As in other current M models from BMW, the 2008 BMW M6 is afflicted with a dual personality. It masquerades as a big luxury coupe around town, but when the roads open up, the M6 can transform into a superhero. At a push of the M button on the steering wheel, the suspension tightens and the throttle response becomes more acute. Where a superhero might where a cape, the M6 gets a carbon fiber roof, lowering its center of gravity. But while the big, long coupe shows a lot of brawn in its styling, the high trunk lid makes it look like it could go on a diet.
BMW fits the car out with plenty of technology for driving and infotainment. Both the M button and a star button on the wheel are programmable, letting the driver customize the car a little, although this theme could be taken further. iDrive still serves as the interface for navigation, stereo, cell phone, and other car systems, but that system is about to get a radical overhaul, which isn't soon enough.
Test the tech: Navigation rally
As M6 sounds like a name for military hardware (actually, an air defense version of the Bradley fighting vehicle), we decided to run a navigation rally with our 2008 BMW M6 to a number of old army bases around San Francisco. For the navigation rally, we enter a series of locations into the navigation system and see if we can get there as close to the estimated time of arrival that the system promises.
We set our first destination as Crissy Field, an Army air strip active from 1915 to 1974 and since converted to a public recreation area. From the start we hit a snag with the M6, as it only let us enter one destination at a time. On the plus side, we searched for the term Crissy Field in its points-of-interest database (labeled "Information" in the BMW) and got the right result immediately. The navigation system told us the 5-mile trip from CNET headquarters to Crissy Field would take 10 minutes, so we took off, dutifully following its directions.
Unfortunately, those directions took us through the heart of downtown and all its attendant traffic. The start and stop traffic was brutal, but the M6 didn't seem to mind. We had it set for the city, with the suspension in comfort mode and the throttle relaxed. The M6 was well-mannered, and didn't mind letting us creep along with its six-speed manual transmission in first gear. The only thing that had us worried was the speed of the gas gauge.
With the secondary screen in the M6 set to show route guidance, we had no difficulty following its directions, and even got to put on a little more speed as we broke out of the jam. But we couldn't make up the time we had spent at lights, arriving at Crissy Field a full 17 minutes over our ETA. The car does have traffic reporting in the navigation system, but that didn't do us any good as it only covers freeways and major highways, not surface streets.
Our second destination was the Presidio, which served as a military base for 219 years, first under the Spanish, until it closed in 1995. Now it's the home of the Letterman Digital Arts Center, which includes Lucasfilm, LucasArts, and Industrial Light and Magic. For this destination, we chose to use the navigation system's map input, finding a point on a road near the Parade Grounds. This time we were given 3 minutes to cover 1.3 miles. To make sure we hit our mark, we put the car in M mode, giving it an immediate boost, but even then we were 1 minute over, taking 4 minutes to cover the distance.
For the final destination, we chose Fort Baker, across the Golden Gate Bridge. This base opened in 1866, and was closed in 2002. We tried the points-of-interest database, but couldn't find an entry for Fort Baker, so we resorted to the map input. This option proved frustrating, as you can't scroll the map very quickly on this DVD-based system. For the 5-mile trip there, the navigation system allotted 8 minutes. Knowing that these ETAs were proving optimistic, we kept the car in M mode and maneuvered as fast as we safely could through the tourist traffic. But the 1.7 miles of the bridge had a speed limit of 45 mph, and the cars were generally moving below that. We followed the M6's directions down the other side of the bridge, making it to our chosen spot in 10 minutes, which was 2 minutes more than the ETA.
The M6 doesn't want for speed, but there's only so much you can do on public roads, and its navigation system seems to expect clear roads and full use of the car's capabilities.
In the cabin
The cabin of the 2008 BMW M6 features good fit and finish we've come to expect from the automaker. One detail stands out: the carbon fiber trim used over the instrument panel, which makes a nice change from flat black plastic or faux metal. We appreciate how BMW includes a cowl over the center LCD, similar to the one over the instrument cluster, to cut glare. The single knob and menu button for the iDrive interface are mounted aft of the shifter on the console. Although we've become adept with iDrive, we welcome BMW's news that the system will soon be radically redesigned, with a whole new software interface.