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Review

First Drive: BMW 640d SE Gran Coupe car review

25/05/12

IT’S NICE when a car gives you a pleasant surprise, but as prices climb it gets less and less likely that you’ll find something that feels worth more than the sum of its parts.

But here’s an arrow to pierce the clouds of high-rolling disappointment, and it comes in the shapely guise of the BMW 640d Gran Coupe. It’s a longer version of the 6 Series that was launched last October, with two extra doors and 13cm of extra wheelbase to give rear passengers more room.

It’s a natural born cruiser, with a big footprint on the road and a choice of muscular engines. In Britain the 309bhp straight six-cylinder diesel is expected to make up the vast majority of the sales so that’s the one to test, but there are also two petrol options.

The first of the two, in the 640i, is a revvy straight-six with 316bhp but it can’t match the diesel for torque. Later this year deliveries will start of the 444bhp 650i V8 model, which will be capable of reasonable fuel economy and cruise missile performance.

But there’s really very little to criticise about the diesel and an awful lot to shout about. There’s a lot of internet forum sniffiness about diesel being petrol’s poor and slightly backwards cousin, to be avoided at all costs, but you can guarantee none of the folks saying that have ever actually experienced this engine.

Remember the first time you watched – and understood – films like The Matrix or Inception? This engine is the same kind of eye-opener that reshapes your perception of an entire genre. Somehow BMW have made it grumble a lot like a petrol V8 under power, pull like a train at almost any revs and return well over 40mpg at a fast cruise. It’s absolutely remarkable. Only a bit of diesel rattle at low speeds gives it away.

But then there’s the way it drives. There are two chassis and trim options that are familiar right through the BMW range: SE and M Sport. Most British buyers go for M Sport because it generally looks and feels a bit flashier, but there’s something rather important to say for this, the SE.

Riding on 18-inch alloys it looks a tiny bit under-wheeled, but it rides with a fluidity and composure that the M Sport models have historically lacked, being stiffer and a little more jittery at times on this island’s pockmarked roads. Larger upgrades are offered at a price, and on the SE they really don’t ruin the ride at all. The extra give in the chassis setup suits them perfectly.

One thing to note is that the launch cars were spec’d up to the nines, with – wait for it – a gut-wrenching £20,000 of options. That’s the price of an entire lightly used 320d M Sport. It’s a tremendous showcase for all the technology and luxury that BMW can offer on the 6 Series, but you might need to grow one or two extra noses to pay through.

There’s one pricey option you really don’t want to be without, though. Adaptive Drive will deprive you of £3,400, but provides a series of driving modes from Sport (with or without traction control) down to ‘Comfort+’ and Eco Pro, which optimises the drivetrain for fuel saving and gives a little readout of the range you’ve gained compared to if you’d used Comfort+ instead. One for the gadget fiends, that.

In Sport mode the portly cruiser’s high-speed body control is superb, and when tasked with a twisting country road it seems like it loses a good 250kg of body weight at the entrance of the first corner and doesn’t find it again until you’re back on the straight and sedate. It’s no Lotus Elise, but the level of throttle adjustability and liveliness in the platform is laugh-out-loud good.

Some of the options leave the average driver a bit non-plussed, like ‘Comfort Access’, but the problem for buyers is going to be the fact that so many of the extras are desperately desirable, like DAB radio, stunningly good LED headlights, Nappa leather seats, a reversing camera and a brilliant head-up display. It’ll be nigh-impossible to buy a 6 Series with the spec you want at anything close to the list price.

If you add a good 20% on to account for options when considering how far your budget will stretch, the 6 Series Gran Coupe is vying for the top spot in its class. It just does everything so staggeringly well and a real spark of life ignites within it through corners. BMW doesn’t expect to sell that many, but they deserve to be proved wrong.

FACTS AT A GLANCE Model: BMW 640d SE Gran Coupe, £61,390 on the road (£81,670 as tested).

Engine: 3.0-litre twin-turbo six-cylinder diesel producing 309bhp and 465lb.ft.

Transmission: 8-speed automatic gearbox driving the rear wheels.

Performance: Top speed 155mph, 0-62mph in 5.4 seconds.

Fuel economy: 51.4mpg.

CO2 rating: 148g/km.

  • Engines
  • Power
  • 0-60 mph
  • Economy
  • CO2g/km
  • Insurance groups
  • Airbags
  • Seats

Motors.co.uk value verdict:    stars

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