Last month, we had the opportunity to drive the new BMW M6 Gran Coupe for the first time in Europe, but this time we got it on the track with its optional carbon-ceramic brakes and had at it.
We were privileged to be on the wonderful Circuit of the Americas in Austin, TX, which fortunately has massive runoff areas for the F1 cars, so hopefully we wouldn’t be embarrassing ourselves with a visit to the kitty litter.
While excited to turn laps on this brand new track, it’s high-speed, technical nature makes COTA rather intimidating. Even after a few laps following M5s from the BMW Performance Driving School, there was still a great deal to be learned about lines and braking points.
Fortunately, we got some extra tuition from one of BMW’s PDS instructors and were able to thread the turns together, although the endless Esses still had the ability to confound you.
The M6 Gran Coupe excelled in these surroundings. While its longer wheelbase may be less wieldy than the M6 Coupe, it handled the transitions with aplomb, transferring its weight with surprising agility.
Launching out of an uphill left-hander, you could gather enough momentum to nudge past 150mph on the back straight before you needed the carbon-ceramics for the second-gear left turn at the bottom.
In 90˚F weather and completing a series of hot laps, the cars suffered no ill effects of the abuse. Neither did you feel beat up after the experience. The multi-adjustable seats were able to offer tremendous support with good lumbar as well as side bolsters that can be tightened to suit.
Offering more cars with manual transmission options than any of its competitors – there are 25 to choose from – BMW is rightly proud of its US-only six-speed stick shift. Modified from the 550i application, the car was equally a delight on the circuit and the street.
We won’t argue that the M-DCT seven-speed dual-clutch auto is simpler to operate but the manual puts you in charge, the master of your own destiny.
Like the M5 application of the same transmission, it gives a positive shift and requires a firm pedal push to engage the clutch, but nothing feels clunky or heavy. It’s well weighted for the nature of these 560hp machines.
Inevitably, the German engineers can’t leave anything alone, adding a throttle blip function on manual down-changes. You can override it with a manual blip or a heel-n-toe downshift, but in regular driving it keeps the operation smooth and brings a smile to your face each time.
Having sampled the carbon-ceramic brakes on the M6 Coupe at Laguna Seca, and knowing how they allowed you to sail past a similar car on conventional brakes, they gave heaps of confidence. With each lap you could leave your braking later and later, waiting until the 150yd marker to hit the pedal at 150mph, knowing you could stop in time for the hairpin.
Wait a little longer and, although the car would overshoot the turn, the giant runoff area kept you on the tarmac, leaving the car in one piece; if not your pride.
The raft of M-button activated dynamic options on all M cars gave us the opportunity to sample them in extremis and was an opportunity not to be missed. The Comfort mode for steering, power application (Efficient) and suspension was generally too soft for the track, but entirely suited to the street, where the Gran Coupe’s laidback attitude allows you to cruise without stress.
On the track, we preferred Sport Plus steering for extra heft, Sport throttle response to allow finer modulation, and Sport suspension to absorb the curbs we enjoyed rumbling over. We also generally had the traction control in its M Dynamic Mode rather than off. This allowed generous slip angles but would catch a spin, which was remarkably easy in the Esses from Turn 3 to 10.
When driving the M-DCT-equipped cars we’d also selected the fastest gear-change speed but, as Albert Biermann, VP of M Engineering explained, this options is simply to “remind us of the former SMG transmission” and make the drive more dramatic.
With the M5 being a popular track tool, it’s possible that BMW M6 Gran Coupe owners will be less frequent visitors, but it’s good to know they have the right tools for the job. In fact, BMW is giving the M5/M6 family a sharper track focus with its recently announced Competition Package. It wasn’t available for us to sample, but includes special 20" wheels, a 15hp power increase (to 575hp) plus stiffer springs, dampers and sway bars. The cars get an M Sport exhaust system with black tailpipes, while the DSC, MDM and M differential are reprogrammed to allow greater slip angles.
The Competition Package is possibly BMW’s response to the S option from AMG on the new E63, and should keep everybody on their toes.
Track fans should also read our story on BMW’s MPower iPhone app in this issue.
2014 BMW M6 Gran Coupe
Drivetrain six-speed manual transmission, Active M Differential
Suspension double-wishbone front, multi-link rear
Brakes optional 16.1" carbon-ceramic rotors, six-piston rotors f, 15.6", single-piston r
Wheels & Tires 20x9.5" ET31 f, 20x10.5" ET19 r; 265/35 R20 f, 295/30 R20 r
Power 560hp at 6000-7000rpm (575hp with Competition Package)
Torque 500 lb-f t at 1500-5750rpm
Top Speed 155mph
Weight 4395 lb
Economy 15/22/17mpg (city/highway/combined)