2014 BMW M6 Gran Coupe at Circuit of the Americas

The time-space continuum seems to compress as the 2014 BMW M6 Gran Coupe thunders down the long back straight at Circuit of the Americas. With all of the twin-turbo V-8's 560 horses in full lather, I see rapidly rising miles-per-hour numbers winking on the heads-up display -- 139, 143, 147, 150. Meanwhile, the numbers on the brake markers to my right are dwindling at an even-more-disconcerting pace -- 300 feet, 250, 200.

Discretion overwhelms valor, and I bury the whoa pedal. Priced at $9,250, the carbon ceramic brakes -- featuring gargantuan rotors that look like the world's most expensive thick-crust pizzas -- had seemed like an outrageous upgrade when I'd scanned the options list, but they sure come in handy now. The car pitches forward and squirms violently as the brakes bleed off about 100 miles per hour in 150 feet. By the time I'm ready to turn into the 2nd-gear left-hander, the space-time continuum has returned to normal.

With a base price of $113,000, the M6 Gran Coupe is the price and performance flagship of the BMW fleet. Despite carrying four seats and 4,430 pounds of bulk, it will lap racetracks faster than any other BMW production car, including the vaunted M3. Even more surprising, BMW says that about 60 percent of M6 owners will occasionally track their babies.

If they're looking for track time, they can't do much better than Circuit of the Americas in Tex-as. Designed by world-renowned racetrack engineer Hermann Tilke and built last year outside of Austin at a cost of $400 million, COTA hosted the Formula 1 extravaganza in November and has since been the site of races featuring Grand-Am, Australian V8 Supercars, and MotoGP. With 20 turns over 3.427 miles, it's the most spectacular racetrack in the Americas.

In designing COTA, Tilke ticked all of the boxes for what drivers and fans want to see in a road circuit. A signature corner with a lot of elevation change? Turn 1 rises 134 feet before a blind hairpin. A long straight that allows cars to hit terminal velocity? F1 cars exceeded 200 mph on the run down to Turn 12. A high-speed sweeper? COTA has the neck-stretching Turn 16-17-18 complex. A challenging technical section? The decreasing-radius corners of the Esses test minds mind as much as car control.

The brawny but luxurious M6 Gran Coupe seemed like a good vehicle to check out the track in style. The car comes in both 6-speed manual or 7-speed dual-clutch form. When I started driving the manual, I thought I was executing perfectly seamless heel-and-toe downshifts until I discovered, to my chagrin, that the gearbox automatically matches revs when the Sport mode is selected. (In Sport Plus, drivers are left to their own ham-fisted devices.)

This struck me as an odd driver aid since the pedals in the M6 are perfectly placed for heel and toeing. (Why can't all manufacturers follow BMW's lead?) Also, with the manual expected to account for less than 25 percent of all North America sales, I suspect that most would-be buyers will have perfected this technique. Then again, automatic rev-matching will probably extend the lives of clutches and synchros, and it's hard to argue with that.

Still, if you're looking for a track-day weapon, the DCT model is a no-brainer since it produces mindlessly perfect shifts that allow you to concentrate on braking. So once I learn the circuit, I switch to the automatic. On the track, the Sport setting is just right. (Shifts in the Comfort mode are a bit lazy while those in Sport Plus are so abrupt that a BMW engineer joked that the setting was meant to honor the neck-snapping SMG transmission of yore.) As it turns out, Sport is equally good for the dampers and the steering, though Comfort and Sport Plus were available for them as well.

My first impression is that the M6 Gran Coupe is an unstoppable force. The 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8 makes 560 hp and generates 500 lb-ft of torque from 1500 to 5750 rpm, which translates in-to 0-60 times a tick more than 4 seconds. But the numbers don't tell the whole story. Power delivery seems linear, with no trace of turbo lag. If I didn't know better, I would have thought the engine was normally aspirated while being endowed with turbine-like performance.

Climbing the hill to Turn 1 is a rush, though not quite as dramatic as I'd expected, probably because I'm focusing on finding the apex rather than appreciating the roller-coaster aspect of the experience. The engine is near the top of 4th gear when I hammer the brake -- much later than I'd originally imagined. (The steep incline helps slow the car.) I grab 2nd for the hairpin and then plummet downhill toward the Esses like a surfer dropping into a wave.

The first part of the Esses pays tribute to the Senna Curves at Interlagos in Brazil. Flat in 3rd, short-shift to 4th, the M6 gathers momentum like a business jet on its takeoff roll. Then the Esses progressively tighten up. Turns 3, 4, and 5 form a high-speed slalom that doesn't flatter the heft of the car, and bending around the 90-degree right of Turn 6 causes the Michelin Pilot Sports -- 265/35ZR-20 at the front and 295/30ZR-20 at the rear -- to howl like mortally wounded animals. (Race-spec tires would make a huge difference.)

Next comes a nice rhythm section that ends in a brief 4th-gear jaunt downhill to Turn 11. This 2nd-gear left-hander leads onto the back straight -- the longest on the track -- so getting a good launch is critical. The electronically controlled Active M Differential, which can continuously vary the lockup ratio between 0 and 100 percent, keeps the car from plowing. Still, some under-steer is inevitable with so much weight on the nose. But with the stability control turned off, you can exit the corner with a satisfying blast of power oversteer. Yeehaw!

The M6 Gran Coupe accelerates effortlessly into triple digits on the back straight, and it's not hard to imagine cruising along the Autobahn at 150 mph for hours on end. The approach to Turn 12 is one of the most violent brake zones in American racing. Although the suspension tracks straight and true under heavy braking, the car's body corkscrews before settling down.

The next section of the circuit is a series of super-tight corners that look Mickey Mouse on a course map. But, in fact, this has proved to be a prime passing zone, so there's lots of time to be made -- or lost -- here. Then comes a trio of right-handers that form a horseshoe taken at an intim-idating clip. (Note to self: Don't throw the car off the track here.) Then I slice through a moder-ate-speed left-hander, drive down to the lowest point of the course, and arc around the 2nd-gear corner -- Turn 20 -- that leads back onto the front straight.

Awesome track. Impressive car. All that power, coupled with the immense ceramic brakes, produce wicked-fast lap times. Still, I was always aware that I was driving a street car on the track. Which helps explain why BMW just announced an M5/M6 Competition Package that will improve racetrack performance. Sounds like another visit to COTA may be warranted.

2014 BMW M6 Gran Coupe

On Sale: Now
Base Price: $113,925 (including destination)
Engine: 4.4L twin-turbo V-8
Horsepower: 560 hp @ 6000-7000 rpm
Torque: 502 lb-ft @ 1500-5750 lb-ft
Drive: Rear-wheel
Curb Weight: 4430 lb
Fuel Economy: 15/22 mpg (manual), 14/20 mpg (automatic)
Bosman
Hey Bubbaz88....you have done the same thing all Bimmerphiles do.  They read the car magazines instead of actual going to a track like I did.  I saw a CTS-V vs an M-3 at Limerock in Connecticut.  The CTS-V is heavier and not as agile, BUT it actual "destroyed the M-3.  It was 2.5 seconds faster around the track for each of the 3 laps.  Now with the ATS-V is won't even be that close because the ATS-V will be 500lbs less and much more agile.  Your plain Jane M-3 will be smoke by either an EVO or a STI.....and you now its true.  The M-3 has been overrated for years.  The only real one was the first one that had 240hp and slightly less than 200 pounds of torque.  That was a great day.  The V8 version was a huge failure because it had 414hp and less than 300ftlbs of torque....really...."the exquisite package" will be exposed for what it really is....nice car, but sincerely...no race car.  Hey, when I pull up to an M-3 in my ZO6....the driver does not move until I go.....The Audi S5 will destroy it as well.  Whoops not a fair fight because the S5 has AWD....hey.....have a great week.  Remember, this is just car talk....we can a little fun...right.
Bosman
I totally agree with JFGlass.  He is a wise man.As far as the comment from Marcus.  You probably drink the BMW Kool Aid.  I have no idea where you get the notion that the CTS-V is "junk".  My son's V is solid as a rock.  Wait to the ATS-V comes out.  The M3 will be in deep dodo.  So I am "lost as hell".....we will see what happens in a future comparsion.  I think you are the one that is going to in GPS to find your way.  All is fun my friend.  Remember, our than a Ferrari......they are only cars.
dollarandsense
Interesting 5th gear cable show shows Porsche putting it to shame
tinlizzy50
Bless you, BMW, for offering this car with a manual transmission!! That's something that no Mercedes AMG or Porsche Panamera can claim. If I had the money and/or the desire (neither of which I possess) to trade in my 2002 M3 to buy one of these vehicles, that would certainly be the determining factor for me. After all, it's not about how quickly you get from 0 to 60, it's about  how much fun you have getting there! 
JFGlass
This unabashed copy of the Mercedes CLS 63 AMG, is till a porker. It may be fast, but it's so unoriginal it stinks. A Panamera Turbo will put it in the weeds.
Bosman
A 2012 CTS-V is simply faster......no if, ands, or buts.  They say in the car industry that when it comes to performance...weight kills.  Ladies and Gentlemen I present the most recent "porker" from Germany.  This is no a marvel of engineering.  The Maserati Quartoporte is a marvel of engineering.  Amazing how the magazines kiss the ass BMW.....I will take a 2002 tii over this piece of S%&T anyday.
Fadil Mazrrekaj
BMW Heite ane keimf marsche und steirk kareseri 
Dammy Onafowokan
DAT PRICETAG!
Bubbaz88
@Bosman Hey Bosman... here are my credentials.  Owned 2 E46 M3 coupes.  Great car.  Now an E92 DCT coupe.  Even better car.  This tiny little 4.0L engine at 8,400 RPMs sounds like a screaming angel.  I actually drive what I talk about.And WHO CARES about only 295 lbs of torque?  Are you aware of Car & Drivers' direct comparison between M3, CTS-VS, RS5?  They pulled both the M3 and Caddy  at 0-60 mph at only 3.9 secs.  With the Caddy's engine being ginormously larger than the BMW that is a huge, epic fail for the CTS-V.  It should have SMOKED the M3.  Instead it properly reflects the big, bloated mess that is the CTS-V.  And again... ta da... Car & Driver opted for the M3.  Which was faster than the RS5, much less than paltry S5.Now as for your Vette... I have enough experience with this car as well to form an opinion of it.  Do you recall the Jeremy Clarkson / Top Gear episodes where he would push in the bumper of the Vette in front of a hysterical laughing audience?  It was like a wet sponge.  Clarkson succinctly pointed out exactly what the rest of the world thinks of the design and engineering of your car, down to the plastic interior and rental car exterior.  You should at least be embarrassed to be driving around in a mushy marshmallow mobile.  Hey at least you have a nice soft headrest to nap on when your Chevy breaks down on the side of the road... :)
Bubbaz88
@Bosman "The M3 will be in deep dodo"???  Now THAT is quite laughable.  I suggest just doing a Google search on CTS-V and M3.  Car & Driver, Automobile mag, Road & Track, all picked the M3 over the bloated Caddy.  Seriously the CTS-V looks as if a ruler grudge f*cked a tissue box.  Who is impressed by an oversized engine that should be producing better than recorded results ... a 6.2L engine vs the M3's tiny, superior F1 4.0?Also - the plain jane 3 series is stomping all over the ATS in comparisons.  Caddy will never produce an exquisite package like the M3.
JFGlass
You are aware of course that no matter how great a driver you may think you are, the automated manuals are better. Even a manual wont save this beast on the track whereas the Porsche's PDK will further enable it to reduce this BMW to a smouldering pile plastic goo. I dare say I've owned more BMWs than most, along with Porsche and Benzes and can s peak from track experience. This car is a PIG.
Marcus
@Bosman  And the CTS-V is nearly junk next to this stunningly built car. Quattroporte, engineering?  The car falls apart and is riddled with bugs and the new one is nothing more than a breathed on Chrysler. Man you're lost as hell. M 

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