The BMW 6 Series is a superbly accomplished car, unless you’re a driving enthusiast

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With the question 'how good is the BMW 6 Series' is linked the question 'just how versatile is the modern car platform?'.

Because, beneath the unconventionally-styled skin of BMW's big coupe and cabriolet (and four-door Gran Coupe), lies the same architecture you'll find beneath all of BMW's large rear-wheel-drive cars, including the latest 5 Series, the 5 Series GT, 7 Series saloon and even the £200k Rolls-Royce Ghost.

A remarkable powertrain, versatile chassis and practical body allow it to play almost any role with conviction

Can you really take a platform used for a full-size limo and adapt it to make a convincing GT? We'll see.

What's already clear is that, as is now the norm in the BMW range these days, the badging gives no clue to the engines under the 6-series' long, sculpted bonnet. The 640i features a 316bhp 3.0-litre, six-cylinder turbo, while the 650i gets a 402bhp 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8. There’s also a 309bhp twin-turbo 3.0-litre diesel, badged 640d.

The same engines feature in all variants of the 6 Series, including the Mercedes-Benz CLS-rivalling 6 Series Gran Coupe, even when the range was facelifted in 2015.




BMW 6 Series LED headlights
More upright kidney grille and prominent surround are nods to the original 6 Series’ shark nose

The BMW 6 Series convertible put on 39mm of width (to 1895mm) and 74mm of length (4897mm) in the transition from second to this third generation model when it was introduced in 2011. Its body-in-white is predominantly high-strength steel but was reinforced in key areas; it’s 50 per cent more torsionally rigid than the previous car’s.

The 6 Series’ long wheelbase and its profile with that long bonnet and rear-biased cabin are all visual styling hallmarks to which BMW lays proprietorial claims, particularly for its convertibles.

BMW calls the convertible's folding soft-top its "fin roof" which is triple-layered

It is a profile that has incorporated four doors very successfully with the Gran Coupe, producing one of BMW's most aesthetically pleasing cars from recent times. Despite being based on a unique platform that adds another 113mm to the wheelbase, the Gran Coupe is successful as an elegant four-door coupe, rather than appearing like a saloon with a lowered roofline.

Surface sculpting in the 6 Series’ metalwork is supposed to represent the movement of waves of water flowing from the bow of a motor boat.

If you're not paying quite such close attention, the headlamps and LED daytime running light design are meant to give the car a recognisable BMW visual character even in the rear-view mirror, even at night; while an upright kidney grille and prominent surround are nods to the original 6 Series’ shark nose. Pedestrian protection regulations rule out any closer recreation. To boost safety credentials, that long bonnet pops up in a frontal collision.

On the convertible, it's worth noting the heated glass rear window is separate from the folding roof. It can be lowered to create a gentler ventilation than an open side window when the hood is up, or it can stay up with the roof down to reduce buffeting.

The 2015 facelift also gave the 6 Series new bumpers, a full-length air intake, new kidney grille on the outside and LED headlights, while greater care was given to the aesthetics inside with finer care given to the stitching of the leather in and around the switchgear.


BMW 6 Series interior
Cabin features soft-touch leather and some elegant design touches

The BMW 6 Series has a cabin that’s remarkably spacious by class standards, with two rear chairs big enough for occasional use even by average-sized adults, if you’re prepared to sacrifice a little of the generous legroom you get up front. The boot can accommodate as much as 350 litres of luggage with the roof up and its soft storage sleeve folded away.

When entering a convertible of the 6 Series’ type, it’s normal to adjust the driver’s seat squab to the bottom of its vertical travel just to sit low enough. That’s because, with so much underfloor strengthening, big convertibles tend to have relatively high-set front seats. Not the 6 Series. BMW credits “intelligent seat design” for a driving position that’s low, even for taller drivers, helping to keep you sheltered from the wind. It also means that the coupe has a generous amount of headroom.

There’s loads of cabin cubbies up front: glovebox, centre console compartment, door bins and cupholders

With an upper dashboard, instrument cowl and upper door cards swathed in soft leather, which swoops down elegantly to link up with the leather topping on the centre console, the 6 Series’ cabin is, for the most part, richly upholstered. It would have a more special ambience were it not for a few too many stock BMW parts bin components of the sort that you’d expect on a £30k 5 Series, but not a £75k luxury tourer. As it is, the cabin feels luxurious and comfortable but doesn’t distinguish itself clearly enough from lesser models.

The same story is true for the Gran Coupe, despite its slight cabin changes over the regular coupe and convertible; whilst the overriding impression is of luxury, too many familiar components remain on the interior.

There are three trims to choose from - SE (only available with 640i and 640d), Sport (only available with 650i) and M Sport. Opt for the entry-level SE models and you'll find BMW's Professional Media iDrive system complete with sat nav, 20GB hard drive, DAB tuner and real-time traffic information. There is also dual-zone climate control, leather upholstery, adaptive cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, auto wipers and headlights, and LED headlights. The 650i entry-level Sport trim gets 19in alloys, lumbar support and Nappa leather seats. The range-topping M Sport trim gets an aggressive bodykit, while opting for the M Sport Plus pack includes 20in alloys, head-up display, and a Harman and Kardon speaker system.

Those wanting a more ballistic drive are well catered for with BMW the 552bhp M6 and the 592bhp M6 Competition Pack complete with 10.2in display iDrive system, 19in front and 20in rear alloys, full M Sport aerodynamic bodykit, double-wishbone suspension and of course a brutish 4.4-litre V8 engine.


BMW 6 Series Coupé
The 640i will reach 62mph in 5.7secs; the 650i clock this speed in 5secs dead

Of all the performance figures we logged with the BMW 6 Series, only one seemed below par. BMW claims 5.0sec dead for the 650i convertible's sprint to 62mph, but our two-way average from zero to 60mph – 5.6sec – suggests that’s a bit optimistic. The six-cylinder 640i shouldn’t be a whole lot slower, as BMW’s claimed 0-62mph time for that car of 5.7sec suggests.

But don’t think that any 6 Series is anything other than seriously rapid. The 640d is the least powerful in the range but even so has more than 300bhp and rides on a 464lb ft swell of torque, so can reach 62mph virtually as quickly as the 640i. All engines, in truth, have plenty of short intermediate gear ratios, wide plateaus of torque and a superbly fast-acting eight-speed auto gearboxes In particular, the 650i can simply hurtle into the middle distance when you want it to; we measured it reaching 100mph in 12.4sec.

The 650i can hurtle into into the middle distance when you want it to - we measured it reaching 100mph in 12.4sec

Better still is the flexibility of performance. That kind of urge makes overtaking easy almost no matter which gear you’re in, and it allows you to travel every bit as quickly as the terrain permits.

BMW In the M6, this crushing performance is upped even further. Headline outputs of 552bhp and 501lb ft make for a hugely fast car at any revs and in any gear. Select the right options and the M6 is capable of 189mph.

And, if you’re a fan of laid-back ground-covering, there’s no ostentatious exhaust blare that comes along with that performance. There’s a bassy, cultured V8 woofle from the 650i, sure, but certainly not the kind of howl that announces itself from 200 yards or impinges upon cabin refinement at speed.


BMW 6 Series cornering
At eight-tenths the Six is precise and controlled, with plenty of entertainment value still to give

The more money you spend on your BMW 6 Series, the longer it’ll take you to familiarise yourself with all of its active and adaptable chassis systems, its various driving modes and its many driver assistance gadgets. Which is fine, up to a point. Complexity goes hand in hand with sophisticated technology, after all, and sophisticated technology is what you want for your £60-£80k. But if you’ve spent time fiddling with the various software control algorithms for the dampers, anti-roll bars, stability control systems and power steering and are no closer to having a car you’re completely satisfied with… well, then you’ve got a problem.

That’s the situation this BMW puts its driver in. With four chassis modes ranging from Comfort to Sport+, and three gearbox control maps, you’d imagine one combination would allow you to connect with the dynamic character of the car on a cross-country road and explore its handling potential. But whatever mode you select, the 6 Series seems to remain frustratingly aloof.

The 5 Series isn't far off BMW’s trademark weight distribution; 51 per cent is over its front wheels

Normal and Comfort modes allow you plenty of compliance for comfortable town and trunk road mileage, but not enough steering precision or body control for more challenging roads. Sport mode makes the car’s dynamic demeanour more accurate and composed, enough for keen back-road driving with lots of grip and commendable roll control. But at times Sport sends an unsettling shudder through the car’s body structure over a sharp-edged bump.

None of the modes dials much natural feel into the electric power steering system, which seems sticky at times and overly heavy at others. None of them really counteracts a mild tendency towards understeer. But worse still, none of them feels like a proper baseline setting in which the 650i offers an ideal blend of control and compliance.

BMW Unfortunately, the same is true of the flagship M6. The complexity of the drivetrain options is upped but still no setting delivers proper feel to the steering or an agreeable dynamic compromise between ride and handling.

Bizarrely, given its billing as the most luxurious 6 Series, it is the Gran Coupe which provides the most engaging drive. It is balanced, fluid and neutral, and selecting Comfort mode even allows for a cosseting ride.


BMW 6 Series coupé
The 6 Series shares its plaform with models as diverse as the 5 Series and Rolls-Royce Ghost

When we road tested the BMW 650i convertible we returned of 28.9mpg on a lengthy run, which may sound thirsty to many, but by the standards of its V8 drop-top peers, many of which struggle to better 25mpg on the run, it is frugal. Emitting 249g/km of CO2, this 6 Series is also £200 cheaper to tax every year than an equivalent Jaguar XK or Mercedes SL500.

Saving around £8000 off the list price and going for the 640i will save you a decent amount at the fuel pumps if the official average figures are anything to go by. The six-cylinder car beats the V8 by 9mpg (35.7mpg versus 26.4mpg), while CO2 drops usefully to 185g/km; that’s a few tax bands, meaning a sizeable company car tax saving of the best part of £300 per month.

Getting excited with the options list pushes the car's price up rapidly

Likewise, that might make the 640d and its 51.4mpg combined economy and 144g/km figure even more compelling.
 Value seems to speak strongly for the car, too. At well over £70,000, the 650i convertible is still cheaper than the entry-level Porsche 911 cabriolet – undercut only by Jaguar’s 5.0-litre XK – and comes with 19in alloy wheels, Dakota leather upholstery and a 10.2in sat-nav system.

Just beware the options list, because a fully loaded 650i with Adaptive Drive, Integral Active Steering, a head-up display and all of the other toys will cost you more than £94k.

The 640i and 640d already come nicely equipped with more acronyms than you could possibly imagine and a decent roster of luxury equipment, too. Once again, though, BMW dealers will do their utmost to get you to plunder the options list, which can affect not only the amount you pay for the car, but also the rate of company car tax.

For the more family-oriented, the Gran Coupe would make for an ideal company car purchase (as it shares its low running costs with the standard coupe) but for its high asking price when compared to its rivals. An Audi A7, for example, matches the 640d's 309bhp and can be bought from £46,120. A 640d SE is £63,900.

Moreover, BMW the M6 flagship, despite its crushing performance, also appears poor value. Put simply, the BMW M5 on which it is based offers identical power in a more practical bodyshell for £20,000 less.


4 star BMW 6 Series coupé
Class-leading drivetrain and a lovely interior, but blunt handling

The BMW 6 Series has a breadth of ability that’s virtually unrivalled in its class.

There's a remarkable powertrain in the form of the V8 650i, a versatile chassis and practical body, which allow it to play almost any role with conviction: weekend hotrod, long-haul GT, occasional four-seater or, in convertible form, carefree drop-top. Convertibles certainly don’t come much faster, better mannered or more thoroughly executed.

For all its basic speed, it’s an uncommunicative driver’s car

And rarely do coupes or convertibles come as practical. There’s a decent amount of space for adults in the back, and the soft-top (rather than folding hard-top) means there’s a decent boot.

The role this 6 Series struggles with, though, is the one you may miss the most: for all its basic speed, it’s an uncommunicative driver’s car. Despite the army of active chassis systems, it’s essentially an inert, unresponsive car that lacks balance and poise, and feels heavy and cumbersome when really tested.

How much that will detract from your enjoyment depends on how keen a driver you are because, in other ways, the 6 Series is as uncompromised as such cars get.


Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

BMW 6 Series 2011-2018 First drives