Road Tests

First drive: BMW 6 Series Gran Turismo answers the SUV

What is it?

The 6 Series Gran Turismo is a bit of an odd fish, a luxury German hatch with few rivals. Maybe the Audi A7 Sportback, or Mercedes CLS Shooting Brake? Not quite – it has a different set of priorities than they do.

Mind you, it’s not as odd as the car it replaces. The old one was called the 5 Series Gran Turismo. BMW remains a trifle embarrassed about building a common-person’s hatchback, so it positions the GT as a luxury five-door coupe. And as a coupe it now qualifies for an even number in BMW’s naming strategy.

The 6 Series Gran Turismo an enormously fine thing to ride around in. The wheelbase matches that of a 7 Series, and the seats are mounted sightly higher off the floor. The net result is lounge legroom in the back.

Meanwhile, because the dash and the interior fittings and materials are pretty much the same as the forthcoming generation of 6 Series Gran Coupe (that’s the lower, sleeker five-door), they’re really very nicely done. The whole place has an aura of craftsmanship and expense.

Then behind the seats you’ve got a chasm of a boot, with hatchback versatility thrown in. Even with the seats up, the 610-litre boot will gulp down four 46-inch golf bags – whatever they are – without a burp.

But it’s mission-critical that the car looks more sleek than the porky, frumpy old 5GT. The extra length helps the looks, if not the parking (it’s over five metres now). Also the tail is a significant 6cm less high off the ground than before, so to help aero there’s now a raising boot spoiler. The tail-lights have three-dimensional covers to subliminally remove bulk. It works. Up to a point. The 6 Series Gran Turismois still a car that carries bulk.

Bulky or not, it’s been engineered to drive like a BMW. It’s lost a nice round 150kg over the old 5 Series GT, despite the fact it’s longer. How? Because they ditched the silly and heavy split tailgate thing, and the odd folding internal partition between cabin and boot.

It’s a simple powertrain line-up in SA, at first. The 640i is a six-cylinder petrol with the familiar 254kW 3.0-litre engine. The other is 198kW 630d diesel with BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive system. Both have eight-speed autos.

It’s remarkably refined and isolating. A brilliant thing for passengers, and for drivers too, on a long long haul or a dreary commute. But it’s not going to light up a smile behind the wheel on an interesting road. Even though it’ll tackle difficult and twisty sections at big speed, it’s just not that engaging.

When you give the 640i’s six-cylinder turbo engine a pasting, it does more to warm your heart. Its sound is muted going gently but the noise is deliciously charismatic as it revs and shoves you in the back. BMW’s published 0-100km/h time of 5.3sec is entirely believable. But actually there’s no need to go to the 7,000rpm red-line as the best work is done as it passes one notch below that. There’s plenty of torque over a big swing of the dial, little lag and a transmission that’s smooth and alert under full or part load.

On the inside

Lounging around in the 6 Series Gran Turismo makes you feel pretty good about yourself.

Whether you’re in the front or back seats, you’ve got space and lush comfort, the seats padded and shaped like body gloves. Electric front seats are standard, and optional extra-comfort chairs adjust in a galaxy of extra directions.

A back-seat option pack gives you rear entertainment screens, electric backrest adjustment (which doesn’t actually adjust very far) and heated back seats. In a car that prioritises its rear passengers so generously, this pack doesn’t seem like overkill.

Ahead of the driver, the dash has familiar sections from the 5 and 7 Series, but fresh shapes too. Woods, leathers and metallics looks and feel like items of quality and craft.

The instruments are synthetic graphic impersonations of real clocks, but well enough done that you’d think they are real. So what’s the point? Well, they do allow a certain flexibility of layout but in the end it seems like wasted effort.

BMW has also gone a bit overboard on control inputs for the iDrive system. You can use the twist-push-nudge controller as usual. Or you can write letters and pinch/zoom by caressing its top surface with your fingers. Or you can use the main screen as a touchscreen. Or there’s always voice input if you don’t mind talking to your car.

Or finally the ridiculous and flaky gesture control system. Why is making a silly circular motion in the air more convenient or less distracting than turning the volume knob? We have the answer: it isn’t.

But don’t let that distract you from the fact this is a superbly designed and relatively easily learned way to use the immense number of car functions. The traffic-aware sa -nav is excellent. The communication apps are harder to fathom and clunky to connect, and often unreliable and crash-prone.

BMW’s portal will now mine your diary for events, programme them into your nav and remind you by phone or smartwatch when to leave home. It’ll even predict where you’re going this week by seeing where you went in the past. Or it does when it works. All without your intervention. If you find that spooky or irritating – and we do – turn it off. But remember, you paid for its development.

Verdict

Just saying this car is an odd fish isn’t really enough. You want a verdict. Well, the 6 Series Gran Turismo is an easy car to admire. It answers all the rational questions that an SUV answers – other than harrumphing around off-road – while being more comfortable, refined and better dynamically in pretty well every way.

But it’s a hard car to love. It’s not just the slightly unengaging driving experience. It’s the look. The designers have done a great job given the proportions they had to work with, by using interesting details and surfacing. But the depth of the body sides still sucks away any chance of verve.

Still, if you want a versatile family car and have very tall kids, there are few better ways than this 6 Series Gran Turismo coddle them in space and luxury.

Pricing of 6 Series Gran Turismo in South Africa

  • 630d – R1 081 300
  • 640i xDrive – R1 114 800

Original content: https://www.topgear.com/car-reviews/bmw/6-series-gran-turismo

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