Replacing an old favourite can often be more challenging than inventing something new altogether. If there’s one area where human beings fear change it’s when buying a car, and that can result in grumpy showroom visitors asking why they changed the old car.
BMW has faced just such a problem with its 6-Series Convertible. The previous car worked best in drop-top form, had a choice of slick, powerful petrol and diesel engines and the looks to match. It drove just like a good BMW should and was the car of choice for those lucky enough to be making such decisions.
Now there is an all-new version faced with the task of following in the old car’s footsteps and while that might seem like a mighty challenge, don’t forget that the old car went on for seven years: any manufacturer worth its salt will have progressed some way in that time.
And so it proves on first acquaintance with the new 6. It instantly makes the last generation model look a little awkward and dated, a sure sign that it has hit the mark. It’s still a little challenging though: like all current BMWs it is clearly a modern design, and that means not everyone will like it. But you don’t expect a fuddy-duddy to plump for a BMW: the right colour and wheel combination produces a dramatic and distinctive shape, roof up or down.
You can expect a thoroughly modern approach in the cabin too. BMW already has a reputation for delivering style and sensible design in equal measure, and the 6-Series continues in this vein. On first entry the main display is almost completely blank – just a pair of instrument needles and markings, but once fired up in gives a comprehensive and clear display that can be tailored to provide all the info you could possibly want.
Tailored is a term you could use to sum the car up as a whole too. Like any good GT car it has to cover a number of bases: style, comfort, performance, driving appeal and practicality, all without much in the way of compromise. With the 6-Series there is tons of tech devoted to achieving this balance.
The engine is the perfect example. While many will be tempted by the more powerful V8 650i version, the six-cylinder 640i tested here is mightily impressive. Although badged 640i there is a 3.0-litre turbocharged engine under the sculpted bonnet producing 316bhp and 332lb.ft of torque, more than enough to power it to 155mph and from 0-62mph in only 5.7 seconds. Yet the full suite of Efficient Dynamics technologies allows it to sip fuel when driven carefully, not least aided by the very clever eight-speed automatic gearbox. Go easy with the power and a remarkable 35mpg and just 185g/km of C02 are possible, which for a drop-top four-seater GT is nothing short of amazing.
Key to the adaptability of the driving experience is the Drive Dynamic Control and the optional Adaptive Drive system that works in tandem with it. This gives you four driving modes to choose from, ranging from Comfort to Sport+. These alter the responses of the throttle, the gearbox and the stability control system, and with Adaptive Drive added also alters the dampers and anti-roll bar settings. This means that most of the time you can amble along in Comfort, enjoying a supple ride, ultra-smooth gearshifts and effortless progress. It can almost feel numb in this mode, but in truth it suits when you just want to get where you’re going.
At the other end of the scale, Sport+ mode reveals the sports car that lurks beneath the surface. You have manual control of the gearshifts, the throttle response is sharp and immediate and the stability control is slackened sufficiently that the direction you’re pointing in is almost entirely determined by you. When the mood takes you and the road is right, Sport+ firms everything up to give you a properly entertaining drive.
This is key to the appeal of the new 6-Series. Whatever your idea of an ideal convertible four-seat GT is, it has the right stuff. Don’t want a convertible though? Not a problem: not only has the coupé version just been announced, but a four-door coupe with more space in the back is also on its way. The lucky few have just got luckier still.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
BMW 640i SE, £65,695
Engine: 3.0-litre petrol unit producing 316bhp and 332lb.ft
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic driving the rear wheels
Performance: Top speed 155mph (limited), 0-62mph 5.7 seconds
Economy: 35.8mpg combined
Emissions: 185g/km of CO2
By Matt Joy