Overall rating: 4/5
The BMW 650i is undoubtedly a high-performance car thanks to its 450hp twin-turbocharged V8 petrol engine, but updates to it - and the rest of the 6 Series line-up - serve to underline its positioning as a GT, more for those that want to traverse the country in style than in speed. It's a lovely decadent way to get about and - M6 aside - serves as a worthy range-topper. It's available as a two-door Coupe, Convertible or four-door Gran Coupe with its '4+1' seating.
In the Metal:
Changes to the exterior of the 6 Series are slight - and they depend on which version you've gone for. The six-cylinder models (640i and 640d), for example, get larger diameter exhaust outlets, though the others already had those. Up front, the usual kidney grilles have fewer uprights than before and they're finished in a different colour depending on the specification of the car. More obvious is the new bumper, with its wide black portion and LED-equipped fog light design. LEDs are also found in the headlights as standard, giving them a new signature look, while the indicators cut across the tops of the units. Meanwhile the side indicators are moved to restyled door mirrors, while the rear bumper has had minor tweaks. Other than all that, there are new colours to choose from (Jatoba metallic, Cashmere Silver metallic, Glacier Silver metallic, Mediterranean Blue metallic and Melbourne Red metallic) and a new design of 20-inch alloy wheels to tempt you with.
Similarly, interior enhancements are subtle, but as before it's a high-quality and luxurious cabin. Detail changes to the high definition iDrive display and to the switchgear in the centre console below it modernise the appearance, but only existing owners of the 6 Series models are likely to notice. As before, rear seat space in either the Coupe or the Convertible is at a premium. That's improved in the Gran Coupe by the stretched wheelbase; though don't expect to remain friends with the person you ask to sit in the centre...
All versions of the BMW 6 Series are special by normal car standards. They're refined, comfortable, luxurious and seemingly of very high quality. The small number of versions sold in Ireland is likely to be the 640d diesel and it's easy to understand why. It offers the perfect blend of performance and efficiency, drives well and even sounds good - for a diesel. But take a quick spin in the 650i model and you'll realise what you're missing out on. This version is powered by a twin-turbocharged 4.4-litre V8 petrol engine and at any speed it sounds good. Amble around town and there's a low rumble from the (standard) sports exhaust. Really open it up and it roars around to the redline, encouraging you to change up and down the gearbox to fully hear it sing.
Not that you need do anything with the transmission to maintain an indecent pace. Along with the chunky 450hp peak power, this engine puts out 650Nm of torque from as low as 2,000rpm, which means meaningful acceleration any time you wish. The standard automatic gearbox is the simply brilliant eight-speed unit we're well used to, smoothing out changes at low speeds or when you're cruising along, but offering the keener driver more options in the shape of Sport mode and tactile gearchange paddles mounted behind the steering wheel. Up-changes are lightning quick at full speed and down-changes are marked by a wanton automatic blip of the throttle. It's huge fun and really adds to the indulgent aspect of going for a car with this engine.
The chassis is more than up to the job, even if this car's remit is more cruising GT than mountain road bruiser. It's a heavy car, but the brakes stand up well to enthusiastic driving. That weight is also felt in quick direction changes, though BMW has tweaked the suspension to help with that. We'd highly recommend going for the optional adaptive damping system, even though it won't be cheap. It means the driver can choose Comfort Plus, Comfort, Sport or Sport Plus modes depending on their mood or the road surface underneath. We also sampled Integral Active Steering, which steers the rear wheels by moderate amounts in the same direction as the front wheels for high-speed stability and in the opposite direction for a more agile feeling in slower bends and for slow-speed manoeuvring. It's quite effective.
What you get for your Money:
The BMW 6 Series has always been expensive - and that's not about to change in a hurry. Those that appreciate the car will realise it's worth the outlay. Prices start at €98,690 on-the-road for the 640d SE in Coupe or Gran Coupe guises - both are priced the same. With that pricing strategy, we're not surprised to learn that the four-door car now accounts for about half of all 6 Series sales around the world. The 640d SE Convertible, by comparison, is €108,090. All other models offered are petrol-powered, from the six-cylinder 640i to the 650i tested here and the range-topping M6, which starts at €171,300. Naturally, at this price level, the cars are exceedingly well-equipped as standard, including the automatic gearbox, LED headlights, Dakota leather upholstery, satnav, dual-zone climate control, heated and electrically adjusted front seats and a whole lot more. The options list is extensive too - for those with deep pockets.
Standing next to the regular 6 Series models at the launch in Portugal was a styling model for BMW's next-generation GT3 motorsport programme. It's based on the M6 Coupe and replaces the successful Z4 GT3 racer. It will be offered to customer teams and promises more power and torque yet lower fuel consumption. Frank van Meel, Chairman of the Board of Management of BMW M GmbH, said: "We obviously knew that the production version, the BMW M6 Coupe, sets the bar extremely high when it comes to sportiness. It is very impressive to see how our colleagues at BMW Motorsport are able to take this excellent product as a basis, on which to develop a GT3 racing car. The high-rev V8 engine with M TwinPower Turbo technology from the production M6, in particular, provides an ideal basis for a GT power train, and is virtually unmodified. I am confident that the BMW M6 GT3 will allow us to continue the successful tradition of BMW M and BMW Motorsport at the racetrack from 2016."
From the perspective of the Irish new car market, now is a good time to reveal an update to a high-end vehicle like the BMW 6 Series. Even if the enhancements that make up the new model year cars are restrained, it remains a cracking long-legged GT car. As much fun as we had in the 650i, we expect buyers to stick with the more sensible 640d.