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BMW 6-series

BMW

Review

It also looks utterly fabulous from all angles. From the droop-snout front end to the bulbous rear three-quarters, everything about the Six gels together. In my eyes it's the most cohesive piece of design to come from Chris Bangle's pen since he took over as head of design at BMW.

And Bangle's best couldn't have come at a better time. BMW is re-entering the luxury coupe segment 16 years after the original 6-series ceased production and three years after a decade-long run with the slow-selling 8-series.

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BMW figures show the market has increased by 48% between 1999 and 2001 and it is confident of further growth. With more buyers looking for ever more individual choices in the car market, the 6-series will be competing against some pretty serious rivals, including the Porsche 911, Maserati 4200 GT and various big-engined Mercedes-Benz coupes.

Although the 645 Ci undercuts most of these rivals on price, BMW believes that buyers at this level aren't too concerned about making like-for-like cost comparisons. America will be the car's main market, especially when the convertible model goes on sale later in 2004, but the UK is an important market for BMW.

It aims to sell 1,700 645 Cis in 2004, rising to 2,000 units in 2005. BMW estimates the majority of buyers of the new Six will be men aged between 40 and 55 years old, the majority of which will be 'independent business people who wish to pamper themselves'.

When it goes on sale in the UK in March the 645 Ci will cost £49,855 on-the-road. I imagine those independent business people can't wait to pamper themselves.

Behind the wheel

FOR A big car, the Six feels remarkably cosy inside, just as a coupe should. But don't think that interior space is at a premium – this car can seat four adults in comfort, although rear seat passengers will hope it is not a long journey.

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From the outside the BMW looks just right, all muscle and menace, and that theme continues when you turn the ignition key. The engine barks into life and settles into a subdued burble but a couple of blips of the accelerator see the note change into a NASCAR V8 bark. But on the move the engine note is subdued, adding to that luxury grand touring theme.

On the launch there was only one engine to choose – the silky smooth 4.4-litre V8 with 333bhp – although there is a choice of three transmissions: a six-speed manual or automatic and an SMG sequential manual gearbox.

I opted to drive the six-speed automatic as this is how the majority of cars will be ordered. Just as the V8 engine is silky smooth, so are the gear changes. The Six changes gear imperceptibly and adds to its long-legged cruising appeal.

However, pushing the Sport button on the transmission tunnel not only makes the changes more instant, it also sharpens up the throttle response. If you want, you can also slide the gearlever over into the manual model. This gives you better control during more spirited driving, but if that's what you want you're probably better opting for the standard manual.

A brief drive in the SMG version shows no real improvement over previous versions of this gearbox. It provides crisp blips of the throttle on downshifts but the upshifts are the main problem. After a while you learn to feather the throttle instead of keeping it pinned during upshifts. Even so, it's still an unrefined upchange.

The majority of Sixes won't be hustled along back roads but the BMW can cut the mustard doing this, especially when fitted with the excellent (optional) Active Front Steering, which quickens up the steering rack and cuts down on driver input through the wheel. This feature is a £810 option on the new 5-series and if I were speccing-up my Six I would stump up the extra cash as it works very well on tight and twisty roads.

Driving verdict

A 645 Ci with automatic gearbox is the ideal car for covering huge distances in great comfort. The ride quality is superb, even on the biggest 19-inch rims BMW offers from the options list, and it can even handle the twisty stuff fairly well. The Six is no sports car, and it doesn't claim to be like its predecessor was, but as a grand tourer it is hard to fault, especially at the price.

Model: 645Ci
Engine (cc): 4,398
Max power (bhp/rpm): 333/6,100
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 332/3,600
Max speed (mph): 155
0-60mph (secs): 5.6 (5.8)
Fuel consumption (mpg): 24.1 (25.9)
CO2 emissions (g/km): 283 (264)
Transmission: 6-sp man/6-sp auto/6-sp SMG semi-auto
On sale: March 2004
Price (OTR): £49,855
Figures in brackets for auto models

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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