Bentley Continental GT V8
Ever since the Continental GT debuted for 2003, it -- and all its variants -- have been powered by the Volkswagen Group's oddball W-12 engine. Although company execs still see the twelve-cylinder engine as an important aspect of the brand, Bentley is now offering a V-8 in the Continental GT and GTC convertible, environmental concerns (chiefly in Europe) being the incentive. The 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 isn't exactly a fuel-economy champ, although the GT V8's 15/24 mpg EPA numbers certainly are better than the GT W12's 12/19 figures. For an environmentally clearer conscience, V8 buyers sacrifice 67 hp and 0.2 second in the sprint to 60 mph (now 4.6 seconds). On the upside, however, they save $19,250 (coupe) or $21,400 (convertible) while doing their part to save the earth.
On sale Now
Price $176,725/$194,125 (GT/GTC)
Engine 4.0L twin-turbo V-8, 500 hp, 487 lb-ft
U-Turn First-ever Continental GT with fewer than twelve cylinders under the hood.
BMW 640i Gran Coupe
The BMW 640i Gran Coupe is technically a new car, although it could be more accurately described as a new combination of parts from existing cars. As you can see, it has a voluptuous new exterior but is comprised of components from the BMW 5-series, 6-series, and 7-series.
The Gran Coupe shares its wheelbase with the 5-series but is as wide as a 6-series coupe. It's longer than both and just 2.6 inches shy of a 7-series. The Gran Coupe makes the 5 look nerdy, the 6 coupe look busy, and the 7 look bloated. Like the Z4, this is a Bimmer you'll need to see in traffic to fully appreciate.
The Gran Coupe is what the 5-series would be if BMW were more concerned with sex appeal than practicality. It seats four adults comfortably -- a fifth is only theoretically possible, straddling the wide rear center console with legs splayed. Despite the car's extra length, its trunk is no bigger than a 6-series coupe's. The long front overhang, unusual for a BMW, is vulnerable to scraping, and the low seating position makes it difficult to see over the unusually high beltline.
Sounds like it makes no sense, right? Indeed, the 640i Gran Coupe makes no rational sense whatsoever. But this isn't a rational segment. Like the Mercedes-Benz CLS and the Audi A7, BMW's four-door coupe also has a premium price. It starts at a hefty $76,895 -- $2400 more than a 640i coupe and some twelve grand over a comparable 535i. Start adding options and things get outrageously expensive very quickly. Our almost fully loaded test car soared past $100,000. Then again, you can't get a 535i with twenty-inch wheels, full LED headlights, a Bang & Olufsen stereo, or the Gran Coupe's stunning, leather-lined and contrast-stitched interior.
The base Gran Coupe comes with the high-output version of BMW's N55 single-turbo six-cylinder. It produces 315 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque and is paired with the ZF eight-speed sport-automatic, which has a first gear short enough to easily smoke the 275-section rear tires and a cruising gear tall enough to achieve 30 mpg on the highway (or so BMW estimates). In manual mode, the transmission's shifts are quick and positive, rivaling the best dual-clutch automatics, and its torque converter makes off-the-line getaways smoother than any of them. A standard auto stop/start system helps the 640i return an expected 20 mpg in the city and is relatively unobtrusive.
The steering is more heavily weighted than that of the 5-series, but the electric assist absorbs most of the steering feel. Optional Integral Active Steering kills whatever feel is left in exchange for quicker turn-in, a smaller turning circle, and a superfast ratio at parking-lot speeds. Our test car's low, wide proportions; adaptive dampers; rear steering; and active antiroll bars -- not to mention the enormous rubber -- helped it tackle back roads at sports-car speeds with astonishing ease. Otherwise, the driving experience is highly reminiscent of a 535i, a 640i coupe, or a 740i. That means class-leading powertrain refinement and a suspension that does a superb job -- on smooth roads. Like those other BMWs, the Gran Coupe transmits small pavement irregularities with sharp jolts, but then all hell breaks loose when you encounter bigger bumps, which can result in an impact so harsh you'll think something in the suspension broke. In addition to the hard-as-steel bump stops, the M Sport package's available twenty-inch wheels deserve some of the blame. They look great, but they're clearly too heavy for the suspension to manage.
Other demerits for the Gran Coupe are few: it uses the 640i coupe's hard-to-reach, seat-mounted seatbelts. The large glass sunroof tilts but doesn't slide. The rear window is a mail slot, but thankfully a reverse camera is standard fare.
BMW has already announced the 650i Gran Coupe, which will be powered by a Valvetronic-equipped 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8. That 445-hp brute will send 480 lb-ft of torque either to the rear or to all four wheels. The all-wheel-drive version is the quicker of the two, getting to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds. The 650i, though, strikes us as overkill. The 640i feels far faster than its factory-measured 5.4-second 0-to-60-mph time would suggest, and its straight-six engine sounds both aggressive and refined. If you need even more speed, you might want to wait for the as-yet-unconfirmed M version. We suspect that an M6 Gran Coupe would be a better all-around performer than either the M5 or the M6 coupe/convertible. In fact, with hydraulic power steering and better overall suspension tuning, the M6 Gran Coupe could just be the best of the current crop of M cars -- and a great example of how to make a new, even better car out of some already great automobiles.
On sale Now
Engine 3.0L turbo I-6, 315 hp, 330 lb-ft
Because Mercedes-Benz has the CLS and Audi has the A7.
The last BMW M6 was a little confused. It was too big and heavy to feel sporty, but its normally aspirated V-10 felt and sounded like it was straight out of a Formula 1 racing car. Its styling was clumsy but conveyed a sense of maturity -- and then its harsh ride made it feel like an adolescent in need of Adderall.
All of this has been fixed with the new M6, which again has a clear sense of what it is: a big, expensive, four-seat GT with sports-car performance and luxury-car appointments. Available again as a coupe and a convertible, the new M6 shares its powertrain components with the M5. That means the V-10 has been replaced by a more streetable twin-turbo V-8 that produces 560 hp and, just as important, 500 lb-ft of torque from 1500 rpm all the way to 5700 rpm. Even some electric motors don't have torque peaks that broad, and with only minor turbo lag (thanks to BMW's ingenious cross-bank exhaust manifold and Valvetronic), stupendous speeds are available with a tiny twitch of your right toes. The best part? Rapid changes in velocity are no longer accompanied by headache-inducing blows to your equilibrium, thanks to a smooth dual-clutch automatic transmission that replaces the miserable SMG automated manual. The V-8's somewhat flat soundtrack is peppered with turbo whooshes and a wonderful blat on shifts executed under boost. It's well muted inside the car (lacking the M5's active sound management), but with the convertible's roof lowered, it's an acoustic delight. Top-down tunnel blasts are a must in the M6 droptop, the only M6 we've driven so far.
The newest M rides well, too, and yet its robust body (at 4508 pounds it ought to be robust) is extraordinarily well controlled, exhibiting near-flat cornering and astonishing agility and composure over bumpy mountain roads. We're grateful that BMW reverted to a hydraulic steering setup in place of the regular 6's electrically assisted rack, as it wakes up the steering, now highly communicative and precise. The droptop M6 can reach 60 mph in a mere 4.2 seconds (the coupe does it in 4.1), according to BMW, but its real beauty is something that will take a bit longer to discover -- unlike the last car, this more well-rounded M6 won't begin to wear on you after twenty minutes.
On sale Now/mid-2012 (convertible/coupe)
Price $113,995/$106,995 (convertible/coupe)
Engine 4.4L twin-turbo V-8, 560 hp, 500 lb-ft
Feeding the rivalry Despite more power, this M car's biggest achievement is that it uses 23 percent less fuel than the old one.
BMW was the first premium brand to introduce a compact SUV -- the X3 -- and now it's the first to go even smaller. The subcompact X1 was supposed to come here last year, but strong demand elsewhere delayed the pint-size SUV's arrival. Now, however, BMW is ready to take the plunge. The X1's exterior is a dead ringer for the X3, and the resemblance continues un-der the hood, where the X1 uses the same two engines: a 241-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four (28i) and a 300-hp, 3.0-liter turbo in-line six (35i). The former is paired with BMW's eight-speed automatic transmission and can be rear- or four-wheel drive. The six-cylinder gets a six-speed automatic and is four-wheel drive only. With either engine, an M Sport package (sport suspension, sport seats, unique wheels, and special trim) can be added. The rear-wheel-drive 28i is exclusive to the X1; it gets 24/33 mpg city/highway. All-wheel-drive versions of the X1 are within 1 to 2 mpg of the X3. Comparing like powertrains, X1 buyers will save $5000 to $6000 over an X3. The rear-wheel-drive X1, which at $31,545 will be the least expensive BMW, just edges out the 128i. That alone ought to guarantee the X1 an audience.
On sale Late 2012
Price $31,545/$33,245/$39,345 (sDrive28i/xDrive28i/xDrive35i)
Engines 2.0L turbo I-4, 241 hp, 260 lb-ft; 3.0L turbo I-6, 300 hp, 300 lb-ft
Smaller than... an X3, by 7.1 x 3.3 x 4.6 inches (L x W x H).