2004 BMW 645Ci
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Story and photos by Richard Russell

Mijas, Spain – BMW has finally gotten back into the high-end coupe market. Despite a heritage of two door coupes dating back to 1938, it’s been 15 years since the last sporty coupe – we aren’t counting the bulky 850 – graced BMW stores. But the wait has been worth it. The 2004 6-Series Coupe is a true thoroughbred worthy of comparison with the best on the market in this rarified atmosphere.

The word “coupe” comes from the French word “couper” – to cut. Think of the 6-Series coupe as a cut back 7-series – cut back only in terms of how much size and weight the engine, suspension and brakes have to cope with. The result, accordingly, is a very fast and agile luxury car any enthusiast would be proud to call their own. The long hood, short deck and minimal overhangs result in an aggressive look. Like all Chris Bangle designs it is controversial, especially the rear quarters. But it is certainly not dull or from the cookie-cutter design school.

At the front, the headlights have the current hooded look with ring shaped parking lights surrounding the high and low beams. The turn signals extend across the entire headlamp bezel. The trim strips along the sides are evocative of the 3.0 CSi coupe of the 70s and at the rear lights once again play a major role in the design. The resultant package fits perfectly within BMW’s design strategy.

2004 BMW 645Ci
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The fresh design continues inside, albeit in a much more normal and perhaps formal fashion. There is an overall ambiance of luxury and technology ranging from interior trim strips fashioned in “pearl gloss ruthenium galvanic technology” to Dakota leather on the seats and many other panels. The instrument panel consists of two binnacles, one housing the instruments, surrounded by matt chrome; the other the I-Drive control display.

The standard seats are heated and come with three-position memory. The optional sport seats have firmer padding and additional support. A pair of body-contoured buckets in the rear are separated by a tall centre cushion offering adequate room for adults over short distances. The trunk is remarkable for a coupe with enough room for a large suitcase and two 46-inch golf bags. A massive panorama vent roof is available. It does not slide open but does pop up at the rear for ventilation.

Much of the technology found on the company’s flagship showpiece can be found in the 6-Series – but absolutely fanatical attention to weight savings results in a very light vehicle, considering a list of luxury features and amenities worthy of the rather hefty six-figure price tag. Dietary considerations included aluminum hood, doors, brakes, suspension and drive shaft, a trunk lid of sheet moulding compound and thermoplastic front fenders. The result, 1614 kg (3,560 lbs.) distributed 50/50.

The heart of the 6-Series Coupe is the 4.4 litre V8 carried over from the new 7-Series sedan. Recipient of the Engine of the Year 2002 award, it has been specially tuned for this more sporting application. Infinite adjustment of virtually all relevant parameters including valve timing and lift and even intake manifold length results in an output of 333 horsepower and 332 lb. ft. of torque. One hundred kilometres per hour arrives in a scant 5.6 seconds and top speed is electronically limited to 250 km/hr. While virtually silent at idle, thanks to a twin chamber exhaust, the eight emits a gorgeous, throaty eight-cylinder sound when pressed.

Lucky buyers will get their choice from a trio of six-speed transmissions, manual, automatic and SMG – BMW’s F1-style sequential gearbox that lets the driver control shifts by paddles on the steering wheel or with the gear lever without use of a clutch.

2004 BMW 645Ci
Click image to enlarge

BMW’s innovative active steering is also available. As speed increases, the system successively reduces the steering angle and power assist to provide better and smoother directional stability. Conventional steering is a compromise between boost or assist and feel or feedback. Active Steering combines the advantages of all-electric steer-by-wire systems with the genuine feedback of mechanical systems.

The coupe can be equipped with BMW’s most advanced and sophisticated chassis control systems. DSC (Dynamic Stability Control) in conjunction with ABS and CBC (Cornering Brake Control) are standard. DSC applies slight brake force on the inner rear wheel in a turn at medium to high speeds to enhance stability.

Innovation can even be found in the standard eight-speaker sound system which has two central woofers housed in and connecting the side sills, thus getting the necessary volume – a concept patented by BMW. The automatic climate control has a new feature that allows conditioned air to contain more moisture for improved health, without causing problems with windows fogging up. Front, side and side curtain bags are standard.

A lot of effort has gone into the lights – front and rear. Adaptive headlights are available that improve the standard Bi-Xenon headlights by swiveling as required to follow the course of the road. The control unit for both high and low beams is fed a continuous stream of data regarding steering angle, yaw rate and speed and an electric motor moves the lights left or right accordingly. The result is 90% more illumination than conventional lights. Unlike other systems, BMW’s operates at all speeds with both high and low beam. The rear lights are similarly high tech, LED units incorporating brake force display – enlarging the brake light area when the brakes are applied hard to provide additional warning for those following behind.

Other available technology includes: voice command, active cruise control, park distance assist, Dynamic Drive, Rain Sensing wipers and a heads-up display.

2004 BMW 645Ci
Click image to enlarge

All 6-Series coupes are equipped with run flat tires as there is not provision for a spare. Eighteen-inch cast aluminum wheels fitted with 245/45 tires are standard. Our tester had the optional 19-inch forged wheels wrapped in 245 fronts and 275 rears. They were not impressive in the wet.

The I-Drive system that appeared in the 7-Series can be found here as well.

But forget about the counter-intuitive I-Drive and controversial styling. Wrap both hands around the thick steering wheel, push on the right hand pedal, hang on and enjoy. This is a car meant for driving – one that rewards a good driver. Performance here is all about balance, a delightful harmony between power, handling and braking. The great eight rewards ears and rears as it pushes you back in the seat. The manual transmission is a jewel in operation, direct, heavy enough to feel up to the task and yet it snicks effortlessly into the next cog – up or down. The Active Steering system has to be experienced to be appreciated. And of course the brakes are simply awesome hauling us down form silly speeds time and time again with no sign of complaint or fade.

Of course any vehicle at, or over the $100,000 mark as this one is expected to be when prices are set, should do everything well. But the 6-series coupe does it effortlessly. So much so that I found almost 50 extra km/hr on the clock almost every time I looked at the speedometer.

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