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V8 stars in open-air theatre

Sydney Morning Herald

Saturday February 19, 2011

RICHARD BLACKBURN

BMW 6-SERIES CONVERTIBLEThis grand tourer is nimble and quick despite its bulk, writes RICHARD BLACKBURN. BMW's new 6-Series convertible cuts an imposing - almost menacing - figure in the metal.At a shade less than five metres long and weighing almost two tonnes, the drop-top can't hide its bulk. But there's no doubting it's a handsome car and one that will appeal to a wider range of tastes than its polarising predecessor.It's lower-slung, longer and wider than the previous model, too, and BMW engineers claim this has more leg, head and shoulder room for rear-seat passengers. After climbing into the tight rear seats, though, it's difficult to feel the extra millimetres eked out.But the 6-Series is more about the person behind the wheel than the passengers. That's reflected in the cocooning design of the interior, with the centre console and instruments angling towards the driver. It's also evident in the wealth of information displayed in the high-tech instrument panel and - if you tick the option box - the jet fighter-style head-up display, which is clearer and more informative than before.But, mostly, it's noticeable in the driving experience. The 6-Series is remarkably agile. You can still feel the bulk through tight hairpins but on winding roads it displays impressive composure, plenty of grip and the kind of eagerness to change direction you'd expect from a smaller car.The steering feels slightly lazier than smaller BMWs but the less-direct feel doesn't translate to a lack of accuracy when you point it through corners.Our test car came with optional adaptive dampers that offer a softer "comfort" suspension setting that absorbs bumps better - albeit at the expense of body control over larger bumps, where the car tends to pitch and wallow a little.Switching from "normal", "sport" and "sport plus" modes stiffens the suspension incrementally, ensuring the car sits flatter through corners. The trade-off is sharp thuds felt through the cabin over bigger bumps.With the roof down, the big body shudders over pock-marked surfaces but in the absence of a fixed roof and its inherent structural rigidity, BMW has done a good job of stiffening the shell.We didn't get an opportunity to test a car with the standard suspension but our experience with BMW's 5-Series sedan (on which the 6-Series is based) suggests the adaptive feature is an option worth taking up.Spend more money and you can have night vision with pedestrian detection, automatic parallel parking, a lane-departure warning and a system that reads road signs and tells you the speed limit. The car also offers internet access and a system that downloads and displays emails.BMW chose to retain the 6-Series' fabric roof (instead of the smaller metal folding system of the 3-Series) and it does a good job of shielding road and wind noise at freeway speeds.Operation of the roof is simple and it can be raised and lowered on the move up to 40km/h. The mechanism itself is also reasonably compact, which means you only lose 50 litres of boot space (down to 300 litres) when the top is down. BMW was at pains to demonstrate that the boot will still take two sets of golf clubs.Alfresco motoring also gives you the opportunity to enjoy BMW's excellent 4.4-litre turbo V8 in full cry. While the exhaust note lacks the aural drama of a sun-loving Maserati or Jaguar, it is still a lovely sound and the faint pop during gear changes is enough to keep most V8 fans happy.The engine itself is a cracker, with a stack of low-down torque that makes shifting two tonnes from a standing start an effortless exercise. BMW claims a 0-100km/h time of five seconds and, by the seat of the pants, there's little reason to doubt the claim.In-gear acceleration is also impressive, helped by the seamless and rapid kick-down of the eight-speed automatic transmission when you hit the accelerator. Around town, though, the auto is less impressive, feeling a little jerky when coasting up to traffic lights.It is a shame BMW didn't have the six-cylinder model available to sample, as that promises to be an enticing entry point for the range.Overall, the 6-Series convertible is an excellent grand tourer. The likely abundance of expensive options (BMW hasn't announced pricing) is a disappointment and the big Bimmer lacks the emotional appeal and head-turning style of some rivals.But it's more than a match for its competition on a twisty road and the adaptive suspension makes it comfortable enough to drive around town. The V8 engine and transmission combination delivers suitably rapid progress and the new interior is a step up in class and quality from its predecessor.For more on the BMW 6-Series range, go to drive.com.au/bmw.

© 2011 Sydney Morning Herald

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http://www.mechanics.com.au/mechanics-articles/2011/2/19/v8-stars-in-openair-theatre/