BMW 640d Driven

Put your personal prejudices aside for moment and you cannot deny the previous E63 6 Series its courage, or its eccentricity, for that matter. The car’s designer Chris Bangle was and is nothing if not defiant, and since his departure the latest 6 Series, penned under the supervision of his successor Adrian van Hooydonk, has been made to walk the aesthetic straight and narrow. No bad thing, evidenced here with the popular 640d.

On approach, two aspects of the F12 6 Series Gran Coupé catch the eye; the tapered snout, afforded by the length of the car’s diving board bonnet, and the mighty bone line that tears, arrow-straight, from the rear lamps forward. Both emphasize the 6 Series’ length, and both are tricks. The 6 Series is shorter than a 5 Series with a wheelbase just four centimeters longer than a 3 Series, although you’d never know it unless the three were parked side by side. The result is that the 6 Series has a surplus of that most crucial of gran turismo car design traits: perceived lengthiness on a locomotive scale and with it elegance.

The 6 Series isn’t by any stretch of the imagination a small car, though; just consider that the double-spoke M-Sport alloys this particular car is shod with, which look so at home, are a full twenty inches in diameter. There’s also reasonable space for adults in the back, the 6 Series being a classic 2+2, although step inside and you could argue that it’s even a 3+1.

I say 3+1 because the cabin is entirely focused on the driver – a BMW trait, no doubt – but taken to new extremes in the 6 Series, where a diagonal leather spine transverses the centre console and envelopes the off-side dashboard. It’s dramatic to say the least, and a clear evolution of a similar feature in the previous model.

After bending down further than expected to grasp and pull the door handle, you’re greeted with a cabin that, apart from the familiar shared components and digital readouts familiar to all BMWs, is just enough of a break with tradition to warrant the 640d's plastic-flexing £66,750 list price. Step inside and a sensory smorgasbord awaits: the soft leather of the cosseting seats in red are a throwback to the knee-weakening 507, the taut leather adorning the dash injects athleticism, and milled aluminium on the centre console and dash gives the car a space age quality. The cabin is secure but spacious, ergonomically faultless and ideal for intercontinental cruising. It’s also intuitive and modern, yet with classic throwbacks evidenced in the beautiful door inserts, for example. But for all these strengths, it just doesn’t feel special enough for a £78,000 car, as this particular one is after a generous £11,780 helping to the options list. Furthermore, the hyper-processed interior looks about as recyclable as a second-hand nappy, despite BMW’s recent pledges.  

As with every new car to leave the Dingolfing plant there’s a raft of impressive figures, but the truly terrifying figure for everyone else is 48.7. Because even though the new 6 Series weighs 1790kg, and even though the sonorous three-litre twin-turbo engine generates a meaty 313bhp, 48.7 is the number of miles the car will travel on a solitary gallon of diesel at 70mph, at least by our figures, and impressive just isn’t the word. It’s astonishing, and it also explains why BMW estimate that nearly 95% of 6 Series sold this year will be in 640d specification. Carbon dioxide emissions? Less than a Skoda Fabia vRS, at 145g/km.

As with previous BMW cars we’ve tested, the 640d comes with the brilliant ECOPRO mode. At the opposite end of the spectrum to the chassis-stiffening SPORT+ mode, this setting adjusts the engine and accelerator mapping as well as keeping the car is as higher gear as possible – hardly an arduous task with 464lb ft of torque at the ready from just 1500rpm. ECOPRO also cuts the climate control and seat/mirror heating, all in the pursuit of heightened economy. Consider the excellent Start-Stop system and unobtrusive regenerative brakes and that figure of 48.7 no longer seems such a surprise.

It’s not all about economy, however, and the diesel engine is about as far from the traditional oil-burning stereotype as you can get. Leave the throttle wide open and the inconspicuous 6 Series, rather than delivering the instantaneous flood of power found in its esteemed M-Power-fettled stable mates, gains speed in a more cumulative fashion. Select second gear, any gear in fact, and with a swell of anatomy-tickling torque you’re already in license-losing country. It’s not necessarily an engine that likes to be hurried or cajoled along, but give it its head and let the gears do the work for you, and you’ll cover ground at a sometimes frightening pace.

It’s not hard to imagine that on motorways one simply points the 640d in the chosen direction and then controls the rate at which it devours the incoming tarmac. This is certainly true, and one of the car’s undoubted strengths, but how does the diesel-engined 6 perform out of its comfort zone, on greasy Yorkshire A-roads with adverse cambers and many a pothole, for example?

Quite well, actually, despite the slightly crashy nature those twenty-inch alloys impart on the suspension at times. SPORT mode seems to permit a generous amount of slip from the sizeable 275-section rear tyres, meaning the driver can have a bit of fun safe in the knowledge that the pendulum-esque 6 Series won’t suddenly and unexpectedly be facing the wrong way. SPORT+ disables stability control altogether. As mentioned, it doesn’t like to be hurried and on smaller roads, with its low (but fully adjustable) driving position, feels every inch its size. This wouldn’t normally be a problem as one soon adjusts to a new car’s dimensions, but it is problematic in the 6 Series because of the steering feel, which is slightly ambiguous when driven with gusto. This is a small gripe, and admittedly this arena is not the 6 Series’ forte, but it compares unfavorably to, say, a Porsche Panamera S, where you feel as if you’re stroking the tarmac as you go along.

Overall it’s hard to find serious fault in the latest 6 Series. No, it isn’t as daring as Bangle’s imperious reincarnation of 2003, but it’s hugely sophisticated and the design is resolved in a way that the E63’s will never be, from any angle. The car’s real hammer blow to the opposition is its marriage of economy with performance, both of which are equally exploitable depending on what mood you’re in. It’s not as much of a ‘drivers’ car as it could be (but, then, why should it be?) and in turn it’s perhaps not quite special enough either, but as a useable machine for enhancing your life on a day-to-day basis it’s a real gem.   

Engine: 2993cc 6-cyl twinturbo, diesel Power: 131 @ 4400rpm Torque: 464lb ft @ 1500 rpm 0-62mph: 5.3s Top Speed: 155mph (limited) Economy: 51.4mpg combined CO2 emissions: 145g/km Price: £67,750

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