There was a time when it was easy to tell supercars from all the rest, but then certain things happened. For one, power outputs kept on increasing while the cars got more liveable and less mental, leading to the creation of the somewhat ridiculous category of â€˜hypercar, to house such varied contenders as the Bugatti Veyron and Pagani Zonda. Whats next, â€˜megacar? â€˜Gigacar? â€˜Best-to-the-power-of-infinity-car?
It doesnt help that firms like BMW make cars like the M5, a sedan which in its current incarnation has a gargantuan 500bhp, a 0-100 km/h time of 4.7 seconds and a delimited top speed scarier than 300 km/h. So whats a supercar anymore? Auto publications inevitably compare the M5 to similarly-powered Italian thoroughbreds like the Lamborghini Gallardo and Ferrari F430, often with favourable results. Its much cheaper, resoundingly more practical and almost as fast, but inevitably held back by being heavier and having to accommodate all that luggage and human space.
So, youd think that it would be a sure-fire exercise in supercar-making to take the M5s magnificent engine and put it into something lower, lighter and stiffer like, say, a 6-Series, right? The BMW M6 has to be a supercar. Or does it?
Jeremy Mahadevan finds out after the jump.
You see, instead of being set up against Gallardos and F430s, motoring hacks inevitably compare the M6 to humbler sports coupes. Its a bit confusing. I mean, they say the M5 is a supercar fighter, right? And here we have the M5s supercar-beating engine in a less compromised shellâ€¦so why is it always tested against the Aston Martin V8 Vantage and the Porsche 911?
Thanks to a combination of helpful people and huge amounts of luck, Im getting a chance to inspect the M6 and answer this question, one among many that I have in relation to this car, which is undoubtedly a major player among cars. This is an opportunity thats almost too good to be true â€“ I dont really believe it until the man from BMW pulls up outside my halls of residence building in the steely grey car â€“ but its actual; my comrade Shannon Teoh and I will have it for five whole days, and well be taking it to the Isle of Man (where speed limits are rare). And our first impressions, as we look it over from nose to tail, are positive.
Opinions are violently divided with regards to Chris Bangles shapes and surfaces, but the M6 is at the very least imposing. Its not 100% beautiful â€“ except from certain angles and in certain kinds of light â€“ but it definitely looks the business; that bodykit remains just barely on the nice side of vulgar and those wheels offer gratification just short of the sexual. The carbon fibre roof is pleasing too, both because it looks nice and because examining it gives you the warm glow of knowing that the shit is high tech, yo.
Step inside and its hard to be disappointed; even if there isnt really any sense of drama, it quite cleanly beats the grey utility of your basic 911 S. Its brain-led rather than heart-led design, but its pleasing. There are, of course, M badges galore. The hallowed M brand has been somewhat devalued by the fact that BMW is willing to tack it all over your 118i, but the M6 still has some unique touches. Theres the lovely blue and red stitching along the inside of the overly fat, overly large M steering wheel, therere the strangely cool lit M6 logos in the doorsills and, of course, theres the stubby, bulbous SMG shifter on the centre console.
Why waste time on the interior, though? What I want to do almost immediately upon sitting in the M6 is fire up the V10. So I do, and the result is a short whirring cough followed by the unsettled woof of some hefty beast disturbed to wakefulness. The red rev-limit indicator rises to settle at a stratosphericâ€¦uhâ€¦6400rpm? Relax â€“ the hyper-sophisticated F1-inspired V10 does scream to 8250rpm, but first it needs a bit of time to limber up.
So does the seven-speed SMG III robotic clutch gearbox, it seems, because as I slot it into â€˜D and get moving the shifts strike me as a bit unrefined. Or perhaps thats down to the SMGs shift intensity, which can be set atâ€¦umâ€¦six different levels, the last of which requires you to turn off the stability control. Rightâ€¦wellâ€¦um, let me just dial the intensity down to 1, andâ€¦oh wait, now its a bit sluggish and starts off from second gear, I dont think I want that. Alright, well then 2 ought to do it. Or maybe 3. Okay, 2 in heavy traffic and 3 when the roads are clear. Let me just push the button hereâ€¦or maybe I could do it via the iDrive doohickey, andâ€¦oh, whoops â€“ just went over a bump and Ive selected the wrong menu. That must be because the dampers are too stiff, hang on, I can fix thatâ€¦hmmâ€¦shall I set it to level 1 stiffness or level 2? Level 3s probably too stiff, butâ€¦okay, level 1 seems about right, London roads are awful anyway. Right.
Soâ€¦where was I? Oh yes, Im on the road, doing the city crawl, where the M6 proves surprisingly capable. This is a high-revving engine, and maximum torque arrives at 6100rpm, but since that maximum is 520Nm youre not exactly wanting for decent torque across the rev-range, to pull off manic lane-grabbing manoeuvres. And, despite the confusion of the gizmoish setup procedure for the gearbox and dampers and so forth, once youre rolling this car is a supremely good place to be. On the motorway towards Liverpool it cements its credentials as an imperious cruiser, comfortable and rock-solid, the only thing standing against it being the 70-litre fuel tank. In combination with the V10s thirst, this results in M6 owners being well-known faces at their local petrol stations.
While youre on the move, the heads-up display (HUD) projects various vital bits of info â€“ such as satnav headings, speed, cruise control details â€“ onto the windscreen, so that they appear to be floating ahead of you, just above the bonnet; hence theres no need to take your eyes off the road. The sound system is pleasing, cabin noise isolation is good, the driving position is excellent and the visibilitys more than adequate. In fact it strikes me as being amazingly similar to a 5-Series, just slightly harder to get out of and with far less useful back seats. Even the boots big enough for two golf bags or, if you lead a more interesting life, one-and-a-half to two adult human bodies. Maybe this is why the car isnt considered â€˜super, though â€“ its so plush and easy to live with that its more of a grand tourer, with a supercar engine.
If any part of the M6 is supercar-worthy, its that engine â€“ as it warms up, the exhaust note smoothens and you get this wonderfully grumpy growl emanating from the front end when you give it a bit of pokeâ€¦ a clear sign that whatever lurks just ahead of the firewall, its mighty. And once we get off the highway and onto the ferry towards the fabled Isle of Man, Im itching to plant my right foot firm. There arent many better places than the Isle of Man for a car like the M6 â€“ were talking nerve-tingling speed limit-free mountain roads, home to the legendary TT motorcycle course, and the place where Top Gear group tested the M6 against â€“ you guessed it â€“ the Aston Martin V8 Vantage and Porsche 911.
If youre on the Isle of Man with a car, and theres even a drop of petrol in your body, then the Mountain Road is where you want to be headed. Thats why we take the M6 there, and as soon as the black diagonal bar of the speed derestriction sign appears, I peer out ahead of the cars in front of us, twist the steering a bit, ease the speed pedal to the floor to set out on a no-holds-barred overtaking move andâ€¦its over, were ahead, and making good pace towards the Creg ny Baa hairpin. The thing is, its swift, but not FAST. Which is a little odd. Despite the carbon fibre and the generous use of aluminium and so forth the M6 still weighs a fairly hefty 1785 kg, which means, wellâ€¦maybe that super engine isnt as super as I thought. Althoughâ€¦hang on a minute. Oh wait, right, a quick check of the iDrive reveals that the car is set to P400. Which means only 400bhp. Right, so we have to kick it up to P500 orâ€¦umâ€¦P500 Sport? I suppose that must be better, right? Okay, this is actually getting on my nerves..
As much as its nice to have a wide spread of options just in case, dont BMWs engineers realise that what we want is a single on/off switch that does everything? I mean, why the fuss? Cant we just have a button labelled Comfort/Sport or Banner/Hulk or Gandhi/Genghis, and have it do the job of turning the car into a monster? Actually, maybe the BMW boffins do recognised this need after all. Because (again, consultation of the manual comes in handy) theres a little button on the steering wheel, labelled â€˜M, that does just that.
You can set up what the â€˜M button does, but really you want it to switch the car to P500 Sport, with the stiffest damper setting and the fiercest gearshifts. At P500 Sport the accelerator pedal becomes the equivalent of a stick used to poke a creature that could easily rip your head off and feed it to its young â€“ a pretty short stick, too. The throttle response is edgier, the steering tightens up and the car just becomes a demon thing. Its hard to describe how fast an M6 set to P500 Sport really is; I could try using words, like â€˜maniacal or â€˜hellish or â€˜diabolical, but they really wouldnt live up to the job. Its almost as though the car doesnt move, but instead grabs hold of the horizon and drags it closer, in a feat of biblical proportions.
The experience of pushing an M6 to my (not its) limits on an entertaining road has to be among the worlds greatest sensory thrills â€“ the V10 fizzes with no resistance at all, the growl rising to a snarl as it flings the revs up towards the 8250rpm cut-off; at that point the graphic rev indicator on the HUD flashes at me desperately, and I tilt back the + paddle, making the SMG slam in the next ratio with a snap and a bang and a rush of renewed urge. In all this chaos, the car demands a measured application of my right foot, lest I misjudge the lightning throttle reflex and lose the tail around some tight corner. This is full-on, this is motoring where theres no space in your brain for anything other than the car, the road and the speed â€“ the glorious, lunatic speed. The sure-footedness of this car is such that it seems to shrink as you go faster â€“ its a large machine, but isnt overly intimidating to drive hard even on narrow, rutted roads. It manages somehow to be both ferocious and forgiving.
After a while we come to a halt at a lay-by, catch our breath, lose it again thanks to the panorama around us, and set up for some photos; I realise then that despite its foibles, despite the points at which it lets technology eclipse the experience, the M6 is undoubtedly a roaring success. If youre able to keep its weaknesses in mind while pelting it through a mountain road, then congratulations, you have a mental age of 800. Otherwise, youll love it â€“ its a feat of engineering so precise, so advanced, so overwhelmingly artistic, that you have to applaud its makers.
But is it a supercar? Not really, and Im starting to understand why. Because it lacks that vital piece of madness, of audacity, that completes supercars. Because despite being mighty, its not particularly brazen. But take the craziest things about it â€“ that engine and drivetrain â€“ and put them in a five-door saloon, and you have the final piece, the vital inanity that makes for a supercar. Thats why the M5 is the supercar out of this pair; its the car that is BMW, the ultimate expression of that DNA. But if what youre looking for is the most unapologetic and sublime piece of engineering that this unapologetically engineering-led company is capable of, then the M6 is it. Its a triumph.
Video: BMW M6 Drive-by 1
Video: BMW M6 Drive-by 2
Video: BMW M6 Drive-by 3
Video: BMW M6 Drive-by 4
Video: BMW M6 Launch Control