Motoring: Different flavours of BMW coupes
Of the two BMW coupe's I'm writing about today, the absolute best is the new M3. Honestly this should not be called a car because this machine is far too amazing.
It is so good that it is difficult to know where to start, but I suppose the engine is as good a place as any. The engine in question is a normally aspirated, 4.0-litre, 32-valve, V8. It has sequential electronic fuel injection and dual overhead cams. While these things aren't overly impressive not many cars with a normally aspirated engine of such a displacement are able to produce 414hp. Yes, 414hp from a 4.0-litre engine, that is insane. Couple that with it's torque figure of 295 lb/ft. sending it's power to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox, and you get the idea that this is going to be a fast car.
Well whatever you are thinking double it at least, because this new M3 is far faster than even I was expecting it to be.
How fast can this car go? How about zero-100km/h in 4.5 seconds with a top-speed electronically governed at 250 km/h. If the limiters are removed, I have no doubt this car would fly past 300 km/h.
Getting that speed out of this car requires using its special trick. On the steering wheel there is a tiny button that just says M. When driving normally, this is still a very fast car, but when you press the M button this car transforms into a missile. Just by pressing that button, you get sharper throttle response, the steering firms up, the brakes feel sharper, and the best bit, is this engines clever cams come alive. Think of it like the Honda VTEC motors, but instead of revving them to insane rpm's to get the best out of the engine, the M3 gives you that at the touch of a button. Honestly it felt like an extra engine got fired and the instant response you get would either have you singing praises about this car, or praying to your maker for forgiveness.
Not only is the speed impressive, its stability at high-speeds is remarkable, never feeling nervous or unstable and in the corners, it just grips and grips. I would have preferred a more engaging steering feel, and through sweeping corners it sometimes felt a bit twitchy at the rear, but that goes hand in hand with such a powerful rear-wheel drive coupe. Plus, when you have it operating in the M mode, it also puts the car into its M Dynamic Mode setting, which eases up on the interference of the traction and stability control system, which makes it lively.
One of the best things about this new M3 is its comfort. Usually cars that drive as well as this have all the ride quality of a skateboard, but despite this M3 having 19 rims shod with 265/35ZR19 Michelin Pilot Sport tires, it was still comfortable. It has lots of space upfront, and decent space for backseat passengers, and it has one of the most spacious trunks I have ever seen on a coupe. How they managed to do all this is beyond my understanding.
Any downsides you wonder? Well the interior, while very comfortable, lacks style. It is a bit too dark and I think they could have done much better with the design of the dash. They probably could have given it an easier clutch. The one fitted is a bit snappy and does take some getting used to.
But that is it and trust me, none of this is going to put me off from lusting after one, nor should it stop anyone from buying one. After all this M3 gives you the performance of an Audi R8, for half the money ($69,000 for the sedan, $72,000 for the coupe, $81,000 for the convertible), and the R8 is the 2008 Car of the Year in Canada. The year is only halfway done, but I have a feeling this M3 will be at least my next Car of the Year.
However, performance isn't for everyone, some people prefer more luxury than speed, and if that is what you are after, than you would certainly enjoy the BMW 650i coupe.
The 6-Series has been around for a few years now, first introduced as a 645i in 2004. Since 2006 BMW had updated to the 650i with a new 4.8-litre, V8, which produces 360hp and a very impressive 360 lb/ft. of torque. That power goes to the rear-wheels via either a six-speed manual gearbox, or a six-speed automatic with Steptronic manual shift mode (as in my test car) at no extra cost.
In 2008, the 6-Series got a few minor styling tweaks too, which are hard to point out, but you get a sense from just looking at it, that this car somehow looks better than it did before, not that there was anything wrong with the way it looked before. Personally I think the 6-Series is Chris Bangle's best design job, not that the new M3 is lacking anything in the exterior design department.
The interior of the 650i is on a whole different level. Where the M3 felt simple, the 650i feels spectacular. I have been in some nice cars, but I cannot remember an interior as good-looking or as well executed as the one in the 650i. When you are buying a luxury vehicle, you want the interior to look and feel special, and this one does. I loved the right balance of leather, chrome and wood, an area where most manufacturers get it all so very wrong. Not only is the interior very inviting, it is also packed with the sort of technology that used to only be available in top military vehicles. Gadgets like a heads-up display that shows you the cars speed on the windshield, and its Night-vision camera, which shows you if any animals are about to cross your path, even in complete darkness. Couple that with its wonderfully comfortable seats and a very usable trunk and you have a car you can literally use everyday.
On top of the comfort is its performance. Yes, this $102,000 luxury coupe is no-where near as fast as the M3, but it isn't bad. Zero-100 km/h is dealt with in 5.4 seconds, and this too has an electronically limited top-speed of 250 km/h. So while it is fast enough, it is a bit quiet and soft for my taste, especially after the M3. The 650i even handles quite well for a car of its size, and its electronically variable power-steering unit is fantastic, however you do feel like you are a passenger of all the gadgets and gizmo's rather than being in full control. Sure even the M3 has its gadgets working to keep you on the tarmac, but it makes you feel like you are the boss.
But you won't buy a 650i because you thought it was the best driving machine for the money. You'd buy one of these because you like comfort and all the latest gadgets currently available. Plus it is a status symbol, and if I had to choose which one of these cars to take to a dinner party at the Hazelton hotel, I would take the 650i. But for everything else I have to have the M3.