First Drive: 2018 BMW 6 Series Gran Turismo

First Drive: 2018 BMW 6 Series Gran Turismo
 

The BMW 6 Series GT could be the most luxurious hatchback on the planet, says Bruce Fraser

The last time I checked, the BMW vehicle line-up in South Africa numbered just over 140 models and derivatives. It’s a staggering number and I guess you could say they have the majority of bases covered.On the hunt for a new car and aspire to own a BMW? Well, the entry-level 116i will set you back a shade under R420 000. If a Sports Activity Vehicle is more your thing, there is a wide choice starting with the X1 line-up.

Looking to go the electric route, the i3 is your starting point, and if money is not a problem, then make a definite statement and jump straight in to the superb i8. But it is somewhere in the middle of that extensive list that lies one of my personal favourites — the 6 Series.

It is a fairly bespoke line-up with just the convertible, coupé and gran coupé available. A small selection perhaps, but what it lacks in numbers it makes up for in ways that count – style, luxury and performance come readily to mind. All, I must add, in a rather unobtrusive manner.

Form and function:

Joining this prestige selection in South Africa next month is the all-new 6-Series Gran Turismo, launched last week in Sintra, Portugal. Many of you will be familiar with the GT moniker, which first made an appearance in the 5 Series in 2008.

The 5 Series GT was always a bit of a contentious car and judging by the number of vehicles seen on our roads, it may not have sold the numbers envisaged. Don’t get me wrong, it had a lot going for it, except for one vital ingredient — it just didn’t look great.

It had a sort of frumpy appearance and didn’t seem to know whether it was a hatch, coupé or sedan. All of which did nothing to promote the trove of treasures that lay under the skin.

The new 6 Series GT, thankfully, is different. Built on the 7-Series platform, it exudes a presence and, with its rather large dimensions, makes an instant impression.

With 35% of sales projected for the Chinese market — which has a love-affair with big cars — I asked Claus-Otto Griebel, head of the 6 Series GT project, if this influenced the new look.

“Not at all,” he said. “We don’t produce cars for specific markets, they have to work all over the world.” So what was behind the new look? “We wanted a car with the space of a 7 Series, the functionality of an estate and the roofline of a coupé. We had to find a design that is objective but with no compromise when it comes to room and comfort.”

No wonder Griebel looked rather happy — the objective appears to have been achieved.

Locally the GT will be available in the form of the 630d and 640i xDrive, both hooked up to BMW’s superb eight-speed Steptronic automatic transmission. Opt for the oil-burner and you will find a 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine pushing out 195kW and a considerable 620Nm.

The 640i, on the other hand, employs a 3.0-litre turbocharged mill. Up on power, it is good for 250kW but naturally torque is slightly down at 450Nm. This particular engine is the same as found in the X3 M40i, also launched in Portugal last week.

Spot-on speed:

Room for personalisation with both the interior and exterior is obviously offered and three trim levels are available: Sport Line, Luxury Line and M Sport. The dimensions to the new GT are quite revealing. Compared to its predecessor it is noticeably longer (87mm), but it is also significantly lower (21mm). The result makes for a low-slung silhouette guaranteed to turn heads. The two-axle air suspension also enables the vehicle’s ride height to be raised by 20mm for those tricky driveways or lowered by a further 10mm for a more sporty appearance.

Stepping into the cabin, concerns that the lower roofline may have reduced passenger space proved unfounded. In fact, whether up front or enjoying the plush leather seats in the rear, leg and head room is ample. According to Griebel, one criticism levelled at the 5 Series GT was a lack of boot space. This has been addressed by increasing it to 610 litres — 110 litres more than its predecessor.

Combining some urban and highway driving, my first impression behind the wheel of the 640i is that it is quick, with a claimed 0-100km/h sprint time of just 5.3 seconds pretty spot-on. The top end is electronically governed to a more than useful 250km/h.

Great looks:

It’s not always easy stepping off a plane after a long-haul flight to Europe and driving a left-hand drive vehicle on the “wrong” side of the road. It doesn’t matter how often you do it, there is a bit of adjusting to do and any driver-assistance technology is most welcome.

Fortunately, the 6 Series GT comes to the party. Steering and lane control assist ensured I never strayed, while the lane departure system meant I always had an extra pair of eyes looking out for me. Adaptive cruise control comes in handy, as does the stop & go function to help reduce fuel consumption. Unfortunately, I never did get to play with the remote control parking feature, but it is available as an extra.

For those addicted to social media or perhaps just a news junkie, the WiFi hotspot was easy to enable and worked a treat. I must admit, even though I spent only a little over an hour in the GT, I walked away impressed on many levels. Firstly, it looks so damn good. The designers have done an excellent job at revitalising what was previously a pretty staid-looking vehicle. It now has doors with frameless windows, that low centre of gravity, rear-seat entertainment, voice-activated command function …

Yep, so many boxes are ticked in so many different areas that one must surely now question the wisdom of spending considerably more on a 7-Series when what you have in the GT is a complete package. – Bruce Fraser

PRICING: BMW 6 Series Gran Turismo 630d R1 081 300; BMW 6 Series Gran Turismo 640i x Drive R114 800