I knew the 2013 BMW 640i Gran Coupe was going to treat me right when I found that one of the seat adjustment buttons activated a massage feature. That the metal speaker grilles were inscribed with Bang & Olufsen told me, as did the acoustic lens rising from the middle of the dashboard, the stereo would make beautiful music. And BMW Apps, buried under a few menus, added the novelty of reading out my Facebook and Twitter feeds while cruising down the highway.
In subsequent days driving this new 6-series, I would find many other amenities that make this car a high-tech powerhouse, an excellent example of well-engineered features from wheels to windshield.
As a four-door version of the 6-series coupe, I was prepared to be dismissive, hewing to the definition of a coupe as only having two doors. BMW's clever use of the word "Gran" in front of "Coupe" gives some cover, but the real justification comes from looking at the thing. Its sleek, long and low body oozes a combination of sports car flair and big German cruiser. The rear doors do nothing to compromise the design, and the rear seats are more than adequate.
I did have faith that the Gran Coupe, with its 640i designation, could do quite well without a V-8, relying instead on BMW's 3-liter inline six-cylinder, assisted by a twin-scroll turbocharger. The coming of peak oil might dictate lower displacement, but BMW manages to crank 320 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque out of this engine, the turbo, direct injection, and some very clever valve engineering all extracting more power from every ounce of gasoline than ever before.
That faith was rewarded when, with every sport setting in the 640i Gran Coupe that could be activated online, I mashed the gas pedal and got a combination of satisfying push and lightly growling engine sound. Sure the V-8 in the 650i is going to turn in a better zero to 60 mph time, but BMW's stated time of 5.4 seconds for the run is more than adequate.
BMW builds a number of technologies into the car under the rubric of Efficient Dynamics, which includes regenerative braking, a trick borrowed from hybrid cars. There is no electric drive system in the car, but using braking energy to help keep the battery charged means less load on the generator. It also helps the car with its idle-stop feature, which turned off the engine when I was stopped at traffic lights.
Idle stop can be annoying, but I did not find it intrusive in the 640i Gran Coupe. The engine is relatively small, so the car does not shudder much when it starts up. Taking into account that releasing the brake pedal makes the engine start, I learned to anticipate the green light, making for no hesitation when I was ready to go. And I was impressed that even with the engine off, the stereo was still blasting away and the air conditioning blowing frigid air into the cabin.
As in other new BMW models, the 640i Gran Coupe's console hosts a rocker switch that let me switch among different drive modes, all the way from Sport Plus to Eco Pro, with stops at Sport, Comfort, and Comfort Plus along the way. The difference between the Sport and Comfort dichotomy in the car involves either an aggressive or laggard throttle response, along with changes in the rigidity of the suspension. Eco Pro throws in dialed-down air conditioning to reduce fuel usage.
Efficient Dynamics, which also includes the eight-speed automatic transmission, gives the 640i Gran Coupe an EPA fuel economy of 20 mpg city and 30 mpg highway, impressive numbers for a big German cruiser. In my combination of driving city streets, high-speed freeways, and taking fast curves on mountain roads, the car came in at the lower end of its fuel economy range, with 21.4 mpg.
The adaptive suspension did wonders for the performance, taking the car from comfortable highway luxury box to down-and-dirty street fighter. All of BMW's legendary handling is present in the 640i Gran Coupe despite its 16.5-foot length and over 3,800 pounds of mass. BMW seems to have shaved off some weight, though, as the doors felt very light when I opened them.
And the car felt like a lightweight sports car as I hoisted it through a set of tight turns. The wheel has that neutral response when turning into the corner that BMWs are known for. Excellent grip and the active dampers kept the back end from sliding out, although the Sports Plus setting dials down the traction control so that a little more lateral g-force would result in more rotation. The power, although not as huge as in the V-8, was on tap for the turn exits.
The 640i Gran Coupe's engine felt like it could run all day at 7,000 rpm. The Sport setting for the automatic transmission was willing to keep the revs high, and acted appropriately by downshifting as I jammed the brakes before going into a turn. Going to manual shift mode with the paddle shifters, I was pleased to find that the shifts were quick and responsive. BMW fits this car with one of the best automatic transmissions I have used.
Putting the car into Comfort mode for less enthusiastic driving changes its dynamics considerably. Where the throttle can be a little touchy in Sport mode, it suddenly delivers soft, linear acceleration. The adaptive suspension loosens up, and the car, while not quite floating over the road, keeps cabin jostle to a minimum.
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 or MOG on 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|