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Expert Reviews 1 of 3
By Jim Flammang
April 7, 2004
Vehicle Overview For the first time since 1989, BMW will offer a 6 Series coupe, along with a convertible, in the U.S. market. Powered by a 325-horsepower, 4.4-liter Valvetronic V-8 engine, the two-door luxury sport coupe is related to the company’s 5 Series sedan. BMW describes the rear-wheel-drive 645Ci as “a driver’s car of the first order.”
The 645Ci’s lightweight construction makes ample use of aluminum and composite materials. Three different six-speed transmissions — including BMW’s Sequential Manual Gearbox (SMG), which has shift paddles on the steering wheel like the ones used in Formula One racecars — are offered. BMW claims the 645Ci coupe with a manual gearbox can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds, while the convertible achieves that feat in 6 seconds.
Like the system introduced on the automaker’s Z4 roadster, Dynamic Driving Control is standard. At the touch of a button, the system alters steering in relation to road speed and allows the automatic or SMG transmission to hold gears longer.
Other technical features include Active Roll Stabilization and Dynamic Stability Control, as well as an optional head-up display. Run-flat tires are standard, and adaptive headlights swivel from 9 to 15 degrees to deliver better nighttime illumination on curvy roads. Active Steering electronically varies the degree to which the front wheels turn in response to steering inputs; an optional Sport Package includes this feature.
Following its official debut at the 2003 Frankfurt Motor Show in Germany, the 645Ci will reach U.S. dealerships in the spring of 2004. The 645Ci is manufactured in Dingolfing, Germany. Convertibles are fitted with roll bars that deploy in an emergency. In early fall 2003, a limited-edition coupe appeared in the Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog, and 50 examples sold out in 7 minutes.
Exterior BMW asserts that much like the original, the 645Ci “will be noticed first for its looks.” Exhibiting what BMW calls classic proportions, the coupe is long, low and wide and features a sculptured power dome hood. The company also says it projects an aura of strength and self confidence. Set back on the chassis, the passenger compartment has a low roofline. A large, tilting panorama glass roof is standard, but the glass panel does not slide.
To keep the car’s weight down, the 645Ci’s hood and doors are made of aluminum, the trunk lid is composed of composite materials and the front fenders are thermoplastic. An all-aluminum suspension minimizes unsprung weight. Measuring 190.2 inches long overall on a 109.4-inch wheelbase, the 645Ci is 73 inches wide and 54.1 inches tall. Convertibles have a vertical glass rear window that powers up and down and serves as a wind blocker when the top is down.
Interior Four people fit inside the 2+2 coupe and the convertible. Like BMW’s 5 Series sedans, the 645Ci uses the iDrive system; a single knob on the console controls multiple functions. Trunk space totals 13 cubic feet in the coupe, while the convertible offers 12.4 cubic feet when the top is up and 10.6 cubic feet when the top is down. Active Cruise Control and a Logic7 audio system are optional.
Under the Hood Borrowed from the four-door 545i sedan, BMW’s 4.4-liter Valvetronic V-8 engine produces 325 hp and 330 pounds-feet of torque. Three six-speed transmissions are offered: manual, Steptronic automatic and BMW’s Sequential Manual Gearbox, which incorporates a selector lever and shift paddles on the steering wheel. An electronic limiter keeps the car’s speed below 149 mph.
Safety BMW’s Head Protection System combines inflatable tubular elements with a stabilizing sail for increased protection in the coupe version. Seat-mounted side-impact airbags are standard, and convertible models have an Automatic Rollover Protection System.
Driving Impressions Like most BMWs, the 645Ci is a serious driver’s car. The suspensions are sufficiently taut, and occupants may experience a jittery, even fluttery sensation while rolling over certain surfaces. But this excess motion doesn’t really translate to a harsh ride. In any case, it’s a small price to pay for such superior control and stability.
The seats are satisfyingly supportive, snugly bolstered — almost like cocoons — and more comfortable than their firm cushions suggests. Visibility in the coupe is acceptable, but the mirrors could be larger. The B-pillars and tapered rear quarter glass impose some limits.
BMW’s iDrive system is technically innovative, but it’s sure to annoy some drivers. But for some purposes — such as the navigation system’s operation — the big control knob makes adjustments easier.
Performance is impressively energetic with a regular manual gearbox, but the SMG unit is less alluring. In automatic mode, lower-gear upshifts are often sloppy and jerky. Downshifts are better, and paddle-shifting manually yields smoother, more gratifying results. The 645Ci’s rich exhaust note is most noticeable from outside the car.
Convertibles perform and handle almost identically to the coupe, but the ride seems a little more relaxed. Backseat space is nearly nonexistent when the front seats are moved rearward. Trunk space is acceptable. The power up and down rear window works neatly, and it makes a helpful, easy-to-use wind blocker.