2006 BMW Z4 M Coupe by Conor Twomey (5/21/2006)
Can BMW win at the Cayman game?
If you’re one of those people thinking about buying a BMW M6 and want a nice, fluffy article telling you how wonderful it is, then look away now. There are plenty of other places on the Web where critics will tell you what an astonishing car the M6 is and more power to them. But I really, really, REALLY, didn’t care for the M6 at all and while I might very much be in the minority here, I knows what I likes and this ain’t it.
For a start, I think the 6-Series on which the M6 is based is a travesty. Forget the subjective matter of its looks for a moment and consider just how massively pointless it is as a means of transport. It has no rear seat worth speaking of and yet it’s actually longer than the 5-Series with which it shares most of its hardware. The wheelbase is almost four inches shorter and it sits almost four inches lower — all of which comes directly out of the cabin, all of which we could have forgiven if it was even vaguely good-looking.
Then there’s the interior, a more cramped version of the cockpit found in the 5-Series, although now with less visibility and still saddled with iDrive and all its dangerously unfathomable menus. The doors are so long it’s impossible to get out of in tight parking spaces and you can more or less give up hope of ever getting anyone jammed into the rear seat out again. There’s no denying the front seats are extraordinarily comfortable and the build quality is first-rate, but beyond than that there’s not much to recommend the 6’s cabin.
While the M5 is a stealthy and svelte super-sedan, the look-at-me M6 howls its M-ness from the rooftops. The wheels are glitzy 19-inch items that poke out from bulging fenders that combine with the aggressive new front fascia to draw more attention to a car that wasn’t exactly a wilting wallflower to begin with. The view from the rear, with its M-spec bumper, rear diffuser, and enormous rear tires, is even more cartoonish than the standard 6-Series, while other M-spec add-ons like the exposed carbon fiber on the roof simply smacks of gimmick to me. The interior benefits from a nice M-spec steering and sportier seats, but otherwise it’s fairly stock in there, which means you get the same fine entertainment system you can’t operate and the same forest of stalks and paddles around the steering wheel. Sigh.
Power begets more power
All that ceases to matter once you fire up its astonishing 5.0-liter, 40-valve, quad-cam, V-10 engine. Essentially the same unit as found in the M5, it generates its staggering 500 hp output by using race-derived technology like individual throttle bodies for each cylinder and dry-sump lubrication. Its redline is pegged at a stratospheric 8250 rpm and maximum power isn’t achieved until 7750 rpm, so while it does demand a lot of revs to get the most from it, it’s got so much power in reserve you actually don’t need to rev the nuts off it to achieve big velocities.
If you do decide to thrash it, the performance is mind-boggling with 60 mph arriving in just 4.5 seconds from rest and a top speed well beyond the governed 155 mph. Thanks to the variable cam timing and individual throttles, it generates a more-than-adequate 383 lb-ft of torque at 6100 rpm and with seven paddle-selected gears to choose, it’s unlikely you’ll ever be caught out wanting for power. The transmission is also carried directly over from the M5, so you get the same superb high-speed changes but the same cumbersome low-speed operation and annoying tendency to roll back at idle.
Thankfully, there’s a six-speed manual in the works for the M5 and M6, so I won’t dwell on the transmission too long. Like the M5, for those dreary commutes in stop-go traffic you can take it out of “M-Drive” mode and amble around with a piddling 400 hp, which, in anything other than ideal conditions, is more than enough I think.
The M6 also borrows the M5’s active-ride suspension system, which is pleasantly firm in normal mode though calling the softest setting Comfort is a bit of a stretch. In Sport mode it stiffens up considerably, more so than in the M5 it seems, and while I appreciate that the M6 is supposed to more hardcore than the M5, I do think they’ve made it a bit too stiff for anywhere other than the racetrack. The phenomenal brakes also come right out of the BMW M5, with 14.7-inch front and 14.6-inch rear cross-drilled rotors constructed from fade-free, compound materials and clamped by massive dual-piston calipers all around.
Hit the steering-mounted M-Drive button, and in addition to the extra horsepower and sport suspension, you get a sharper throttle, meatier steering and faster gear-shifts, the overall effect of which is to turn the M6 into a super-focused uber-coupe. It grips like a racecar and turns in with staggering ferocity; but because it’s such a big, heavy car with a slightly mute steering, it doesn’t have enough intimacy to have quite that level of performance.
Whereas the M5 is engaging, the M6 scares the bejesus out of me and because it’s lost almost four inches of wheelbase and yet only weighs about 100 pounds less, it’s less forgiving of mistakes and feels more twitchy and nervous by comparison. The driving instructors at the Road America racetrack loved it, and I’m sure if I had their level of skill and a racetrack to play on every day I’d enjoy it too, but out there in the real world the M6 is a scary proposition.
I drove it for a while without the stability control in the rain and the car was all but undrivable, snapping this way and that without me really asking or expecting it to hang its back end out. And it’s not like I’m inexperienced with cars of this power and performance, having piloted Vipers and Ford GTs in the past without complaint.
There’s a dark side to the BMW M6 that makes me very uncomfortable behind the wheel, which makes it disturbingly different in character to the amazing competence of the M5 or even the relative delicacy of a 911 Turbo. Quite why it costs fifteen grand more than the M5 I cannot fathom, especially when you consider that it’s no faster, not anything as good to look at, has almost no versatility and it isn’t nearly as much fun to drive.
No, the M6 and I did not get along at all, I’m afraid.
2006 BMW M6
Base price: $96,795 (plus $3000 gas-guzzler tax)
Engine: 5.0-liter V-10, 500 hp/383 lb-ft
Transmission: Seven-speed sequential manual, rear-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 191.8 x 73.0 x 54.0 in
Wheelbase: 109.5 in
Curb weight: 3909 lb
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 12/18 mpg
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags; side and curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; stability control, active damping, tire pressure monitor
Major standard equipment: Automatic climate control, satellite navigation, six-CD audio system; Bluetooth phone system; 19-inch alloy wheels
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles