Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Test Drive: 2014 BMW 650i xDrive Gran Coupe

Sometimes a coupe just does not cut it for one's lifestyle. I like the idea of a coupe, but I also like taking weekend road trips with friends or family and cramming everyone into a two-door with limited back seat leg room and compromised rear-seat headroom should only be reserved for those people you do not like. Still, what is an enthusiast to do if I like the long and low style of a coupe, but really only have space for a single car in my garage? We can thank the folks at Mercedes Benz for introducing a solution to this conundrum with the introduction of the first CLS-class sedan. It attempted to provide a coupe profile in a car with four doors that offers plenty of style with room for four adults. Observing the success of this car, BMW has gotten into the game as well and has introduced its own series of Gran Coupe models based on their 4-series and 6-series coupes. I recently had the good fortune to spend some time with the larger of the two models and experience just how much this segment has evolved since it was first introduced.

Approaching the 6-series Gran Coupe, the first thing one notices is just how enormous the car looks. The long hood and short deck lid from the 2-door model carries through and the low roof line is stretched to work well with the two additional doors. The overall impression is aggressive and this eye-catching look definitely carries tremendous presence, even when the car is just standing still. Details are typical of recent BMWs with the kidney grille prominently featured out front flanked by a pair of pulled back headlights and a pair of trapezoidal exhaust tips poking out of the rear fascia. Our test car was fitted with the M-Sport body kit, big wheels, and jet black metallic paint that further accentuated the aggressive stance and offers an impressive gravitas that few other cars can match.

Inside, BMW's current interior styling trend continues, which I am not particularly fond of. The design has many odd angles and while trying to be industrial chic, ends up looking a bit too much like an abstract-era Picasso. Luckily, the materials used throughout are exceptional and feel as good as they look. Everywhere my fingers could reach were swathed in premium materials and every button push or knob rotation felt smooth and well-damped. Coddled by the ridiculously adjustable driver's seat, there is plenty of room in all directions and at no time did I feel cramped by the seating position. In back, despite the low roof line, there is actually a surprising amount of room and, aside from the need to duck a bit to avoid hitting your head while getting in, I did not feel uncomfortable sitting back there. Even trunk space, despite the short deck lid, is surprisingly usable and would easily swallow weekend's worth of luggage for four people.

A quick press of the starter button and the big Bimmer's twin-turbo V8 roars to life with a growl from the exhaust before settling into a smooth quiet idle. With the car set in normal mode, I tip the goofy sci-fi shifter into drive and set out on the road. The first thing that catches my attention is how smooth the power delivery is. Even before the turbos are completely spooled up, there is plenty of power on tap and once the snails are scrolling at full speed, the amount of power available is beyond excessive. The slightest dip of the throttle summons a tidal wave of torque and the car glides effortlessly to speed whether competing in the stop light grand prix or passing a car on the highway. Speaking of the throttle, tip-in is responsive in all but Econ mode where the car actively pushes back to increase effort and reduce throttle opening for fuel savings. Each of the different modes also actively adjusts the shift points of the transmission, the throttle responsiveness, and even the reactive dampers of the suspension. Our test car was fitted with BMW's xDrive all-wheel drive system, which is totally transparent in the dry, but would probably prove useful for those of us who live in the snowy winters of New England.

Out on the road, the reactive dampers provide a supple ride that belies the cars sporty intentions. With the car set in comfort mode, it is the ultimate cruiser, capable of long drives in absolute comfort. If the road gets windy, set the car to sport and everything sharpens up. Steering effort increases, suspension stiffens, throttle tip-in sharpens, and the transmission shifts quicken. While the steering could use more feel, it is fairly accurate. The only problem is that despite all of the electronic measures to help improve how the car drives, it still feels like a big, wide car. This will never feel as nimble as a true sports car, but as a comfortable GT car with real room for four adults, there are few competitors.

By the end of my drive, one thing was absolutely clear - this Gran Coupe would make an excellent only car for the discerning executive. It provides just enough flash and presence to show that you are a person of means to the enthusiast, but is subtle enough that most bystanders will barely notice you. It is a comfortable enough cruiser for daily use, but is a fantastic GT car for long-distance road trips and has plenty of room to bring along some friends. If paired with a bike like the BMW S1000RR, a discerning exec could maintain a very nice garage that covers all corners of the enthusiast spectrum. 

Now if only I could dig up $100k of me own...