BMW 6-Series Cabriolet22 | 03 | 2011Scotcars rating

    BMW redefines the world of open-topped luxury with its new 6-Series Cabriolet


    SEVEN YEARS AGO I was at a wonderful launch of the BMW 6-Series convertible. It was at a really smart hotel near Malaga in southern Spain and the event was memorable for a couple of reasons. The first was when someone inadvertently drove over the briefcase containing the electronic keys for all dozen or so test cars, rendering them smashed and useless. Fortunately they had the spare sets to hand. The second was that it was the start of one of the best drives I’ve ever had in Europe, taking one of the brand new 6-Series convertibles from the shores of the Mediterranean near Gibraltar, north over the mountains of central Spain and France, through the Channel Tunnel and on to Scotland – all in the space of a weekend. It was superb and the car was a delight.

    Things have moved on since then. On the down side, I’m told the luxury hotel is now derelict, a victim of the recession, but the good news is the 6-Series convertible has been brought right up to date and is even better. I was back in the same area to try them out ahead of their launch in the UK. I’m delighted to report that BMW has kept the distinctive and positive features of the previous model – like the vertically retracting rear glass window – and have improved the feel and look of the car all round, smoothing off some of the sharper edges and giving it a more elegant image. It’s bigger all round than its predecessor and it suits its expanded dimensions.

    With justified confidence, they say the new car is the ultimate Grand Tourer and after a couple of days of putting it through its paces on the sweeping roads in the Andalucian hills, I have to say they’ve done the business – but it is an expensive piece of kit in these canny times.  

    On the road

    I drove both the big V8 650i and the straight-six 640i and while the big beast was a wonderful performer with a stunning growl, I felt the smaller version returned a more enjoyable experience with greater refinement and only a slight drop in performance. It will be the biggest seller – in the past only 5% of sales have been of the bigger power unit – and BMW expect to sell around 1000 in total in the first year.

    The coupe version will be available from October and there’s a heavy hint that a Gran Coupe will follow after that. Fuel consumption has been improved and the engineers have done a brilliant job with their EfficientDynamics programme – which incorporates brake energy regeneration, lightweight engineering, electric power steering and the use of low friction fluids — increasing efficiency and reducing low emissions with no adverse effect on performance. For example, compared to the SL350 from Mercedes, it has more power and better torque; it’s half a second faster to 62mph; it does six-and-a-half more miles to every gallon and is 41g/kms lower in emissions.

    Impressive figures, but it’s on the road that the car really does feel good. Left in the automatic mode it is effortless as it uses each one of its eight gears, or overriding the system using the steering wheel paddles to drive manually, produces first class driver response, especially if you select the Sport, or better still, Sport+ in the £3400 Adaptive Drive option. This piece of technical wizardry uses electrically controlled dampers and anti-roll stabilisation to absorb road surface imperfections for better handling.

    Another option is Active Steering which combines the front axle with a steering rear axle, turning the rear wheels by up to 2.5 degrees to produce amazing agility whether on twisty mountain passes or city traffic. This really is a driver’s car which gives so much back to the lucky person behind the wheel.  

    Comfort & Safety

    I had the roof down all the time I was driving, and even after the sun sank low in the sky the heated seats kept my back and bum nice and cosy while I could still enjoy the smells and sounds of open top motoring, with little or no buffeting. The roof goes down in 19 seconds and putting it up again takes just five seconds longer, with both operations possible at speeds up to 25mph.

    Rear seat space is restricted, as you’d expect, but there is more headroom than before and there’s more range in height adjustment for the two front seats. Boot space is impressive and very little is lost if you want to drop the roof, and even then there's still space for two golf bags. The new car comes, for the first time, with an active bonnet safety system to protect pedestrians in a collision at speeds between 12-34mph. If that happens, pyrotechnic actuators raise the bonnet at the front and rear to create a bigger space for deformation in the engine bay to absorb energy and reduce the risk of injury. I’m sure that all adds to the repair costs, so it’s better to avoid those pesky pedestrians altogether.

    The new car is the only one in its segment to offer a Head-up Display — a £980 option — and it's very useful to have the speed and navigation directions projected on to the windscreen in front of the driver, but I would have liked more information available than was on offer. The test car also came with surround-view cameras which offer a range of pictures of the car’s position the road and is especially useful for the front wing views which can look both ways at restricted-view junctions. I still think it’s a bit of a gimmick, and is it really worth £530? I didn’t get the chance to try it, but BMW is the first in the world to come up with an in-car email display via Bluetooth. Owners of a BlackBerry smartphone can receive emails on the central control display and have them read aloud using a text-to-speech function built into the system. It’s clever – but I think it really is a step too far.  

    Should I buy one?

    Of all the expensive and upmarket cars I have test-driven, this really is one I could live with for everyday motoring. Can you lend me 80 grand?

    CLICK HERE to see our video of the new 6-Series Coupe

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    Alan Douglas

    Quick Stats
    Price OTR/As Tested £65,680 / £76,575
    Engine / Power: 2979cc straight 6-cylinder / 320bhp
    How fast?: 0-62mph 5.7secs, Max 155mph
    How big/heavy?: H1365mm W1894mm L4894mm / 1915kg
    How thirsty/CO2?: Combined 35.8mpg / CO2 185g/km
    InsGP/Road tax: n/a / Band I £200
    Alternatives: Maserati GT; Mercedes SL; Jaguar XK

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