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A car like the Scion FR-S, driven on a twisty road, makes you feel like a really skillful driver. The 2014 BMW M6 Gran Coupe offers no such validation. Unless you push it to extremely dangerous speeds, it will take that same road and make it feel like a walk in the park.
BMW originally built its M cars as special editions for the company's racing drivers. Since that time the M brand has become popularized to the point where you can even get an M3 Convertible. The M6, however, has the kind of performance chops that can best be enjoyed by a professional racing driver.
I make no claims to anywhere near that level of skill. Whenever I attempted to push the M6 to its performance levels, I was left hanging onto the steering wheel for dear life, with knuckles whitened.
The M6 is a completely extraordinary car, using every bit of tech that BMW can throw into it to shave tenths off lap times. Unless you're flooring it at every straight, then braking and snapping downshifts for the turns, you're not really experiencing this car.
The 6 Series comes in a few different forms, and BMW offers M versions of each. I had the Gran Coupe, which seemed an unlikely candidate for M treatment. The Gran Coupe, the four-door version of the 6 Series, has a beautifully styled body. Although only 5 inches longer than the standard 6 Series coupe, the Gran Coupe presents an elongated look.
In M6 form, think of it as BMW's four-passenger cruise missile.
Settings and more settings
As has become standard in BMW's M cars, I was able to set a wide number of performance parameters, from steering to suspension to traction control. Pushing the many buttons on the console, changing settings between Comfort, Sport, and Sport Plus, I was overwhelmed by the choices.
To simplify things, BMW mounts two programmable M buttons on the steering wheel. I got into the iDrive infotainment system and found screens where I could assign the host of performance parameters to each button. The two M buttons hardly seemed enough though, considering how many different permutations of performance profiles the car allows.
The sheer amount of settings is a far cry from the simple Sport buttons on many other cars.
To break it down a bit, the M6's throttle control can be set between Efficient, Sport, and Sport Plus. Actually, "throttle" isn't precisely correct when referring to this engine; BMW notes that this is the first M engine to use its Valvetronic system, individually controlling each intake valve and doing away with a conventional throttle body. BMW exploits other tech with this 4.4-liter V-8 engine, such as its high-precision direct-injection and dual twin-scroll turbochargers, to make it produce 560 horsepower and 500 pound-feet of torque.
In the Efficient setting, all of that power becomes remarkably controllable, with even a quick quarter-pedal push on the gas leading to nothing more than a gentle but inexorable forward push. Turn the engine control setting to Sport Plus, and the car becomes nearly impossible to hold at a steady speed. Any slight push on the gas pedal results in immediate engine response.
The suspension settings go through Comfort, Sport, and Sport Plus, a slight deviation from the throttle terminology. In Comfort mode, the ride quality hardly presents the looseness or soft ride you might expect. It remains stiff and competent. Comfort for BMW is what other automakers would call Sport. Cranking it all the way up to Sport Plus mode, the ride becomes downright hard, fine on a smoothly paved track but torturous on bumpy back roads.
Sport Plus keeps the car rock-solid, the adaptive dampers refusing to let the car lean even an inch, in turn keeping the tires firmly in contact with the pavement for maximum traction in the turns.
The M6's steering rig uses hydraulic fluid pressurized with an electric pump, allowing BMW to implement another set of Comfort, Sport, and Sport Plus settings. However, unlike the light steering of an Audi or a Lexus, the M6's steering retains heft when in Comfort mode. Take it all the way up to Sport Plus, where the power boost is greatly reduced, and it feels like you're dragging the wheel through molasses.
Another piece in the performance equation is the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, what BMW calls its DCT. Using two automated clutches, this transmission delivers quick gear changes at the touch of the paddles mounted to the steering wheel. And like the car's other performance features, it offers multiple settings. With a button on the console, I could take it from smooth shifting to brutally hard gear changes.
With the DCT set for its hardest-shifting performance, I was thrilled by the engine note and the feel of the car as I snapped it between second and third gears repeatedly over a winding course. The car bucked with each shift, but didn't seem to mind, maintaining all of its breathtaking control.
And while the car had four gears above third, they went unused when I had the M6 on a twisty road. In second gear at 50 mph, the engine speed only began pushing towards redline. Third gear could easily run over 100 mph. Gears four through seven were merely overdrive, suitable for saving gas while freeway cruising.
But as I mentioned at the start of this review, you have to drive the M6 very hard to make it even feel like it's trying. I found it difficult to engage in casual sport driving, as the M6 barely noticed the turns at moderately fast speeds. With the various performance settings in Sport, the M6 could eat up any road that fell under its wheels. In Sport Plus, it would eat up these roads and spit them back out.
While I was able to give the M6 a good dose of twisty back-road driving, more of my time was spent driving in the city, on freeways, and behind slow traffic. In those situations, the Comfort settings made the most sense. Although the ride quality remained stiff, the M6 was comfortable enough and very drivable.
Beyond some engine growl, Comfort mode made it feel like Clark Kent to the Sport mode's Superman.
There are, however, some oddities to the M6's driving characteristics. Put the DCT into Drive and the M6 just sits there. There is no creep mode, so it won't move until you actually push the gas pedal. And I had to do some Internet research to find out how to park the car. Moving the shifter to Neutral and setting the parking brake resulted in a dashboard warning that the car might roll. You are supposed to leave it in Drive or Reverse, set the parking brake, then turn off the ignition.
The M6 also came with BMW's hated idle-stop feature. At stoplights, the car will shut off the engine to save gas. Good enough, but its restart, when I lifted my foot off the brake, was just a little too slow. I was more impressed with the idle-stop feature on the new Mercedes-Benz S550. With a similar-size engine, the S550 restarted much more quickly and smoothly.
Fuel economy obviously wasn't a priority for the M6 anyway. Its EPA numbers are 14 mpg city and 20 mpg highway, earning it a gas-guzzler tax. I ended up on the high side of that range, 18.1 mpg, mostly due to a large amount of time spent freeway cruising.
For those more sedate drives in the M6, it comes loaded with BMW's most cutting-edge cabin tech, the same equipment we saw in the 640i Gran Coupe.
Sitting up on the center of the dashboard is a large, 10.2-inch LCD. Despite its breadth, the thin-panel design makes it look elegant in the cockpit. The console holds BMW's iDrive controller, a jog-dial surrounded by buttons for quick access to navigation, stereo, and the phone system. This iDrive controller lacks the touch-pad surface being introduced on the latest BMW models.
The maps from the navigation system have a very refined look, fitting for the M6's premium character. I found it easy to read street names and get a sense of my location. One particularly nice feature was that the maps showed topographical features, so I could tell when the road ahead was going to head uphill or down.
I had seen much of this before in other BMW models, but one thing I noticed was much more extensive traffic coverage. Surface streets around San Francisco showed traffic flow information on the map, as did mountain highways that had previously not been covered.
This system offered excellent route guidance, as well, partly due to its integration with the M6's head-up display, a windshield projection showing the car's speed and turn-by-turn directions. The head-up display also had an M performance mode, where it showed a graphical representation of the tachometer and the car's speed in digits.
BMW includes a native data connection enabling Google local search in the car. This search feature is tied into the navigation system, so you don't have to rely on a fixed points-of-interest database in the car.
Apart from the onboard data connection, I also had BMW's ConnectedDrive app running on my iPhone. In the car, it let me access Twitter, Facebook, a Web Radio feature with a ton of online radio stations from around the world, and a feature called Wiki Local. This app let me see Wikipedia write-ups of nearby landmarks, which would be extraordinarily fun on a road trip. Twitter and Facebook integration let me post canned updates to these social-media networks, so I could update friends on my estimated arrival time at a destination, as one example.
The M6's stereo offers pretty much all the audio sources you can imagine. I played music off the car's hard drive and from my iPhone with it plugged into the car's USB port. There was also the aforementioned Web Radio feature, along with HD Radio and satellite radio. Oddly, I had trouble figuring out how to make the car stream music from my iPhone over Bluetooth, as it lacked that capability after I paired it with the hands-free Bluetooth system.
And that's a symptom of one of my few criticisms of iDrive. There is a Settings screen, but it does not seem to have all the car's settings available on it. I could not find where to set my iPhone as a Bluetooth audio streaming device, and I didn't find any settings for the navigation system. I believe those settings were available somewhere in the car, just buried deeply under some set of menus.
This model also came with the optional Bang & Olufsen audio system, which used 16 speakers and 1,200 watts from multiple amps to completely blow me away. With all the tone settings at neutral, this system created the most perfectly balanced sound I have heard. Whether highs, mids, or bass, sound came through with incredibly fine detail. Bass was strong and rich, but never overwhelming. Highs were glistening without being shrill. Sustains that I hadn't noticed on songs I had played through other stereos now came through with perfect clarity. Vocals played through with all the breadth and depth the singer put into it.
This is one sound system that any audiophile should appreciate.
A few other tech options BMW included on this car were a surround-view camera system, useful for avoiding scraping the wheels against curbs when parking, and a front split-view camera, for pulling out of blind alleys. Lane departure warning vibrated the wheel whenever I crossed a lane line without signaling, and a blind-spot monitor lit up an icon in the side mirror casing if another car was in the next lane over.
A complete tech champ
CNET's automotive reviews have always focused on technology, both in the cabin and under the hood, and the 2014 BMW M6 Gran Coupe scores high in every category. Not only is there an insane amount of tech in this car, it all works brilliantly, for the most part.
A little better fuel economy from the engine would be nice, but I can't argue with its smooth power delivery and BMW's truly innovative Valvetronic system and twin-scroll turbos. The transmission is so good I wish every car had one like it. Despite the Comfort mode not leading to a soft ride, I was perfectly happy with BMW's suspension settings.
The idle-stop feature is about the only problem with the performance tech. Other companies have done a better job implementing this feature.
The cabin tech is equally good. The audio system in particular stands out for its excellent sound reproduction and its many available audio sources. BMW brings in some useful and even fun connected features as well. The navigation system worked flawlessly, and the extended live traffic coverage was nice to see.
The iDrive interface is good, but far from perfect. BMW has never quite got the music library screen right, making it difficult to select and start playback of stored media. And all the settings need to be easily accessible from one screen.
As for driver assistance features, the M6 can be well-equipped, the HUD standing out as a must-have option. Camera systems and the blind-spot monitor are also good additions. LED headlights do an excellent job of lighting up the night. The only feature I missed on the option list is adaptive cruise control, a surprising miss on the part of BMW.
|Model||2014 BMW M6 Gran Coupe|
|Power train||Direct-injection turbocharged 4.4-liter V-8, 7-speed dual-clutch transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||14 mpg city/20 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||18.1 mpg|
|Navigation||Standard hard-drive-based with live traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Digital audio sources||Internet-based radio, onboard hard drive, Bluetooth streaming, iOS integration, USB drive, satellite radio, HD Radio|
|Audio system||Bang & Olufsen 1,200-watt 16-speaker system|
|Driver aids||HUD, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitor, surround-view camera, rearview camera|
|Price as tested||$137,575|