Any vehicle that hails from Munich and bears the 'M' badge, such as the new BMW M6 Convertible, deserves very close examination.
Just when it seems that BMW has topped itself (with, for example, the latest M3), it will go one better (with, say, the 1M) and then do so again (witness the latest M5). The problem is, with such incredibly lofty standards, it’s impossible that every single release will be a clear-cut winner. And the 2012 BMW M6 Convertible, which is due in various markets around the world beginning this summer, is such a case in point.
Although this stately grand touring drop-top shares engines with the aforementioned M5 - a 4.4-litre petrol twin-turbo V8 that pounds out 412kW and 677Nm of torque - it veers more towards the touring and less towards outright performance due to its not insignificant 2045kg kerb weight.
For the drive experience, we took to the canyon roads just east of Santa Barbara in the US, which alternate between heavily policed routes and hidden-away, narrow, paved paths with no constables in sight. For the first stretch, we held the M6 in check as our colleagues fell by the wayside, pulled out of contention by the long arm of the law. We took advantage of this time to appreciate the less performance-oriented aspects of the BMW.
First off, the interior is spectacular - absolutely high class, all the way. The two-tone treatment on the car tested, in black and light grey, is a model of perfection. The carbonfibre trim is tastefully apportioned. The leather seats offer a perfect blend of comfort and support courtesy of multiple adjustment possibilities. All the controls, including the 10.2-inch multimedia screen (which looks like it could retract into the centre console but doesn’t), are angled towards the driver in what is a now-common twin-cockpit layout that so many cars are adopting these days.
The space between the driver and front passenger is taken up with storage compartments, a single cupholder, the gearshift, electronic parking brake, roof switch and the iDrive multimedia controller. Everything is very neatly and tightly packaged - although the M6 is a wide car, it’s loaded to the teeth with gizmos and switches, and these gizmos and switches take up space.
The BMW is a true 2+2 sport coupe, meaning that there’s little space in the back for passengers of any dimensions. First impressions complete, it was time to unwind the big BMW to see what it could do.
Unfortunately, while the roads were perfect and the police were nothing but a dim memory, we quickly caught up to two sets of journos in M6 Convertibles who were less than comfortable with the car’s tremendous reserves of power. To be sure, the car can be a handful, particularly on a very tight road with little margin for error.
As with the BMW M5, the BMW M6 boasts a dizzying array of possible adjustments linked to the driving experience: The engine calibration, steering response, traction control settings, shift response for the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, dynamic dampers and heads-up display can all be adjusted using a variety of switches.
There’s also an M1 and M2 button on the steering wheel that allows the driver to store the settings for all six parameters and then activate them instantly by just pressing one of the buttons again. The PR folk at BMW pre-programmed the M1 and M2 buttons to be mild and somewhat spicy, respectively. We decided to dispense with this recommendation early on, switching all possible settings to Sport Plus and letting ‘er rip - until we encountered the logjam of M6s. Up until that point, the car proved to be truly entertaining.
The engine is, of course, very responsive and it creates a whooshing sound that is totally different from that of the M5. The dual-clutch transmission is both quick and satisfying; the paddle shifters are perfectly placed and have excellent feel - the entire package compels you to swap gears, even when it’s not absolutely necessary. Redline comes in at 7200rpm and a launch control feature is also part of the equation.
Carving around the tight corners, the steering on the BMW feels nicely weighted, but the car nevertheless seems hefty and wide. The suspension system felt stiff on jittery roads and had a bit too much rebound on undulating surfaces. It would have been fantastic to get closer to the convertible’s limits, to see what its handling was like on the razor’s edge, but there was no chance to do so. The BMW, with its weighty nose, would likely have been prone to understeer into sharp bends and more than a little tail-happy in the quicker corners with the traction control switched off.
Manufacturer estimates have the BMW M6 Convertible sprinting to 100km/h in just 4.3 seconds. This seems completely plausible - a powerful engine is under the hood, after all - although the car is rated as being quicker than the 1950kg M5, which seems more than a little odd. My guess is that the M6 numbers are correct and the M5 figures are too conservative.
The M6 technological package also includes a brake energy regeneration system and auto start-stop, both aimed at boosting fuel efficiency. Sure enough, the new BMW M6 is estimated to be some 30 per cent more frugal than the outgoing V10-powered model.
In other news, this BMW will be the first in company history to feature carbon-ceramic brakes as optional equipment. Given that weight is an issue with the car, the chance to save some 20kg with this advanced brake set-up may be a judicious move. The standard braking system, the version tested, features 400mm discs up front and 396mm plates in the back.
All told, the 2012 BMW M6 Convertible is a very slick vehicle indeed. While it falls short of being a true world-beating sports car, it nevertheless offers no small amount of entertainment for the open road. It’s technologically advanced, luxurious, aggressive-looking and the fastest convertible BMW has ever built - plus, in just 19 seconds, that soft-top drops and brings you just that much closer to driving perfection.
Expect pricing to be in the vicinity of $300,000 for the 2012 BMW M6 Convertible.