The N6 Highway outside Lisbon, Portugal, is beautiful. It runs by the Atlantic Coast on one side and the hills on which the Portuguese capital lies on the other. Look up and you can see hundreds of windmills rotating gently, generating clean energy. If you had looked down on the road in mid-October, you would have seen a large, white car travelling at a rate of knots far greater than the Portuguese ‘Navigators’ who set off from the nearby port of Belem, on the mouth of the Tagus river. Said car was BMW’s latest and greatest creation, the 6GT.
GT, as any automotive fan will know, stands for Grand Tourer, and the 6GT is the grandest of grand tourers – because it is a vast car, and that is because it shares its same wheelbase with the new 7 Series. The 6GT replaces the unloved 5GT, and it is in all respects a much better car. As I have already told you, it is larger – eight centimeters larger. While I know some of you might look at your iPhone sideways and wonder what the big deal in adding eight centimeters is, let me assure you, it is a lot in car terms. BMW has addressed one of the key negatives of the 5GT, which, despite being a big car, was not a very easy one to load. The extra length makes a world of difference to the loading area at the back, and because the struts are now incorporated into the tailgate (instead of the gigantic D-pillars), you now have a wider, larger loading area, so that when you go on your Grand Tour, you can travel with all your belongings, and if you put the rear seats down, the kitchen sink as well. Did I mention how vast this car is?
What is remarkable about modern cars from German manufacturers is that not only are they getting bigger, they somehow manage to remain immensely agile – and fast, at least in the M640i trim I was driving. While the numbers on the back of a German luxury car give you no idea any more about the engine and its performance (possibly one reason most Germans drive cars with few identifying logos other than the manufacturer badge), there is one logo on this car even they would keep, and that is the M badge.
The M division of BMW is where the Bavarian carmaker sends their mad engineers. However, this is not a fullbore M-car like the M5, but a sort of semi-M car, like Audi’s S badged cars (RS being the full-bore crazy cars in that manufacturer’s line-up). It has 355 horsepower, which can get its two tonne weight up to 100 kilometers an hour from a standing start in just over five seconds. This is plenty fast for any car, and when you consider that you are driving around in a luxury cruiser, it is quite incredible.
When it comes to the suspension, I have to put in a caveat – the car I was testing had the full Sunday buffet of options (four air springs, active anti-roll, adaptive dampers and active steering). This made the ride over Portugal’s surprisingly smooth highways almost serene, and with the noise dampening and the excellent Bowers&Wilkins audio system fitted in the car, you really think that one of Beethoven’s less violent symphonies, like the Fifth, is in order. Now, active anti-roll systems can actually be caught out by bad roads, and in their earlier generations compromised handling, but despite the vastness and bulk of this car, there was no perceptible difference when I turned into a corner hard. The eight speed gearbox? Fantastic – even if you play around with the flappy paddles, you are never in a position where you find yourself struggling for power. And even though this car runs lower than the outgoing 5GT and has a lower roofline, your seating position is higher. Not as high as you would be in a SUV, but height is not a bad thing in a car which is meant to be driven for hours on end.
There is one feature that I, as an Indian, find mildly irritating, and I do not blame BMW for this alone, as it is increasingly becoming a standard feature on many luxury cars. This is ‘Lane Assist’. It works wonderfully well on European and American highways, where the sheer boredom of driving at a constant 120 kilometers per hour for hours can lull you to sleep. What the system does is gently vibrates the steering wheel when the radar and camera sense that you are going out of your lane. Heck, the car I drove even had ‘active’ lane assist, which meant that it would keep me safely in the middle of my lane even if the road was turning and my hands were not moving. However, the (optional) heads-up display kept on reminding me to put my hands back on the wheel, in case I removed them.
In India, though, where you don’t know which moron on a bike or even a 20-year old Esteem will decide to suddenly merge in with no shits given, you have to maintain a 360-degree bubble around you while driving, and sometimes you have to depart your lane because the Uber in front of you decided to slow down for no rhyme or reason – here, lane assist is downright irritating, as I discovered on a Volvo S90 a couple of months ago. But then, so are many other features on European luxury barges – seat heating, for example. It is an insane feature to have for that one night in January in Mumbai when you might just need it. But this is symptomatic of all luxury carmakers. These cars are being sold in India – heated and cooled seats would be ideal. I mean, if Hyundai can do it?
In India, it is more likely that BMW will bring this in as the 630d GT specification, which is likely to be the ‘Luxury’ specification. That will mean the same ten-inch touchscreen with all the connectivity options, including Apple CarPlay, and the wonderful quilted leather seats. The three-litre diesel will have 260-odd horsepower, which is more than enough. If there is one negative in this car, it is that despite the work on its exterior, including the beautiful sculpted tail-lights which give a 3D effect, it is not as good looking as the two cars on either side of it – the new 5 Series and the new 7 Series. I was chatting to Claud Otto-Griebel, the head of the 6GT project, and he said that this would be a wonderful car to have driven down to Portugal from Munich. I’m sure I would love to drive this car on a Grand Tour of Europe, or even be driven around in. It is superbly comfortable and designed for such a job. But for a Grand Tour of Andheri East? I’d go for the other BMW I drove around Lisbon, Cascais and Sintra – the new X3.
BMW 6 Series GT (for India)
Engine 3-litre diesel
Max power 261 bhp
Peak torque 620 Nm
Transmission 8-speed automatic
What we like: Imposing size, superb comfort
What we don’t: May just be too tech-laden for India