The BMW M6 is the automotive equivalent of Patrick Bateman, the antihero of the novel American Psycho. Bateman is a respectable Wall Street trader by day and a maniacal serial killer by night-and the M6 has a personality that's just as split. One minute you're lolling along in relative peace and serenity, enjoying languid automatic gearshifts, a plush interior, a quality sound system, and a firm yet comfortable ride. Push a few buttons, though, and the M6 be-comes a frenzied monster that assaults its occupants with massive power, gearshifts that are so fast and brutal they hurt your neck muscles, and a ride that will shake your fillings loose.
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.
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 engine is mated to the latest version of BMW's sequential-manual gearbox (SMG), which has no fewer than eleven modes, including a launch-control setting. The speed-sensing differential lock can transfer 100 percent of the available torque to either rear wheel. There's skid control, three-position electronic damping, and Servotronic steering with dual modes, firming up for spirited driving. 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.
We drove the car in southern Spain over a variety of roads: a private racetrack, where we could wring out the car in relative safety; narrow, sinuous hillside paths winding between olive groves; and the wide, fast, sweeping roads up to Ronda. We went gonzo on the track and on the road, and when we tired of triple-digit speeds, we tried to discern the more mellow side of this car.
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. That's apparent when the revs approach 4000, because the engine seems to get a second wind and zings to the tach dial's 7800-rpm yellow line before hitting a soft rev limiter at the 8250 mark. It sounds stunning, with a hard-edged snarl that is utterly distinctive and deeply intoxicating. 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-the V-10 architecture, after all, is used in all current Formula 1 engines, including BMW's-is perfectly matched by the seven-speed SMG. You can shift manually via either steering-wheel-mounted paddles or the shift lever, but the paddles seem more intuitive in practice. 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. Tone the shift speed down, release the throttle on upshifts, and you can make it as smooth as a conventional manual, although that does seem somewhat self-defeating.The automatic mode is far better than previous SMG iterations, although it isn't as fluid as the best modern automatics. For anyone who can't cope with all this trickery, a manual will be available about a year after launch, specifically to suit American customers.One drawback with the SMG transmission is that you can't do a full-power standing start unless you engage the launch-control mode. Once you have managed to select the program, launch control gives you truly heroic, tire-smoking getaways. The car takes care of all the gearshifts, and all you have to do is keep it pointing in the right direction. The procedure for engaging it is so complicated, however, that the Camaro next to you at the stoplight will be long gone and the lights turned back to red before you get moving.
With the electronics set for normal driving, the M6 is actually a civilized device. The ride in comfort mode is well damped if firm, while the steering is quite light. 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. It is so composed that 120 mph feels like 70, and 50 feels as if you're at walking pace. Switch the power button on, though, and there is more snap, because the throttle response is sharpened and there's an extra 106 hp available. 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. Leaning on the outside front wheel as if you were driving a single-seater would cause you to plow into the nearest field or ditch. With 500 hp on tap, you might expect the M6 to be an oversteer special, but BMW made sure that 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.
Still, the M6 is very impressive for such a big machine. The accurate steering livens up at speed, although it isn't as connected as, say, an M3's or a Porsche Boxster's. The brakes have great feel, which means that left-foot braking becomes second nature. You can get a real rhythm going with the interplay of brake, steering, and paddle shifting. The massive 13.7-inch-diameter front and 13.6-inch rear discs are ventilated and cross-drilled.
The car's credentials as a dual-character, mega-money GT are reinforced by the interior. The sporty side is manifest in a terrific fat-rimmed steering wheel and seats that are adjustable for width to cope better with the extra g-forces. The sybaritic nature is demonstrated by more luxurious trim than in a regular 645Ci, with leather on the dashboard and doors and an Alcantara headliner. The center console and door trims include tasteful piano- black wood or slightly gauche carbon fiber. It certainly feels special, as it should for a price that's likely to be around $106,000 when it goes on sale in about a year. (That's probably $20,000 more than the M5, which goes on sale this fall.)
The rear seats would be OK only for small children over long distances, because there is hardly any more room than in a Porsche 911. Unlike the 911, however, the M6 has a sensibly sized trunk that will swallow golf clubs, full-size suitcases, and the like. Our only complaint about the 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 other contentious feature of modern BMWs, of course, is their styling. We reckon that the M6 is the best realized of them, however. It's way cool, a daring design statement in the manner of a Philippe Starck interior. With its superaggressive nineteen-inch wheels and tires and sculpted front and rear fascias and side skirts, the M6 looks wicked. Some of you will think we're visually challenged, but we like the idea of one in black.
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.