As we mentioned above, the navigation system is DVD-based, which makes some of its functions slow. A few times we had to wait quite a long time for it to calculate a destination. But the maps offer very good resolution, and the route-guidance graphics are very good. Our big complaint about the system is that getting to the map display takes five moves of the iDrive controller. You can say "show map" to the voice command system, but that takes longer than a quick access button. The integrated traffic reporting system is about as good as current infrastructure allows and, as we found in our review of the BMW X6, offers dynamic routing around severe traffic.
The lack of multiple destination capability is a flaw, and the points-of-interest database is limited. We also found it difficult to configure which icons are displayed on the map. Although route guidance didn't have text to speech, we did like that turn directions were shown on the optional heads-up display, projected on the windshield.
We were pleased to find a USB port in the console, which let us plug in an iPod or a USB flash drive. These sources augmented the single-CD slot in the dashboard, Sirius satellite radio, and HD radio, another option for the M6. For MP3 CDs and USB drives, the interface let us browse folders and choose music to play. The iPod interface is better, breaking music down by album, artist, and genre. One odd note: although we could play the MP3 tracks stored on our iPod, it wouldn't play a few albums encoded in Apple Lossless format.
The Harman Kardon audio system in the M6 uses 13 speakers, which includes one center in the dashboard and two subwoofers toward the rear. Although this setup seems like it should be impressive, we weren't blown away by it. The audio sounded good, but seemed a little muffled, not really bringing out the full quality of the music we played. Beyond typical controls such as bass and treble, the BMW interface also has a seven-band graphic equalizer, part of the optional Enhanced Audio package.
BMW's Bluetooth cell phone integration is excellent. We paired up a Samsung phone and almost immediately our contact list was available through iDrive. One other interesting feature to note on the car is a star button on the steering wheel that can be programmed to activate a number of functions, such as muting the stereo, moving to the next audio source, or changing the air recirculation mode. We would have liked the option of having that button show the map, though.
Under the hood
All of the cabin tech in the 2008 BMW M6 can be had in the standard BMW 650i, but what's under the hood and in the suspension differentiates the two cars. With the engine program set to normal, or P400 as BMW calls it, and the Electronic Damper Control set to Comfort, the M6 is a nicely appointed boat. It rides well, but the steering feels loose and you'll wonder if the V-10 under the hood is missing a few cylinders. But change the engine program to P500 or P500 Sport, set the EDC to either Normal or Sport, and push the M Dynamic Mode button for good measure, and the car immediately becomes fun, with more power on tap than you can reasonably use on a public road.
Pushing all of these buttons to make the M6 worth driving sounds tedious, but BMW includes a programmable M button on the steering wheel, which can transform the car with one push. If you wanted, you could set the M button to take all the fun out of the car, but most people will want to either use BMW's Sport defaults, or program in even higher performance settings, such as having it turn the Dynamic Stability Control off. These changes are pretty dramatic in practice. For instance, going from P400 to P500 Sport while driving down the highway delivers a palpable boost, and changing the EDC to Sport makes the car's suspension and steering suddenly feel much tighter. MDM loosens up the traction control, letting you pivot the big car around corners a little better.
BMW claims 4.5 seconds to 60 mph with the M6, a number we can certainly believe after experiencing the M6's acceleration. With sport settings on and giving it the gun, the car leaps forward, but BMW makes sure everything happens efficiently, with no sound and fury of spinning wheels. The car keeps its rear wheels gripping the pavement, and holding the nose in line is an easy task for the driver. Because of its grip, we found it difficult to stress the car in hard cornering, although we managed to get in a little of BMW's characteristic controlled rear slide from the M6. But the truth is that it's difficult to make use of the 500 horsepower from the 5-liter V-10 on anything less than a track. The engine uses BMW's Double VANOS system, which gives it stepless variable valve timing and 10 throttle controllers, making the three driver-selectable engine programs possible. The engine's torque number is 383 foot-pounds at 6,100rpm, substantial, but low enough to keep the drive wheels under control on fast launches.
One thing that will make enthusiasts happy is the six-speed manual transmission option, as opposed to the Sequential Manual Gearbox, which was the only transmission available on previous versions of the car. The manual transmission isn't high-tech, but it works well, offering fairly wide ratios so that you can clear 60 mph in second gear, pushing up toward the car's 8,200rpm redline. On the tachometer, BMW gives a yellow zone, running from about 7,800rpm to 8,200rpm before the redline.
We noted that, driving about 70 mph on the freeway in sixth gear, the engine speed remained around 3,000rpm--a little high for economical driving. And this is where the M6's performance suffers. During our time with the car, which included a mix of city, freeway, and mountain driving, we saw an average of 11.7 mpg, sticking to the low end of the EPA's range of 11 mpg city and 17 mpg highway for the M6. Given the car's 18.5-gallon tank, we saw the low fuel warning message come on with some frequency. For emissions, the car meets California's minimal LEV II rating.
The 2008 BMW M6 goes for a base price of $99,300. Our test car added a number of options, including $400 for iPod integration, $1,000 for a smart key, $300 for the carbon fiber cabin trim, $350 for HD radio, $700 for an audio system enhancement, and $1,200 for the heads-up display. Along with a few other nontechie options, $775 destination charge, and $3,000 gas guzzler fee, the total racked up to $111,320. For this kind of money you could get a Maserati GranTurismo, a much more distinctive car, although not as fast. Other coupes to consider would be the more brutish Nissan GT-R and the Audi S5.
Rating the tech on the BMW M6, the engine and suspension get high marks because of the damping control, the M Dynamic Mode switch, and the VANOS system, which lets the driver select how the engine runs. But we have to knock it for the fuel economy. The cabin tech is all excellent, as we've seen in previous BMWs, but the navigation system works a little too slowly and the audio system could sound better. For design, we like the look of the front three quarters of the car, but that high trunk lid is an eyesore. Then there's the iDrive interface, which presents various usability issues. Fortunately, we should see that go away soon.