The M6 is the ber-Bimmer, a car so full of technology and capability that it makes your head spin, yet it has real soul. One of the M6's key features is the naked carbon-fiber roof, which is significant more for what it represents than for what it achieves. It saves only about ten pounds, but it lowers the center of gravity, thus helping the driving dynamics, and shows just how serious BMW is in using the M division to pioneer technologies that will find their way down the food chain. The front and rear bumper structures are also made of the exotic material, fractionally lowering the polar moment of inertia.
The rest of the car showcases BMW technology, too, just as the M5 does. The 5.0-liter V-10 engine uses double-VANOS variable valve timing, has ten individual throttle butterflies, spins up to 8250 rpm, and sustains piston speeds that are close to those of a current F1 engine. The engine makes 394 hp and 384 lb-ft of torque when you're puttering around, but you can liberate all 500 ponies by pressing the power button. The speed-sensing differential lock can transfer 100 percent of the available torque to either rear wheel. There's even a head-up display that shows speed, gear selected, and a tach dial so you can keep your eyes on what's going on outside rather than glancing at the instruments--fundamental when the V-10 is roaring away and the scenery is flashing past.
The engine is to die for. It lacks the low-down thrust of a supercharged Mercedes-Benz AMG V-8 but has an entirely different character. Thanks to a relatively flat torque curve that gives 80 percent of maximum pulling power over a 5500-rpm range, there's decent grunt from low revs, but overall it's racier and more hard-core than the Benz. And it definitely produces the goods, because the 3771-pound M6 will accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in about 4.4 seconds, reach 100 mph in less than 10 seconds, and go on to a top speed of 155 mph. Without the speed restrictor, we are told that it will hit more than 200 mph.
The engine's racy feel is perfectly matched by the seven-speed SMG, but we wish that BMW would follow Ferrari and mount the levers on the column rather than the wheel, because remembering which paddle is which when you have an armful of lock isn't that easy. The shifts are sensationally fast in their optimal setting, but it seems as if the driveline is taking a beating.
Grip from the Pirelli P Zero Corsa tires-255/40ZR-19s at the front and 285/35ZR-19s at the rear-is impressive, and the car eats up the miles at very high speeds in a relaxing fashion. With the dampers in the sport setting, the ride becomes borderline unacceptable on anything but the smoothest blacktop or a racetrack, and the steering weights up to give more feel and feedback. At this point, the M6 has been transformed from a suave gran turismo into a ferocious sports car.
Although it's heavy, the M6 can be thrown around a track or a twisting road in the manner of a much smaller car. You're always mindful of the car's weight and have to remember to set it up into turns by using the throttle pedal or a touch of brake to dial out incipient understeer. The skid-control system limits sideways activity, even when it is supposedly switched off. If the yaw angle gets too great, the brakes come in to steady the car. Burkhard Gschel, BMW's R&D chief, says that the car is so big and heavy that it would take a lot of room to slow it down if it spun. Sure, you can power slide the M6, but you can't steer it through the side windows. We suspect that the tires just can't cope with all this power and mass, because they were feathering quite badly after fifteen laps of the private Ascari racetrack.
The M6 certainly feels special, and it should given its $15,000 price premium over the mechanically similar M5 (the M6 will cost $96,795 when it goes on sale in the spring of 2006). Our only complaint about the sumptuous interior after driving more than 300 miles was with the iDrive system interface. Despite BMW's best efforts to tidy up the system, it is still infuriating to use.
The M6 has plenty of competitors, from the Porsche 911 Carrera S at the lower end of the scale to the Ferrari 612 Scaglietti at the very top. The softer Bentley Continental GT, the more conventionally good-looking Aston Martin DB9, and the super-quick Mercedes-Benz CL65 AMG are even more expensive, while the slightly cheaper Mercedes CLS55 AMG four-door coupe is perhaps its most direct rival. You could argue that the BMW M5 sedan is also a competitor, but the shorter-wheelbase M6 is even sharper, faster, and harder-edged. If you're in the market for a flamboyant 2+2 supercoupe, the M6 does a great job of providing practicality, usability, and sheer performance. Sure, it costs more than both the 911 and the CLS, but its polarizing style is a major selling point, while younger tech-savvy buyers will love the way you can change its character by pushing a few buttons.