2008 BMW 6-Series

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2004 BMW 6-Series

This 2004 review is representative of model years 2004 to 2010.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Rating: 7

Bottom Line:

BMW revives the 6-Series with the 2004 645Ci Coupe and Convertible. V8 power and sounds are terrific; handling is pure BMW. But despite BMW officials' hopes, the styling and details may not give this 6-Series the status of a classic.
Pros:
  • Wonderful engine sounds
  • Strong V8 power
  • German road-handling
Cons:
  • Looks alone won't make this one a classic
  • Unappealing large gaps between some body panels
  • Confounding iDrive

I heard BMW officials boast about how the company's heritage is full of stylish performance coupes and convertibles that became classics of their era.

But you know, I'm not sure the new, 2004 645Ci Coupe and Convertible are up to the task.

The earlier BMW classics had a nearly avant-garde flair about them. Not so these 6-Series cars, whose looks appear to be a more-rounded and lowered version of the current generation 7-Series sedan. Worse, when viewed from the rear quarter panel angle, the 6-Series cars bear a distinct resemblance to Chrysler's LHS sedan, which is hardly a memorable or high-brow auto.

Yes, the large wheels and V-rated, all-season tires—18-inchers at a minimum—fill up the 6-Series wheelwells to the rim and add a sporty look, in true BMW fashion.

But the large gaps between the 6-Series' body panels that are made of different materials—aluminum hood and plastic grille and fascia, for example—are distracting at best. At worst, they're reminiscent of the kind of fit and finish I'd expect to see on a domestic pickup truck.

Great engine performance
Lucky for BMW, the 6-Series cars are a joy to drive.

As their designer, Adrian van Hooydonk, put it, a 645Ci is "a car you can drive fast, and also a car you can drive very far."

The 6-Series autos have the same 325-horsepower 4.4-liter double overhead cam V8 that's in both the 5- and 7-Series cars.

But the 6-Series' confident, sporty exhaust note promises a slightly different kind of performance driving experience. The wonderful V8 sounds aren't deceiving.

Power from this power plant comes quickly, but not in a crazy, boy-racer way.

The power here feels controlled, sensitive to the slightest hint of a change at the accelerator, no matter if I pressed just a tad harder on the pedal or let up a tiny bit.

This meant I didn't have to fret about tapping the brake pedal a lot to modulate my speeds in city traffic, for example. The power plant behaved as if it knew what I intended immediately, and there was no annoying coasting that some cars exhibit.

Yet, the overall impression of either 6-Series auto is that of a heavy, solid car. Indeed, the 645Ci convertible weighs nearly 4,200 pounds, which is akin to the weight of some sport-utility vehicles and is some 200 pounds more than the competing Jaguar XK8 convertible and some 350 pounds more than the competing Lexus SC 430.

The 645Ci Coupe, which doesn't require all the reinforcing needed for the convertible, weighs some 400 pounds less than the convertible but still conveys a solid, heavy car character.

Therefore, the power response in the 645Ci cars doesn't feel sprightly or zippy. It feels authoritative, forceful and is accompanied by that wonderful engine note.

There are three transmission choices: A six-speed Steptronic automatic that provided plenty of sporty character, a six-speed manual that worked impeccably with the engine, and a Sequential Manual Gearbox that I did not test.

Torque is a maximum 330 lb-ft at 3600 rpm, and premium unleaded gasoline is the required fuel.

Of course, if you're looking for a coupe or convertible with more power, you certainly can find it. The Jaguar XKR, for example, has a 390-horsepower supercharged V8 capable of generating 399 lb-ft of torque at 3500 rpm.

Asked whether—and when—an M version of the 6-Series will be out, a BMW official was coy and would only say it likely won't appear for a couple years.

Admirable road handling
The ride in the 645Ci Coupe and Convertible is sporty, with my body feeling vibrations and even a heaving sensation at times over road bumps. Thankfully, it's not terribly punishing.

Overall, these cars felt so sure-footed, curvy mountain roads were a pleasure, not a chore. There was nary a bit of body sway, as active roll stabilization—an electronic feature—is standard.

I tried to detect some shaking of the convertible body over road bumps, but the 645Ci Convertible test car had a solid ride, regardless if the top was up or down, on all but the worst potholes.

The 645Ci Coupe and Convertible also seem tuned for the most sensitive of touches on the steering wheel.

These rear-wheel-drive cars come with variable power assist rack-and-pinion steering that's vehicle speed sensitive. It also has BMW's active steering system, which I enjoy.

The electronic system helps reduce the amount of turning needed in some tight spots, such as parking maneuvers, and can even make for quick, go-kart-like moves out from behind another vehicle in some slower-speed passing.

Fabric top only
Despite a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price of more than $76,000, the four-seat 645Ci Convertible only comes with a fabric top, not a retractable hardtop, as can be found on the two-seat Lexus SC 430, which starts around $63,000.

Further, the 6-Series roof is available only in black and dark gray fabric, which is too bad since one of the car's paint offerings—a beautiful light blue—would look gorgeous with a dark blue fabric top. Note that Audi's A4 Cabriolet offers a dark blue fabric top.

The 6-Series convertible roof is completely power operated. With the touch of button, windows go down, the boot goes up and the fabric top maneuvers back into its storage spot atop and into part of the trunk. Time it takes for all this: About 25 seconds.

Note the rear window glass behind the rear seats is also power-operated, which is a first in a convertible, according to BMW. Company officials said it can serve as a wind deflector, but I didn't find it very useful for me in the front or rear seats.

In the 645Ci Coupe, the expected sunroof is larger than normal and labeled by BMW a "panorama glass moonroof." But don't confuse this 30-inch-long and 43-inch-wide piece of glass with the panorama roof on a Porsche sports car. The 6-Series panorama is smaller and has a traditional interior shade.

Size and room
Sizewise, the new 6-Series cars provide two supportive front seats and two small, far less comfortable back seats on a wheelbase that's 8.3 inches shorter than that of BMW's flagship, five-passenger 7-Series sedan.

But park the two-door 6-Series cars next to a four-door BMW 5-Series sedan, and you'll see that the overall length is about the same in the two cars.

The two back seats in the 6-Series cars are usable for youngsters and even small-sized adults if the front-seat occupants move their seats up a ways.

But rear-seat riders can feel cramped if they're back there for any lengthy period of time.

Trunk space in the 645Ci convertible is a maximum 12.4 cubic feet with the top up and 10.6 cubic feet when the stop is down. BMW said either way, two sets of golf clubs should fit just fine.

The reason for the surprising trunk room: No spare tire. The 645Ci Convertible comes with run-flat tires.

Odds and ends
Inside the 6-Series cars, the front-seat cupholder looks like an afterthought. It basically plugs into a spot on the side of the center console and intrudes into the front passenger's space.

I also disliked the confounding iDrive system. It debuted in the 7-Series, where I worked to learn how to use it. But each time I have to reacquaint myself with iDrive, I bristle. It remains a device, operated via a large knob in the center console that requires a driver to scroll through multiple layers of informational menus just so ventilation and radio, among other things, are adjusted.

The 6-Series cars won't be plentiful. Just 7,000 to 10,000 a year are expected to be shipped to the States for sale. Of these, perhaps as many as two-thirds will be convertibles, eventually, according to BMW officials. Initially, though, it's expected that half will be coupes, company officials said.

The majority of 6-Series sales are expected to be automatic transmission models.

BMW last sold a 6-Series in the U.S. market in 1989.

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BB01 - 8/28/2014 8:32:02 PM