A car like the Scion FR-S, driven on a twisty road, makes you feel like a really skillful driver. The 2014 BMW M6 Gran Coupe offers no such validation. Unless you push it to extremely dangerous speeds, it will take that same road and make it feel like a walk in the park.
BMW originally built its M cars as special editions for the company's racing drivers. Since that time the M brand has become popularized to the point where you can even get an M3 Convertible. The M6, however, has the kind of performance chops that can best be enjoyed by a professional racing driver.
I make no claims to anywhere near that level of skill. Whenever I attempted to push the M6 to its performance levels, I was left hanging onto the steering wheel for dear life, with knuckles whitened.
The M6 is a completely extraordinary car, using every bit of tech that BMW can throw into it to shave tenths off lap times. Unless you're flooring it at every straight, then braking and snapping downshifts for the turns, you're not really experiencing this car.
The 6 Series comes in a few different forms, and BMW offers M versions of each. I had the Gran Coupe, which seemed an unlikely candidate for M treatment. The Gran Coupe, the four-door version of the 6 Series, has a beautifully styled body. Although only 5 inches longer than the standard 6 Series coupe, the Gran Coupe presents an elongated look.
In M6 form, think of it as BMW's four-passenger cruise missile.
Settings and more settings
As has become standard in BMW's M cars, I was able to set a wide number of performance parameters, from steering to suspension to traction control. Pushing the many buttons on the console, changing settings between Comfort, Sport, and Sport Plus, I was overwhelmed by the choices.
To simplify things, BMW mounts two programmable M buttons on the steering wheel. I got into the iDrive infotainment system and found screens where I could assign the host of performance parameters to each button. The two M buttons hardly seemed enough though, considering how many different permutations of performance profiles the car allows.
The sheer amount of settings is a far cry from the simple Sport buttons on many other cars.
To break it down a bit, the M6's throttle control can be set between Efficient, Sport, and Sport Plus. Actually, "throttle" isn't precisely correct when referring to this engine; BMW notes that this is the first M engine to use its Valvetronic system, individually controlling each intake valve and doing away with a conventional throttle body. BMW exploits other tech with this 4.4-liter V-8 engine, such as its high-precision direct-injection and dual twin-scroll turbochargers, to make it produce 560 horsepower and 500 pound-feet of torque.
In the Efficient setting, all of that power becomes remarkably controllable, with even a quick quarter-pedal push on the gas leading to nothing more than a gentle but inexorable forward push. Turn the engine control setting to Sport Plus, and the car becomes nearly impossible to hold at a steady speed. Any slight push on the gas pedal results in immediate engine response.
The suspension settings go through Comfort, Sport, and Sport Plus, a slight deviation from the throttle terminology. In Comfort mode, the ride quality hardly presents the looseness or soft ride you might expect. It remains stiff and competent. Comfort for BMW is what other automakers would call Sport. Cranking it all the way up to Sport Plus mode, the ride becomes downright hard, fine on a smoothly paved track but torturous on bumpy back roads.
Sport Plus keeps the car rock-solid, the adaptive dampers refusing to let the car lean even an inch, in turn keeping the tires firmly in contact with the pavement for maximum traction in the turns.
The M6's steering rig uses hydraulic fluid pressurized with an electric pump, allowing BMW to implement another set of Comfort, Sport, and Sport Plus settings. However, unlike the light steering of an Audi or a Lexus, the M6's steering retains heft when in Comfort mode. Take it all the way up to Sport Plus, where the power boost is greatly reduced, and it feels like you're dragging the wheel through molasses.
Another piece in the performance equation is the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, what BMW calls its DCT. Using two automated clutches, this transmission delivers quick gear changes at the touch of the paddles mounted to the steering wheel. And like the car's other performance features, it offers multiple settings. With a button on the console, I could take it from smooth shifting to brutally hard gear changes.
With the DCT set for its hardest-shifting performance, I was thrilled by the engine note and the feel of the car as I snapped it between second and third gears repeatedly over a winding course. The car bucked with each shift, but didn't seem to mind, maintaining all of its breathtaking control.
And while the car had four gears above third, they went unused when I had the M6 on a twisty road. In second gear at 50 mph, the engine speed only began pushing towards redline. Third gear could easily run over 100 mph. Gears four through seven were merely overdrive, suitable for saving gas while freeway cruising.
But as I mentioned at the start of this review, you have to drive the M6 very hard to make it even feel like it's trying. I found it difficult to engage in casual sport driving, as the M6 barely noticed the turns at moderately fast speeds. With the various performance settings in Sport, the M6 could eat up any road that fell under its wheels. In Sport Plus, it would eat up these roads and spit them back out.
While I was able to give the M6 a good dose of twisty back-road driving, more of my time was spent driving in the city, on freeways, and behind slow traffic. In those situations, the Comfort settings made the most sense. Although the ride quality remained stiff, the M6 was comfortable enough and very drivable.
Beyond some engine growl, Comfort mode made it feel like Clark Kent to the Sport mode's Superman.
There are, however, some oddities to the M6's driving characteristics. Put the DCT into Drive and the M6 just sits there. There is no creep mode, so it won't move until you actually push the gas pedal. And I had to do some Internet research to find out how to park the car. Moving the shifter to Neutral and setting the parking brake resulted in a dashboard warning that the car might roll. You are supposed to leave it in Drive or Reverse, set the parking brake, then turn off the ignition.