The problem is not with the BMW M6, the Bavarian carmaker’s 500-horsepower, 10-cylinder, seven-speed stupendo-coupe. The problem is the world around it. It’s just too small. Even here in Los Angeles, America’s biggest concrete playground and in places a free-fire zone of automotive misdeed, no off-ramp is long enough, no highway straight enough, no parking lot half so empty as to wring out half this car’s scale-pegging potential. The M6 — a havoc-minded version of the company’s 6-series coupe/convertible, built by BMW’s Motorsport (“M”) division — requires a much larger planet, and we, alas, are fresh out of those.
The M division is, of course, in the business of full-clip overkill, making fast cars quite a bit and unnecessarily faster, so it’s not really a surprise that the M6 capacities are so thoroughly rank and audacious — 0-60 mph in about 4.1 seconds (according to Car and Driver), 100 mph in nine seconds and a putative top speed in the neighborhood of 190 mph. Welcome to your $100,000 sideways tornado.
The trouble for me is that to enjoy the M6 you have to flog it like you’re Captain Bligh in mid-mood swing. There is perhaps no modern car more allergic to gentle-throttle, stop-and-go driving than the M6, except maybe the M5, the sedan version.
The key issue is what BMW drolly refers to as the transmission: the seven-speed sequential manual gearbox (SMG). These devices are intended to strike a compromise between an automatic tranny that tends to sap torque (although Porsche’s new 911 puts the lie to that) and the crisp, authoritative, driver-involved manual gearbox operated with a shifter and clutch. Lots of cars, including Ferrari and Lamborghini, have these race-derived, paddle-shifter gearboxes. None is quite so balky, reluctant and aggravating as the SMG.
If you push the M6’s beautiful center-console shifter into “D” for Drive, all is well until you come to the automated first-second shift; then the computer disengages the gear, the throttle goes down to idle, the digital clutch considers its options a moment before reengaging in second gear and ordering the throttle back into action. This process takes, approximately, an eternity, and when the gear reengages, the car lurches like it’s sucked up a bit of bad gas. There is, in fact, a scalar controller on the console with which you can adjust the aggressiveness of the gearshift, but there is no way to smooth out these gear transitions except by feathering the throttle yourself. Otherwise, the car is constantly hitching and falling off throttle, gathering itself back up and surging. Life as an automotive yo-yo. (DIY’ers can change gears manually either by the gated shifter or the paddle shifters.)
No, I take that back. The one way you can enjoy this car is if you forget about the automatic mode and use the paddle shifters behind the steering column, as God and Hans Stuck intended. Even then, gear changes at routine speeds are scandalously clunky.
(It’s not like BMW to admit error — “Yah, iDrive verks perfectly. You must learn zu operate ess!” — but the company will offer an automatic transmission for the M6 and M5 model next year.)
All the M6’s orneriness gradually dissipates then disappears the harder you drive the car. Push the “Power” button — this changes the engine mapping and various other functions to gain access to 100 more hp, for a maximum of 500 hp — and depress the M button on the steering wheel (which puts a sports spiff on both throttle and steering behavior). Dial in the adjustable suspension to its stiffest setting and go to work.
Suddenly, the computer logic all comes into focus. Now the car starts to feel its own pulse — honestly, the sensation is of riding a fast horse just as it breaks from an awkward canter to gallop. The upshifts begin to blend together in one seamless, elastic yank of acceleration; the throttle-blipping downshifts, coming bang-bang-bang under hard braking, are just about perfect. Drive it like you stole it, and the M6 is sensational, the mortal sin of transportation.
Much the same applies for the car’s suspension. Rigged with strut-based front suspension and four-links in the rear, the car has a pretty stiff ride, even if the suspension is set on Comfort. The wheel travel is short and under immense tension, which gives the car a choppy, head-tossing ride.
Push the car, though, and the dynamic forces start to come into alignment with the suspension. The ride, formerly frantic, goes all velvety. The spring stiffness that makes the car judder and pound at slow speeds suddenly makes sense as cornering forces build. Body roll is practically nil. The M6 plants its huge, 19-inch SportConti tires and corners like it’s on the Planet Velcro.
This is a big, masculine car, and while it’s downright majestic on long, sweeping turns, it starts to feel overly large as corners tighten up, much less rapier than cudgel. After all, we’re talking about a 2-ton automobile with only two usable seats and a very intimate, almost cramped, cabin (great trunk, though). The steering feel, through the thick-sectioned wheel, is precise and quick but surprisingly numb — I long for the thin-sectioned steering wheels and vivid, communicative feel of an old E36 BMW. There’s nothing remotely lively or toss-able about the M6. This is autobahn field artillery. You can’t argue with the brakes, though: heroic cross-drilled rotors so big they can be seen from space.
It’s fair to assume that, when it comes to fast cars, BMW knows what it’s doing; which is to say, everything about the car is deliberate. Consider the engine: This V10, 40-valve, high-compression (12.0:1), all-alloy magical mystery mill is equipped with, count-em, 10 throttles, one for each cylinder, and BMW’s stepless variable valve timing, plus every engine-control computer available west of the Urals. All that means is that the engineers could have dialed in pretty much any character they want into the engine — they could probably get it to whistle “Oh! Susanna” if they desired. They certainly could have put the power lower in the rev band. Instead, they gave the motor a peak horsepower output at 7,750 rpm — that’s Honda Civic Si range. Meanwhile, peak torque of 383 pound-feet comes along at an ionospheric 6,100 rpm.
Which means that the car really isn’t at full barking effect until you let it off the chain, and then, well, hide the cats.
You can’t say you weren’t warned. Just look at it. The M6 has a dark, glamorous look to it — call it upscale Sith lord — thanks to its malevolently low front spoiler, sills and rear apron/diffuser, from which the stainless-steel quad exhausts emerge. The roof is a glossy weave of carbon fiber; the fenders are composite. There is nothing trivial about the car’s presence on the street.
The M6 is to simple driving what “Bohemian Rhapsody” is to a Shaker hymn, what dynamite is to microsurgery, what Mt. Vesuvius is to a chin pimple. Excessive, by definition. Beautiful on the outside, replete with luxo-technology on the inside, and thoroughly overqualified for the Brentwood grand prix, it’s a car that delivers everything but a place to drive it.
2007 BMW M6
Base price: $99,795
Price, as tested: $106,390
Powertrain: 5-liter, 40-valve, DOHC V10 with variable-valve timing; seven-speed sequential manual gearbox with automatic mode; rear-wheel drive.
Horsepower: 500 at 7,750 rpm
Torque: 383 pound-feet at 6,100 rpm
Curb weight: 3,908 pounds
0-60 mph: 4.1 seconds*
Wheelbase: 109.5 inches
Overall length: 191.8 inches
EPA fuel economy: 12 miles per gallon city, 18 mpg highway
Final thoughts: Mal der Mehr
*Car and Driver