Adding to the luxury experience were a number of electronic helpers, such as the blind spot detection system that lit up an icon in the mirror casing to warn when it was not safe to change lanes. Likewise, the steering wheel vibrated to let me know if I was drifting out of my lane. For city driving, though, the most useful feature was the 640i Gran Coupe's parking assist.
Looking for parking on San Francisco's crowded streets, I had merely to push a button on the console to activate the system. The LCD showed a surround-view picture of the car and let me know if it spotted a large enough parking spot at the curb. Putting the car in reverse, I could take my hands off the wheel and the car steered itself into the parking spot.
A head-up display, an option in CNET's car, always showed the current speed, and added detailed route guidance graphics when I had a destination programmed into the navigation system. BMW has one of the best navigation systems, too, with maps showing 3D rendered buildings in cities and topographic features in hilly areas. I particularly liked how well this navigation system avoided traffic problems, not only rerouting around them but also flashing a traffic jam icon in the head-up display.
BMW makes Google search available to the navigation system, but only with a subscription to its telematics service. Separate from that service is BMW's ConnectedDrive app. With ConnectedDrive loaded on my iPhone, the only smartphone for which it is currently available, I could get my Facebook and Twitter feeds on the car's LCD. This novelty makes for good entertainment when stuck in traffic, but more fun is the Wikipedia service. It takes the car's location, then looks for Wikipedia locations nearby, showing them on the car's screen. I could look for an interesting spot, such as a historical monument, and port the destination into the BMW's navigation system.
The 640i Gran Coupe's ConnectedDrive app included a Web radio feature, letting me tune in Internet-based radio stations. Alternatively, I could load up Pandora oron my iPhone, and listen to music from these apps through the car's stereo system, and even control them through the car's interface.
Of course the 640i Gran Coupe includes BMW's iDrive controller, a dial on the console that has become very refined over the years. The only tedious aspect of this controller comes from entering alphanumeric characters through its rotary interface. Much more capable is the car's voice command system. Not only could I place calls by saying a contact's name, something many cars do today, I could also request music from my iPhone, USB drive, or the car's own hard drive by name. The voice command system maps pretty well to the onscreen controls, which made it much easier to know which commands were available at every step. I found it very easy to use.
I have complained in the past about BMW's onscreen music library interface, which is needlessly complicated for a car. While that interface is still present, BMW has ameliorated the problem by adding a Browse Directory menu item. Choosing this entry, the car showed me a list of all artists on my iPhone or USB drive. Selecting an artist from the list showed associated albums. It was a much easier way to select music.
However, this car's piece de resistance had to be the Bang & Olufsen audio system. BMW's base audio system is pretty good, but the optional Bang & Olufsen system takes it up a big notch. This system produces excellent clarity all around. I appreciated the total lack of hum or any other sound when the instruments on a track went quiet, then the ensuing crisp guitar strumming or rich vocals. Bass comes through controlled and strong, taking advantage of the 1,200 watts of amplification from the system.
Any flaws I could find with the 2013 BMW 640i Gran Coupe were relatively minor. My fuel economy was on the low end of its EPA range, usually the case, but never dropped below the city rate of 20 mpg, according to the trip computer. BMW uses an impressive array of technology to help this car get the best fuel economy it can. Similarly, the performance tech made it a fun car to drive on twisty roads, while maintaining its luxury character in every day driving.
Cabin electronics reach an even higher degree of excellence. The stereo system plays just about every digital source, and the Bang & Olufsen audio system makes for extremely enjoyable listening. The connected features are a cool new twist to the automotive market, but in this BMW only available to iPhone owners. And that last point would be the biggest small flaw in the car, as it cuts out a portion of the population from taking advantage of every feature.
|Model||2013 BMW 640i Gran Coupe|
|Powertrain||Turbocharged direct-injection 3-liter inline six-cylinder engine, eight-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||20 mpg city/30 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||21.4 mpg|
|Navigation||Standard hard drive-based system with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard, with contact list integration|
|Digital audio sources||Pandora, MOG, onboard hard drive, Bluetooth streaming, iPod, USB drive, satellite radio, HD radio|
|Audio system||Bang & Olufsen 1,200-watt 16-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Night vision, lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot detection, head-up display, automatic parallel parking, surround view camera|
|Price as tested||$97,095|