Posted Jun 22nd 2012 11:57AM
With the dust just settling on recent tests of the BMW M6 convertible and the start of North American ordered deliveries scheduled in late May, we now get to attack some traffic-free Spanish two-lanes and the 5.5-kilometer (3.4-mile) track at the Ascari Race Resort in the third-generation, or F12, BMW M6 coupe, which sells for the "discount" price of just US$106,995 (pricing in Canada hasn't been announced yet).
Let's cut to the chase a bit: The M6 coupe is far more convincing as a big M car with this bi-turbo V8 powertrain than either the M6 convertible or M5 four-door.
Of these three 560-horsepower platform-sharing M cars, it's definitely this sleek coupe that takes home the prize on dynamics. It's some 65 pounds lighter than the M5 and almost 290 pounds lighter than the convertible M6, so just on those numbers, one would certainly hope for a crisper, more responsive road and track manner.
Almost as a way of driving home this chief difference between the intentions of the coupe and convertible, BMW dressed all of the M6 coupes we were testing in both the optional five-spoke 20-inch forged M wheels and big lightweight optional carbon ceramic brake discs. The convertibles on hand at this European drive event all had standard 19-inchers and compound discs. And thus the drop tops were not allowed on the track at all, and that felt right.
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BMW is fully aware of the delicate balance it needs to strike with these big showpieces. Munich handed down orders a few years back that these new muscle beach Bimmers needed to err more on the everyday-driver grand touring side of the equation. They make buckets of profit on each unit sold and so they want to shift more units. Makes sense.
But have they lost something during the evolution of these cars? Though all M cars are closer to true passion than most Audi RS quattro setups, and Mercedes' AMG and Cadillac's V cars are right there with the BMWs, the latest M5 and M6 convertible have only slightly impressed us whereas the previous generation with its naturally aspirated 5.0-litre V10 just blew us away.
When prior to this could we lump so many others
in with the likes of a BMW M5 or M6?
These days we can also see fit to mention the Jaguar XKR and XKR-S, Nissan GT-R, and even seriously throw in the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 and Ford GT500 Shelby Mustang. When prior to this could we lump so many others in with the likes of a BMW M5 or M6? (If we testers and car fans everywhere are not loving all of this these days, then we're all hopelessly numb.)
With the E60 M5, the M treatment really saved the overly busy Chris Bangle design for the 5 Series sedan. That same argument can be made here with the F12 M6 coupe, which really benefits from filling out and pumping up versus the base 6 Series. With the carbon-fiber reinforced plastic roof adding a slick two-tone feel to the exterior and the roof's Zagato-esque double bubble form, the M6 coupe also wins in the aesthetics department versus its current siblings.
Between the M6's shorter 112.2-inch wheelbase versus the M5, slightly wider tracks, lower center of gravity, denser chassis bushings, and that lower weight, the M6 coupe did exactly what we wanted around a demanding track and on the equally demanding sweepers along the so-called "Ronda Road". There's a way to drive a heavier-set GT with buckets of turbocharged torque from low revs, and the M6 relishes the part.
In acceleration, the new M6 is a tenth of a second quicker than the V10-powered generation, coming in at 4.1 seconds.
In acceleration, the F12/F13 generation M6 models are a tenth of a second quicker than the V10-powered generation, coming in at 4.1 seconds in the coupe to get to 60 mph (96 km/h) while using launch control. With the two twin-scroll turbocharged V8, torque improves some 32 per cent up to 502 pound-feet. The new gen does suffer in comparison with the older gen when distances reach a quarter mile or more, this being due to the rabid high-revving peak of the former M6 at over 8,000 rpm. Max revs here get to 7,200 rpm and max power hits between 6,000 and 7,000.
But it's while playing around in the wide meat of the rev cycle – literally from about 1,500 on up to nearly 7,000 revs – where we noticed the huge advantage of this new setup versus the former. The useable rev band in this M6 is essentially three times broader than anything the E63 M6 could approach. What you get is much more consistent behavior with amazing balance while aiming for a hot lap time, and practically not a hair out of place. Previously it took almost no effort at all from the right ankle to get the E63/E64 to wag a tail or smoke a tire.
But, again, BMW wants to make this mighty M6 more accessible to more premium sport buyers. So, here we are, pushing much harder and charting our weight transfer and curve approach with much more precision than previously was the case. We eventually nailed it and the fun and games took off from there.
To reel in all this weight – 1,925kg (4,244 pounds) for the coupe – and hold the best line with the least roll, the 63.5-inch rear track rides on an axle whose support structure has been bolted directly to the chassis subframe. It helps in not only minimizing corner slop, but also makes hooking up with traction sooner a more reliable expectation. Before we were totally comfy on Ascari's 26 curves, we placed the Dynamic Stability Control system in M Drive Mode (a higher-threshold form of BMW's Dynamic Traction Control), the seven-speed double clutch transmission with Drivelogic in the second level (there are three) of the manual sport mode, and relied on the Active M locking rear differential. Configured so, the M6 coupe let us safely exceed the track surface's coefficient of friction all day long through its many transitions.
One other advantage with the M6 coupe is that it has a functional rear diffuser that helps the hardtop arrive at zero lift at higher speeds. The convertible has a certain amount of lift built in, but its rear diffuser, while good looking, is primarily cosmetic.
For years, even BMW's M division handed us the line that the single-piston floating caliper brakeset with compound discs was the way to go. And then they would always bring the cars to a track, hand them to us, and we would come to the pits after a few laps with copious notes regarding brake fade. This has changed at last. The standard blue front calipers are now fixed units and have six mighty pistons to better stop us with. Over about ten heated laps in high desert heat, the difference in braking precision was clearly felt. The track cars had the huge ceramic platters, and the front caliper is a bigger unit in gold with six pistons, but even the standard set on the heavy convertibles is a big improvement. Those carbon ceramic discs, however, will not be made available until early Spring 2013.
Inside the cockpit, the M sport seats are standard and much improved as well, while M multi-function seats are optional. Again, we had the standard units in the on-road convertible while the track-happy coupe had the optional thrones, and both are well suited, though a tad more bolster support in the optional seats would have been nice during high lateral gs.
The other all-new interior trick is the heritage-inspired steering
wheel with three thinner spokes.
The other all-new interior trick is the heritage-inspired steering wheel with three thinner spokes. It really looks the part in this M setup and is much more satisfying to grab than the former thick-gauge wheel.
Three key additional bits of news were gathered at this event: Like the new M5, the M6 will get the Getrag six-speed manual in the North America by the middle of next year; North America is not due to get the optional Drivers Package, which takes the top speed limiter from the standard 250 km/h (155 mph) up to 304 km/h (189 mph); and starting in the middle of 2013, M cars with the double clutch gearbox will finally be given a clear and present no-duh P button to be certain the car is in Park. Miracles do happen.
In the midst of all this additional momentum and heavier GT luxury, the average fuel use has improved with the twin turbocharged V8 by some 30 per cent, which should result in EPA average fuel numbers of nearly 11.7L/100km (20 mpg) when the transmission is revved low, everything's in the timid settings, and seventh gear is engaged in fully automatic mode.
The M6 coupe is the best banner waver for BMW's M-branded large cars.
All the M5/M6 models have been tried now, with the M6 coupe expected to arrive around September. So, where exactly has all the marquee-caliber thrill gone since the debut in 2005 of the E63/E64 generation? Are there just more worthy competitors now, or are the Bimmers stepping down off their altar a bit to reach the mainstream? Both are probably true, but the M6 coupe stands out amongst its own as the best banner waver for BMW's M-branded large cars.
Image Credit: Alberto Martinez & Bernhard Limberger, Alessandro Felici (video)