What is it?
BMW's new 6-series Gran Turismo made its public debut at the Frankfurt motor show this year. Confirmed to come to India in early 2018, it will sit between the 5-series sedan and the 7-series limo. Slated to go up against the long-wheelbase Mercedes-Benz E 350d, the new 6 GT will be competitively priced and will rival it on space and comfort on the inside. The more attractive profile, the sportier driving dynamics and higher quality interiors will be the draw and will be what BMW hopes to attract customers with.
Built on BMW’s latest CLAR (Cluster Architecture platform) like the 7- series and the new 5, it is 150kg lighter than the 5-series GT it replaces; the saving in weight achieved through the use of high levels of aluminium and hot-formed, high-strength steel. Air suspension will be standard for India and we will also get variable dampers and active anti-roll bars as well. There is an option of rear-wheel steering on the car driven here, but it isn't clear if it will make it to India.
Unlike the regular 5-series, it is supreme ride comfort that’s in sharp focus, not handling and grip. However, in an effort to enhance stability and up efficiency, BMW has also used a lot of aero tricks on this car. The 6 GT uses an active air flap in the grille, and there are air curtains and ‘L’-shaped breathers ahead of the front doors. And once you cross 120kph, an active rear spoiler pops up for added downforce. This is to counter the wing-like profile of the car and negate the lift generated by the rounded upper body and the flat, encapsulated underbody.
Importantly, for India, the car also gets a lift feature that increases ground clearance by 20mm soon after you hit the button; so most speed breakers and poorly designed driveways should be no problem.
What's interesting is that the 6-series GT rides on the same 3,070mm wheelbase as the regular 7-series (the longer L version sold in India is longer still) and is of the same width. Like both the GTs before it, this model comes with a flowing coupé-like roof, frameless doors and a large, liftback or tailgate with a 610-litre capacity. And fold the 40:20:40 split rear seat down electrically and you get a massive 1,800 litres of luggage space.
It's also an attractive car; long in beam, with smooth flowing lines that draw in the eye. Much of the gawkiness of the earlier 5 GT has been fixed with this new design. The 6 GT has a more steeply raked windscreen; the roof flows over the cabin in a more elegant manner, the sheer length of the car helps give it a lot of presence and those large wrap-around LED tail-lights make it look quite fetching from the back as well. The 6 GT also gets the 5-series-like nose, with headlight pods fused with the grille. And the muscular surface treatment of the new 5-series is seen here as well. An interesting fact is that the 6 GT, like the 3GT, all but does away with BMW’s characteristic Hofmeister kink – the kink in the window line of the C-pillar.
What's it like on the inside?
First impressions on seeing the inside of the 6 GT are very positive. The cabin is huge and very spacious, and quality levels are even better than those of the 5-series. The level of craftsmanship, the feature-rich cabin and the sense of space help deliver a feeling of opulent comfort almost immediately. There is, however, a bit of déjà vu when you look at the dash, as most of the elements here are from the 5 and the 7, and that's a bit of a shame, as the 6 GT lacks the freshness the new exterior design deserves. Still, levels of comfort on the inside are so high, you soon forget this.
The front seats are simply massive, finished in the highest quality leather, they offer fantastic shoulder support and plenty of thigh support, and because the steering wheel has a wide range of adjustment, it is very easy to find a comfortable driving position. The front seats are also vented and get a massage function. And what also adds to the feeling of roominess is that, the space between the seats is also much more than on the 5-series.
Legroom at the rear isn't quite as extravagant as the long-wheelbase E- class and the backrest doesn't recline as much either, but the 6 GT scores in other areas. For one, getting in and out is much easier. The long rear door helps you drop right into the back seat (unlike the E where you have to get in and then go back), the seat base is a fair bit higher and because you can recline the backrest electrically, finding the right angle for you is very easy too. And even though the E-class has a bit more, there's more than enough legroom here.
Apart from the opulence of the leather-lined and padded dash, the 6GT also gets a full suite of BMW's current goodies. You get a screen-based instrument panel, a big high-resolution touchscreen, gesture control, surround view cameras, remote parking, 10-inch screens for the rear-seat passengers, a 1400-watt Bowers & Wilkins sound system, and even the ability to create a WiFi hotspot. While it isn't clear which of these features will be standard and which will be optional, remember BMW has to take on Merc's 350d, so expect the car to be generously loaded.
What's it like to drive?
BMW says ride quality is a priority on the 6 GT and in Comfort Plus mode, the suspension's most indulgent setting, the car just glides over most rough bits and potholes on the outskirts of Lisbon. There's a suppleness to the springs that just doesn't get upset over even some quite serious rough patches; the 6 GT remains flat over most horizontal joints and even sharp-edged bumps are dealt with quite nicely. Yes, at times, and over big larger bumps, the car does pitch marginally, but all you have to do then is go to 'Comfort', and body control tightens up nicely again.
Comfort mode, in fact, offers a very healthy blend of imperiously silent ride and decent agility, and it's this mode I prefer even when driving along some fast expressways.
The car offers excellent directional stability; it turns willingly into corners and even though there is a bit of roll when you change direction, it feels so well balanced; it's a joy to drive briskly.
You can also up the pace and enjoy driving the 6 GT a bit harder too. To do this you have to select 'Sport', where you get more steering weight, less body roll (due to the active anti-roll bars), a more responsive accelerator, and gearbox settings that allow you to hold onto to gears a bit longer. The rear-wheel steering system helps deliver a lot of agility too, but here, as elsewhere where the setup has been executed nicely, you really can't tell when and where the system comes in.
What you can make out is that body roll is reduced. The 6 GT feels a lot more compact in 'Sport' – it rolls less, even on the tighter stuff, and agility is actually pretty good. Of course, this is no 3-series, and it doesn't pretend to be one, but apart from a more feelsome steering and a bit more bite in the front end, it really is quite enjoyable to drive, and importantly, a clear step up from the long-wheelbase E-class.
In India, we are likely to get the 30d, the same 265hp, 3.0-litre turbocharged-diesel inline six that powers the 5-series as well. In standard rear-wheel-drive guise, it can do the 0-100kph sprint in 6.1sec, which is plenty quick and only marginally slower than a similarly specified 5-series. And you can expect all the smoothness and mid-range punch you get in the 5 as well.
The engine we have with us, however, is the 40i, the petrol six, with 340hp, and the power and punch to match. Needless to say, the driving experience is just fantastic. Under 3,000rpm, you only hear the motor if you really strain your ears, and every time I hit the accelerator, I can't help marvel at how creamy and smooth it feels. With the turbos spooling up nice and early, mid-range punch is tremendous as well. I push the throttle down while cruising at around 80kph and the 6 GT just vaults forward, riding a wave of torque and power, accelerating rapidly. And the great bit is that the power just keeps on coming and coming all the way to the 6,600rpm redline. In fact, once the engine is on song, this 1.8- tonne car feels extremely potent and even light on its feet, with speeds of 180 or even 190kph crossed almost nonchalantly. BMW doesn't sell a six-cylinder petrol in the five anymore, so this would be a good addition to the range, should the case present itself sometime in the future.
Should I buy one?
When the 6 GT launches in 2018, it’ll be part of a two-pronged attack on the long-wheelbase Mercedes E-class, with the 5-series sedan offering an attractive price on one end, and the new 6 GT offering space on the other. The carmaker will rely on local assembly from completely knocked-down kits (CKDs) to help achieve competitive pricing of around Rs 60-70 lakh, and at that price, BMW thinks it is in with a shot.
Yes, the sticker price does look a bit steep, but there's little doubt: with the 6 GT, you get a lot of car for your money. Attractive, very comfortable to sit it and superbly equipped, the 6 GT rides well, drives well and offers an overall experience that is a clear step up from the 5- series. The E-class may have a bit more legroom on the inside and the back seat may be marginally more comfortable too, but one thing's for sure, the 6 GT is clearly a well-rounded car that scores well in almost every area. The Mercedes E 350d is likely to have its hands full.