2018 BMW 6 Series
A better-looking replacement for the 5 Series Gran Turismo
Pros Fully contented, very roomy and comfortable, can be sporty when required
Cons Pricey, heavy, styling is subjective
Value for money Reasonable for a luxury niche car
What would I change? Some of the option packages contain features of dubious merit
How I would spec it? As is
Palm Springs, CALIF. — Sixty kilometres of stop-and-go congestion on Southern California’s six-lane-wide 405 interstate allows for a good deal of both observation and reflection. The observations, in no particular order, were: That sport-utes and crossovers, while in abundance, didn’t dominate the tarmac, that Asian nameplates did, that Toyota must be pleased with its market share in this sunshine state, and that many of these Toyotas are various versions and generations of Prius hybrid. Oh, and while the Tesla Model S is popular, it seems that Maserati’s Quattroporte is what’s vogue with the snootier Real Housewives of Orange and San Diego counties.
The reflections were more specific, centred on trying to decide whether the new BMW 6 Series Gran Turismo, offered exclusively in Canada and the United States as the 640i xDrive, was attractive. It does lack the sleekness of the 6 Series Gran Coupe, looking a little heavy in the back end. But it is much easier on the eyes than the now-discontinued 5 Series Gran Turismo, not one of BMW’s finer styling efforts.
Yet, the 640i’s slightly thick back end reveals a hatchback utility that is entirely in keeping with the car’s Gran Turismo designation, which, of course, translates into “grand touring.” And as the family’s vacation-mobile, the touring around Southern California was very grand. BMW’s mission for the all-wheel-drive, approximately Gran Turismo is — for now, anyway, since there is no M variation being offered — clearly skewed more to the luxe side of the equation as opposed to sporty, the automaker extolling the virtues of long-distance comfort, a smooth ride and a generously sized, flexible-use interior crammed with all the modern conveniences.
This was further borne out with the mandatory ($4,900) Dynamic Handling package, which adds Comfort+ and Adaptive modes to the Driving Dynamics Control’s standard Comfort, Sport and Eco Pro settings. The additional modes allow drivers to select a particularly comfort-biased set-up or one that responds automatically to their driving style.
In Adaptive mode, BMW says the car uses data from the navigation system to proactively adjust the car’s responses when approaching intersections or curves. Cruising the various interstates, the ride bordered on limo-like, much of the credit going to the rear-axle air suspension with automatic self-levelling, which maintains a constant ride height regardless of driving conditions or what was in the trunk. In fact, the only thing compromising a very serene ride was tire hum on some roads with a grainier tarmac.
Yet, BMW hasn’t completely abandoned its “ultimate driving machine” credo. The 2,000-kilogram cruiser is powered by a turbocharged 3.0-litre inline-six pumping out a sufficient 335 horsepower. Said engine is then mated to an eight-speed Steptronic Sport automatic transmission with paddle shifters. Normally docile, the engine quickly responds to the punch of the throttle.
More to the point, after lunching in the mountain community of Idyllwild, we descended into Palm Springs via serpentine Highway 243. This meant dropping more than 5,000 feet in about 30 kilometres to the valley floor. Switching to Sport mode and making use of the paddle shifters for engine braking, the 640i xDrive hugged the road or all its worth, powering through the countless turns with an aplomb worthy of BMW’s reputation — this despite whimpering from both wife and daughter to mind the speed limit. In other words, though the Gran Turismo might have a mature mindset and be packing a few extra pounds, it still knows its way around the dance floor, at least with the aforementioned Dynamic Handling package, which also includes active roll stabilization and dynamic damper control.
Keeping in mind that BMW’s definition of luxury is more about function than hedonism, the Gran Turismo’s roomy leather and wood-trimmed cabin layout and its amenities are impressive. A friend of mine, notoriously fussy about his cars and motorcycles — and a happy owner of a 645i convertible — gave it his stamp of approval, which I valued highly. My back also gave its stamp of approval; the multi-contour seats coddled my spine and butt in all the right places for the better part of 800 kilometres during the week, which meant a pain-free trip. And my daughter, not as tall but almost as leggy, had plenty of room to stretch out and zone out in the back, thanks to the power-adjustable seats.
The U.S.-spec tester had a couple of useless features — soft-close automatic doors and gesture control (for instance, rotate your finger in a circular fashion at the audio screen and the volume increases or decreases) — and a bunch of other stuff, such as active park distance control, the rear-view camera and surround view with 3D view, all of which came in handy when trying to squeeze into tight mall and hotel parking spaces. The heads-up display, normally a feature I appreciate when travelling unfamiliar territory, was rendered useless while wearing polarized sunglasses, critical with SoCal’s abundant sunshine.
As for the Gran Turismo’s function as a vacation hauler, the 40/20/40-split rear seat backrest can be folded down, expanding the available storage space to an impressive 1,800 litres. Even with the seats up, the 610-litre cargo area handily swallowed three suitcases and an equivalent number of backpacks.
Given that the Gran Turismo is a niche model within the 6 Series lineup (which, in Canada, do not sell in huge numbers), there’s a very good chance this will not be seen on every block of your more upscale neighbourhoods. Actually, given the popularity of crossovers these days — and BMW has maximized its presence in this segment from the X1 through to the soon-to-arrive X7 — it’s a wonder the 640i xDrive Gran Turismo exists at all. But this luxury hatchback makes a strong case for being suitable and subtle family transportation for those who don’t want an SUV, offering exceptional cargo capacity and all-wheel drive as well as sportier driving dynamics when called upon.
The U.S. spec car had an as-tested price of US$83,015. Options on the car are different than what’s offered in Canada. The tester, which has a base price of $76,700 in Canada, would likely carry an as-tested price of around $93,000.
2018 BMW 6 Series
Type of vehicle
All-wheel-drive, full-sized luxury four-door hatchback
Turbocharged 3.0L DOHC inline-six
335 horsepower @ 5,500 rpm; 332 lb.-ft. of torque @ 1,380 rpm
Four-wheel disc with ABS
Price: Base / As Tested
Natural Resources Canada Fuel Economy
(L/100km) 11.9 city, 8.4 highway
Automatic four-zone automatic climate control, active cruise control with stop and go, auto-dimming exterior mirrors, head-up display, navigation system, M aerodynamics package, panoramic sunroof, anthracite roofliner, power heated and ventilated front seats with driver memory, power rear seats, heated steering wheel, Harman/Kardon surround-sound audio system, in-dash CD player, BMW gesture control, leatherette dashboard, multi-function steering wheel, soft-close doors, side and rear sunshades, head-up display, lane keep assist, evasion assist, front cross-traffic alert, rear-view camera, parking assistant plus with surround view, 360 surround view with 3D, active LED headlights, run-flat tires and more