-touch operation; 12-way power driver's seat with 4-way power lumbar; three-position memory for driver's seat, steering wheel and outside mirrors; power tilt/telescopic leather-wrapped steering wheel with multi-function controls; universal garage door opener; cruise control; Dynamic Driving Control with normal and sport modes; flat tire monitor|
|Options as tested:|
|Sport Package ($1,800) includes sport seats, 19-inch sport wheels with performance run-flat tires and Shadowline high-gloss exterior trim; Active Steering ($1,250)|
|Gas Guzzler Tax:|
|Price as tested (MSRP)|
|4.8-liter dohc 32v V8|
|Horsepower (hp @ rpm):|
|360 @ 6300|
|Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm):|
|360 @ 3400|
|EPA fuel economy, city/hwy:|
|Head/hip/leg room, f:|
|Head/hip/leg room, m:|
|Head/hip/leg room, r:|
|13.0 cu. ft.|
|245/40WR19 / 275/35WR19 run-flat performance|
|vented disc/vented disc with ABS Dynamic Stability Control, electronic brake proportioning, dynamic brake control in.|