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BMW M6

Click to view picture galleryThe GT That Loved Me — Jens
  Trulsson ‘eloped’ to Portofino
  with one of BMW
s seductive M6
  Coupes... And discovered that
  Breaking Up Is Hard To Do...”


GT GRAND TOURER; GRAN TURISMO… The word itself conjures up images of sleek lines, powerful engines and beautiful couples sporting the right sunglasses with matching luggage driving along shady tree-lined roads somewhere in France or Italy. Their tranquil journey is punctuated by stops at chic hotels with names like La Réserve, Villa d'Este and Royal Riviera: days spent lounging by the pool; nights at cocktail parties.
It is a perfect mix of the opening scene from the cult UK heist movie, the original Italian Job, with its great On Days Like These soundtrack and the adventures of Londino
a trans-national treasure hunt conducted in very fast, very smart cars between London and Portofino.

On our way to Geneva from Munich, we have to pass through Switzerland, a country known for three things — banking secrecy, chocolate and their hatred of cars. There are cameras everywhere and the traffic rhythm is sometimes so slow that I could get out of the car and run alongside it. That is when I notice I actually like the look of the M6. When Chris Bangle first presented his BMW designs, I really didn't like them. I now love them, particularly the 6-series and will gladly admit to having been mistaken.

The real journey begins in Geneva. Our 'mission' is to drive along Lake Léman via Lausanne and Montreux, down through the Alps and the Simplon Pass to Lake Maggiore and Stresa and from there, take Autostrada del Trafori down to Portofino.

The FIA's (Féderation Internationale de l'Automobile) definition of a GT is, and I quote: "An open or closed automobile which has no more than one door on each side and a minimum of two seats situated one on each side of the longitudinal centre line of the car; these two seats must be crossed by the same transversal plane. This car must be able to be used perfectly legally on the open road, and adapted for racing on circuits or closed courses."

The BMW M6 is a typical Grand Tourer, albeit on the sportier side. I have been trying to find an equal for this car, one that could be compared on all levels to the BMW and have come up with just one rival — the Ferrari 612 Scaglietti. All others are either not sporty enough or lack that crucial '+2' feature.

The remarkable ingenuity of BMW makes for much joy for driver and passenger in the M6. The iDrive system is notoriously complicated to handle for the driver, but it is a dream for the passenger. There is so much information on hand that, whatever trip you take, you will benefit greatly from it. To be alone with the computer while driving is not something to be recommended because you'll need all your concentration when manhandling this 500bhp beast at speed. But it doesn't have to be this way. At any point the driver can return to the M6's default 'P400' mode (which withholds the last twenty-five per cent of the maximum 500bhp) and which is more than sufficient for ninety per cent of your journeys — having 'just' 400bhp is still enough to leave a lot of other drivers eating your dust.

Then there is the M-button — in this case; 'M' for magic. This innocuous little button will transform the M6 from 'Daniel Craig-James Bond aggressive' to 'pit bull ferocious'. Push it, and all of a sudden the car reacts like a tiger stalking its prey; all of the M6's senses come alive, putting you in direct touch with the car on a truly primeval level. The M6's full 500bhp is now completely at you disposal; the suspension is taut in Sport mode and the DSC is turned off. To fully enjoy (and exploit) the capabilities of this wonderful machine, one would need to take the M6 to a track because open roads are just not enough — the M6 will reach illegal speeds even before you need to shift to fourth gear. And there are seven of them!

Whichever way you look at it 500bhp — or 507hp — in a standard sports coupé is a sobering figure. Especially when one recalls other cars renowned for their performance from earlier times. Back in 1976 and the first-ever Golf GTi had 110bhp — a lot back then — enabling Volkswagen's sporty little hot-hatch to reach a top speed of 113mph. Porsche's 959, a dream car of the Eighties — and at that time the most technologically-advanced car ever built — had 438bhp and took a mere 3.7 seconds to hit 62mph [for the record, that's the same 0-62mph time as the 612bhp Ferrari 599 GTB we recently tested — Ed].

The previous M6, albeit not an official M6, was the M635CSi with 286bhp. It was, and still is, a fast car by any standards. BMW's wonderfully sonorous 5.0-litre V10 that powers today's M6 is magical on higher revs, yet very discreet and rather low on torque in the lower range (maximum torque of 384lb ft is at 6,100rpm). Not that it ever bothered me as shifting with the paddle-shift SMG 'box is more than enjoyable. Every downshift is accompanied with some throttle action to give the gears that precise revs to balance the change with the added bonus of making you feel like a true racer for mastering that heel-toe manoeuvre without ever taking your foot off the accelerator.

After a spot of lunch in Stresa overlooking the beautiful Lake Maggiore, there's still another 160 miles to go before we catch sight of Portofino. The M6 we're driving has German plates and apparently that still attracts some resentment from our fellow motorists. I love the Italians for their machismo but when in the M6, it's almost painful to watch. You're doing 70mph in the BMW on the winding A8 to Genoa, going with the flow at a very comfortable pace — but soon enough you will have a small Fiat on your tail, flashing its headlights wanting to get past. If I let him by, he's going to have to brake in the next bend and interrupt my rhythm so what to do? Easy — I press the magical M-button; shift down to third and floor it. The distance I put between him and me in four seconds is enough to let me coast leisurely the rest of the way. Who says that power corrupts?

The M6 offers three settings for the suspension, three settings for the DSC and five settings for the shift speed of the Sequential Manual Gearbox. On the whole, the M6 gives you so many choices of everything it would sometimes be easier if the M department had already made the choice for you. But here's the tricky thing: in today's market, they can't — because BMW is trying to cover all the bases and attract as many buyers as possible without alienating a single one because there aren't enough choices. My M6 even has the head-up display — the most crucial information is projected onto the windscreen in front of the driver, just like on a fighter jet.

Autostradas in Italy are not like motorways elsewhere in Europe. Especially along the coast of Liguria, where it carves its way through the mountainside revealing little villages and displaying scenery so beautiful it almost makes me wish I was in the passenger seat. Almost. The destination is Portofino and the ultra-luxurious Hotel Splendido, which is perched on the side of the mountain above the harbour. The yachts moored in the little cove below us are magnificent; and the view from where we're standing even more so. We drink Bellinis (still one of Italy's most popular cocktails) with the hotel manager and dream of August when it's time to return here again.

Beauty in all of its shapes and forms is the reward of owning a real GT. There should be no doubt that this is a luxury for the lucky few who have not just the time but also the money to spend on long travels with their masterpiece automobile, stay in five-star hotels and simply enjoy. I know, I did. — Jens Trulsson

More of Jens' car reviews can be found at www.thecartorialist.com.

BMW M6
| £83,650
Maximum speed: 155mph | 0-62mph: 4.6 seconds
Overall test MPG: 19.1mpg | Power: 507bhp | Torque: 384lb ft
CO2 357g/km | VED Band G £400 | Insurance group 20