BMW 645Ci (2004) Driving Impression

BMW 645Ci

There's an elephant in the room. And it's a pretty big one. No matter how technologically advanced, how fast or dynamically adept BMW's new 6 Series coupe may turn out to be, all talk eventually turns to the same topic - design.

Adrian van Hooydonk, one of the Chris Bangle disciples, is credited with penning the controversial styling. In the end, the big question is this... is the BMW 6 Series so good that you can even forgive it the awkward exterior? Is there another type of beauty under that skin? Let's find out!

Powerful presence

Whether you like the design or not, there's no denying this BMW's very powerful visual presence. Measuring in at 4 820 mm long, 1 855 mm wide and 1 373 mm high, the 6 Series is a squat, muscular car that casts a big shadow. The wheelbase is long and the sloping roofline that terminates in that weird "whale tail" is very striking. The standard wheels are just about big enough at 18-inches, but huge 19-inch items are also offered and arguably improves the overall visual balance of the car.

Considering the 6's size, the cabin is actually not that spacious. In fact, rear legroom is extremely limited and headroom is not exactly overly generous either. The length of the body has however enabled BMW to offer a very spacious boot, similar in size to most large sedans.

Up front, comfort levels are excellent. The seats are upholstered in plush leather and boast generous side bolstering as well as electronic adjustment. A nice touch is the adjustable cushion length, which helps even very tall drivers achieve excellent under-thigh support.

The facia design follows in the style set by the 7 Series, offering very minimalistic instrumentation and a centre section that has surprisingly few buttons, considering the vast number of features packed in the BMW's cabin. Of course, this has much to do with the presence of iDrive, BMW's much-maligned control system that takes a good few days to completely become familiar with.

In the BMW 645Ci, however, there have been some improvements and with time most luxury cars will boast similar systems as it does cut the clutter in the cabin. And this car certainly offers all the mod-cons, including climate control, satellite navigation, cruise control and a top-end sound system with DVD functionality.

Charismatic engine

Under that very long bonnet is BMW's by now familiar 4.4-litre V8 engine that boasts such features as bi-Vanos valve timing, Valvetronic valve lift control, dual overhead camshafts and a variable-length intake manifold. It delivers 245 kW, revs freely all the way up to 6 500 rpm and crunches out 450 Nm of torque at 3600 rpm. It is a glorious power unit that delivers relentless performance in a very refined way, albeit with a very naughty (and nice) sound track.

Sprinting to 100 km/h takes only 6.1 seconds, and the overtaking acceleration is deeply impressive, too. This has much to do with the six-speed automatic transmission's ability to hook the right gear at the right time. Underpinning the large coupe is a shortened version of the BMW 5 Series' platform, sporting a sub-frame-mounted multi-link arrangement at the rear and active anti-roll bars at both ends. Providing safety back-up, and allowing the driver in some instances to sharpen up the car's reactions, is the standard DSC (dynamic stability control) system that incorporates a raft of sub-systems, including dynamic traction control and cornering brake control among others. Also fitted, somewhat controversially, is Active Steering and Dynamic Drive.

Going into the inner working of these systems will take up many paragraphs of text, but essentially Active Steering tries to be light and manoeuvrable around town but more direct at speed. Dynamic Drive, on the other hand features a Sport function which sharpens up the throttle response, stiffens the dampers and adds speed and weight to the steering.

Does it all work? To a large degree yes. The BMW 645Ci corners with great poise and virtually no bodyroll, with the levels of grip generating such forces as to squash the driver's ribs into those generous side bolsters. Driven hard, this BMW certainly rewards the pilot.

But there are moments when the car's bulk and weight count against it. It feels less rear-biased than most BMW coupes of the past and when cruising at speed the "virtual" steering response can be off-putting. But let's not forget that this is not an M-car. It needs to satisfy enthusiastic drivers and those who simply want a swift, luxurious cruiser. In that context the 645Ci delivers a very good dynamic compromise.

Verdict

This is a pricey car, and to a large extent the amount of technology, luxury and performance on offer justify the expense. Spend some time with this continent crusher and most of the concerns about the styling even fade away. The 645Ci may not be a love-at-first sight type of car, and even on paper it doesn't immediately jump out as an obviously good buy, but it's a hugely charismatic machine that slowly wins over its driver. It's just a pity that the cabin is not as spacious as the size of the car suggests, because that is pretty much the only serious flaw of this package.

We like:

Performance

Ride/Handling balance

Comfort

Quality

We don't like:

Cramped rear seats

Fuel consumption

Artificial steering feel

Fast facts

Engine: 4.4-litre, V8, petrol

Power: 245 kW @ 6 250 rpm

Torque: 450 Nm @ 3 600 rpm

Transmission: six-speed automatic

Wheels: 18-inch alloy

Top speed: 250 km/h

0-100 km/h: 6.1 seconds

Fuel economy: 13.4 litres/100 km

Also consider:

Porsche 911 Carrera Tiptronic:

Yes, it's not quite the same type of car, and yes, the Porsche is more expensive... but it is very likely that the iconic 911 will feature strongly on the radar of those considering the large BMW. The Porsche is the superior driver's car, though obviously not as practical, as it lacks the BMW's packing space.

Jaguar XK8 Coupe:

Ageing the Jaguar may be, but it's getting better with continuous refinements. Down on power, but not so much on performance. The big problem is the interior, which lacks the BMW's quality and sophistication.

Mercedes-Benz CLK55 AMG:

Slightly smaller than the BMW, but in full fat AMG trim the CLK55 is a blisteringly fast, and massively fun modern muscle car. Similarly practical to the BMW, and the build quality is also excellent. And it's cheaper.

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