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.