When we got the 2006 BMW M5 into our garage last week, our excitement was tinged by the consideration that, whatever fun we would have with the V-10, 500-horsepower rocket on wheels, we would be in for a big comedown when it came time to give it back. After all, how could we hope to replace all that power, luxury, and sheer driving pleasure with our next review vehicle?
Well, it turns out that our BMW high can be maintained for at least another week. In place of the M5, the nice men from BMW brought us the only thing in their garage that could possibly rival it for performance: the 2006 BMW M6.
The M series has always been a reason to celebrate the excesses of motoring, but like the 2006 M5, with which it shares an engine, a transmission, and nearly all cabin features, the 2006 M6 Coupe takes things a little further. With a 5-liter V-10 capable of conjuring up 500 horsepower and reaching an unrestricted top speed north of 200mph, the new M6 is not only the most powerful car in its class, it is one of the most powerful production cars on the road.
Aside from having two fewer doors and a Coupe body style, the only major external points of difference between the M6 and the M5 sedan are a slightly shorter wheelbase and a carbon-fiber roof on the M6. Inside, a couple of styling differences distinguish the M6 from the M5, above and beyond the obvious reduction in interior space and rear-seat room. The most striking of these is a carbon-fiber dash that replaces the more classical wood trim of the M5. Gone are the pop-out cup holders that come with the M5, which are replaced by a goofy (and, thankfully, removable) stick-on arrangement that invades the front passenger's personal space.
As in the M5, BMW's much-maligned iDrive dial dominates the central column and is the gateway to most of the M6's onboard technology, and, despite being in its second generation, iDrive is still a challenging interface to operate. The simple four-way home page menu for entertainment, navigation, communication, and climate belies a far more intricate web of menus and options beneath. One of the major difficulties when navigating iDrive is knowing whether to push the dial up, down, or to the side or whether to scroll the wheel to make a selection. After learning our lesson in the M5, we were more prepared for the quirks of the navigation programming, which still required us to supplement voice commands with the inputs via the iDrive dial. iDrive is also used to control the XM Satellite-enabled audio system, which plays MP3s and WMA CDs. Sound quality is superb, although the iDrive limits ID3-tag information on folder, artist, and track to about 10 letters. Our M6 is also equipped with Bluetooth hands-free calling, which we were able to activate vocally by pressing the speak button on the steering wheel and saying "Bluetooth."
As with the M5, we couldn't work out how to manually pair the phone, even with the instruction manual on our laps, and with the right screen finally opened, pairing ourto the BMW continued to be troublesome. Unlike other Bluetooth systems, the one in the M6 does not give the user an option to search for external devices--the searching must be done by the cell phone, which "requests" access to the BMW's communication system. The user can then instruct iDrive to accept or reject the pairing. Above the iDrive wheel is another cluster of buttons, which are more closely related to the M6's true mission: labeled VSC, EDC, and (ominously) Power, these three controls are responsible for variable stability control, electronic damping control, and "M Engine Dynamic control," of which more below.
Like the M5, the 2006 M6 features a seven-speed sequential manual gearbox, which takes a lot of getting used to--especially when puttering around town. In fact, one of our major gripes with the M6 is its urban road manner. We accept that this is a car designed more for the racetrack than the daily commute, but the way that the gearbox hesitates when changing up and down makes for unpredictable and disconcerting lunges, which are a disappointment in a car that retails for more than $100K.
I know what you're thinking: an overly complicated driver interface, a ropey gearbox, and a few technogadgets are not many people's idea of the "ultimate driving machine." Well, that's true, until you take the M6 on the highway. With 400 horsepower on tap, the 2006 M6 goes like a rocket. A heads-up display presents virtual color-coded tach (the redline for which varies according to engine temperature) and information on speed and current gear. In automatic mode, the M6 is quick. With a flick of the shifter to manual mode (with gears selected using the shifter or steering wheel-mounted paddles), it can be made even quicker. And for those who still aren't satisfied, there is one more surprise.
Among all the switches and knobs in the M6 cockpit, the one button that really matters is a small M situated on the right of the steering wheel, which activates M Drive, BMW's ultimate entertainment system. With M Drive activated and the aforementioned Power button depressed, the M6 goes from 400 to 500 horsepower; dynamic stability control is turned off (!), throttle response sharpens considerably; damping settings revert to preprogrammed preferences, and the sequential gearbox can be set to sporty/purist mode. In its M Drive configuration, the M6 can go from standing to 60mph in 4.7 seconds, two tenths quicker than the already-banzai M5. Suddenly, the problems of iDrive are left behind with the rest of the freeway traffic; suddenly, "ultimate" is a pretty accurate description.
We know that the comedown is probably going to be twice as bad now that we've had the luxury of living in M mode for the past two weeks. But it will be worth it.