Review and photos by Laurance Yap
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BMW probably isn’t going to like my saying this, but there’s something very American about the 645Ci. It comes not from the way the car looks, the way it’s built, or indeed the way it’s priced (a $99,000 base price is way above pretty much any American car you could name except for the upcoming Corvette Z06 and the Dodge Viper). Instead, it comes more from the car’s general attitude and the way it goes about its business.
This is no bad thing; it’s just a bit unexpected.
What the company would like you to think is that the 6-series is a grand touring flagship, using the latest technology to effortlessly whisk you from city to city at high speeds and extreme comfort. In Europe, where high-speed highway travel is normal, that’s very much the role it likely plays; here, with our traffic and speed enforcement, the 6 is as likely to be found cruising along as it is blitzing the outside lane of the 401, and it’s also at home bullying its way through downtown traffic.
Just one look at the car establishes a certain muscle-car connection. Like the classic sixties street machines that used to drag up and down Detroit’s Woodward Avenue, the 6 is an almost self-consciously long and wide two-door coupe, with a cabin packed tightly in between big wheels and long overhangs at either end.
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It hunkers over 19-inch wheels that show a lot of rubber around the edges, and twin chromed tailpipes poke threateningly out of its big rear bumper. Its big shoulders and arcing side crease give it a really serious, pumped-up look that screams big power.
Unlike many of those cars, though, which were kind of pedestrian-looking save for their big tires and racing stripes, the 6’s body is truly exotic in its shapes and execution. Thanks to its fenders and trunklid being formed of composites, the shapes they’re able to curve into are crazier than could have been achieved with steel. The overall effect of the intersecting curves and planes is probably the most successful version of Chris Bangle’s “flame surfacing” in BMW’s line-up, a shape that seems to draw stares wherever you go. Enhancing my tester’s cosmetic appeal even further was a custom paint job that came as part of a $10,000 “individual” package that gives you access to a huge range of trim and colour options, allowing you to colour-match your car to just about anything you choose.
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Certainly, the car’s plunging shark-like nose and bunched-up rear haunches suggest a certain latent power under the hood, and thanks to 325 hp from its 4.4-litre V8, the 645 doesn’t disappoint. With six forward gears – whether you choose the slick manual, the high-tech sequentially-shifted manual, or full automatic – you’re always right in the middle of the engine’s broad powerband, and a mere twitch of your toe is all it takes to rocket forward from a stoplight, or past slower-moving freeway traffic. What’s a surprise is the engine’s soundtrack, which has the depth and anger of distant rolling thunder, and which gives the 6 a real hot-rod edge. (This same engine, fitted in the outgoing 745i, was almost completely silent, but that car didn’t have a “sport” switch to harden up the throttle response and decrease the steering’s power assistance.)
Despite a penalty in fuel consumption – even with BMW’s economic Valvetronic technology, I struggled to return better than 14 L/100 km in a mix of urban and highway driving. You’re pretty much going to want sport mode engaged all the time. Not only does the engine respond more quickly, loudly, and energetically to throttle inputs, but the steering loses some of its artificial (dare I say, domestically-inspired) lightness around the straight-ahead. Thanks to its size and weight, the 6 isn’t really a sports car so much as a big, powerful coupe whose tires hold on longer than your interest does. Even with the huge Bridgestones which come as part of a $6000 Executive Package, a carefully-tuned multi-link suspension, and active steering that speeds up at lower speeds for an extra dose of nimbleness, this is still a car that prefers long, open stretches to tight, winding back roads. Poor visibility front and rear mean you never quite know where the car ends, and the suspension bumps and jiggles over pavement imperfections.
Better to turn things down a notch and simply enjoy the cabin’s ambiance. While the tight dimensions inside might be a surprise given the car’s exterior dimensions – one’s reminded a bit of the way a Mustang or a Camaro seems to be packaged – the overall quality of the materials and the level of sophistication make this an interior that’s expensively cosy rather than merely cramped. The back seats, only really useful for children or very small adults, are nonetheless contoured as carefully as the front buckets, and upholstered in the same butter-soft leather. Piano-black wood pours down the dash and across the door panels, whose other surfaces are wrapped in contrasting shades of French-seamed leather. The glass roof panel (which can be shaded for super-sunny days) gives the interior an almost open-air feel.
While many writers have heaped disdain on BMW’s iDrive controller, its use here means that the dashboard is clean to look at, and I found all of the major controls easy to use, with less-frequently used options, like the car preferences and seat-heater distribution settings, only a turn and a push away; the standard Harman/Kardon stereo with 6-disc CD changer sounds superb. Perhaps more importantly, it’s a cinch to find a great driving position thanks to a wide range of seat and steering wheel adjustment, and you can customize the buttons on the three-spoke wheel to do pretty much whatever you want, whether it’s reading you the last instruction for the navigation system or accessing your favourite radio station.
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Mostly, though, what you’ll want to do in this car is rumble around town enjoying the big V8’s thunderous soundtrack, enjoying the show-car looks in the mirrored glass of the office buildings you drive past. The 6’s charms are bigger, bolder, and a bit more obvious than they are in usually-subtle BMWs, from its over-the-top styling to its excessive size, its even more excessive footprint, and the way it slurps back the gas when you blip the throttle just to hear that glorious hot-rod noise reverberate off the surroundings.
From its a intense, deeply-hooded headlights right to its spinning rear tires, the 645Ci isn’t a friendly car; in fact, it’s a bit of a bully. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t totally charming at the same time.
Technical Data: 2005 BMW 645Ci
|Options||$18,200 (Premium Sound Package $1,800; Executive Package $6,400; Individual Package $10,000)|
|Price as tested||$119,295|
|Type||2-door, 4-passenger full-size coupe|
|Layout||longitudinal front engine/rear-wheel drive|
|Engine||4.4 litre V8, DOHC, 32 valves|
|Horsepower||325 @ 6100 rpm|
|Torque||330 lb-ft @ 3600 rpm|
|Transmission||6-speed manual (6-speed Steptronic, 6-speed SMG)|
|Curb weight||1715 kg (3780 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||2780 mm (109.4 in.)|
|Length||4831 mm (190.2 in.)|
|Width||1855 mm (73.0 in.)|
|Height||1373 mm (54.1 in.)|
|Cargo capacity||450 litres (15.9 cu. ft.)|
|Fuel consumption||14.3 L/100 km (20 mpg Imperial)|
|8.6 L/100 km (33 mpg Imperial)|
|Fuel type||Premium unleaded|
|Warranty||4 yrs/80,000 km|