Located on the Pacific coast in Central California, the small city of Monterey is home to a treasure trove of historic attractions and vibrant wildlife, wrapped in laid back California cool. In short, there aren’t many places that offer such an interesting mix of things to see and do.
But, as compelling as Pebble Beach, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the main drag along Cannery Row are, for those that love motorsports and high performance automobiles, there is really only one must-see attraction in Monterey – Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
The 3.6-kilometre (2.24-mile ) natural terrain road course, with its massive elevation changes and iconic Corkscrew turn, is one of the most daunting race circuits in the world. Combine its unique challenges with a scenic backdrop – it’s situated about 20 minutes east of town along the Monterey Salinas Highway – and it’s not hard to understand why the track has been playing host to a wide variety of racing since it opened in 1957, including open wheel (CART and Champ Car World Series), sports cars (Can-Am, ALMS, Grand-Am and SCCA) and motorcycles (MotoGP, World Superbike and AMA).
Not surprisingly, the track is also of great interest to manufacturers keen to showcase the performance credentials of their lineups. One of those carmakers is BMW, a marque that has been conducting product previews at Laguna for years. Given the lineup it’s boasting these days, it’s a marriage that makes a lot of sense.
Although BMW has assembled a very wide assortment of models for members of the media to sample at its 2013 preview, I'm focusing on the M6 Coupe, which returns to the M lineup after a three-year hiatus.
At the core of the new M6 is the 4.4-litre TwinPower Turbo V8 (also deployed in the M5), a mill that cranks out 560 horsepower and 500 lb-ft of torque, an improvement of 12% and 30% respectively over output produced by the V10 in the previous model.
Power is put to ground through the rear wheels via a new seven-speed double-clutch automatic transmission. Dubbed the M DCT with Drivelogic System, it features manual and automatic modes equipped with three shift programs each. In automatic mode, D1 is the most efficient, while D2 and D3 are calibrated more towards performance – throttle response is sharper and gear changes are delayed until the engine reaches higher revs. The same principle applies in manual mode with S1, S2 and S3. Launch control kicks in when the car is in S3 and stability control is turned off.
Working in concert with the DCT are adjustable shock and steering settings. Dynamic Damper Control (DDC) enables the driver to control shock settings with a button located beside the shifter on the centre console. Three settings – Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus – gradually stiffen the suspension settings for improved handling and acceleration. A similar button controls the steering, enabling the driver to adjust between the same three settings. An electronically-controlled limited-slip differential (Active M Differential) is also part of the M6’s standard kit.
In terms of aesthetics, BMW has sharpened the M6’s exterior styling. It retains some resemblance to its predecessor, but with a more contemporary feel. Among the highlights are a redesigned kidney grille, wider air intakes and standard adaptive Xenon headlamps. The rear features revised tail lamps, but the quad exhaust outlets – a classic M design cue – remain more or less as they were.
On the inside, the M6 features new sport seats finished in merino leather, carbon fibre trim pieces and a 10.2-inch iDrive drive control screen among other improvements.
The M6 is a definitely a handsome car. Its trim, athletic wedge shape cuts a clean profile that looks good from all angles. It’s slightly more angular and creased in appearance than its predecessor, which serves makes the old car seem a little old and puffy by comparison.
On the inside, the driver is immersed in BMW’s rather understated take on luxury, which should be very familiar to those that know the brand. The car certainly has a high level of luxury content, but this is a “M” vehicle – it’s about engaging the driver with strong performance credentials, not creating the equivalent of an automotive sedative.
With that said, the M6’s interior is certainly equipped with enough creature comforts (more than enough actually) to satisfy this writer. The sport seats are quite supportive and comfortable and a good driving position can be set with little difficulty.
BMW’s no-nonsense approach with regard to design and execution has produced a cabin that is both elegant and of the highest quality. Both testers I drove are tastefully finished in black and I’m impressed with how BMW is able to package so much technology in such a user-friendly manner. The M6 is remarkably free of extraneous gadgetry that serves no useful purpose – no small feat for such a feature-laden car.
Buttons and switches aren’t too numerous and their functions are easy to deduce. The instrument cluster displays relevant information with simple white numerals on black faces (almost archaic in the age of TFT displays) with red indicator needles and the controls in the centre stack are straightforward.
BMW has made a concerted effort to streamline and simplify the iDrive infotainment system and the results have paid off handsomely. The knob that controls its functions is located just to the right of the shift knob and is quite easy to use. The stereo and navigation system – two of the most commonly adjusted things in a car like this one – are straightforward and easy to use. The navigation system is one of the best I’ve encountered recently – intuitive and not too distracting.
On the road, the M6’s massive amounts of horsepower and torque (peak torque begins at just 1,500 rpm) combined with the adjustable DCT shift programs make the big coupe feel nimble and responsive despite its long wheelbase and 4,000-plus pound bulk. Carving through the twisty, undulating hills surrounding Laguna Seca proves to be quite an enjoyable experience as a result.
The cabin is reasonably quiet, but not all of the pleasant sounds emanating from the turbo V8 have been engineered out. Under moderate to hard acceleration, the sounds of the engine come in at a level that won’t drown out a normal conversation.
As enjoyably as the M6 is to drive on public roads, things get even better on the track where pesky concerns like local enforcement can be left behind. It is in this environment where the M6 really shines.
Despite having the Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) turned on – it’s not a good idea for first-timers at Laguna Seca to turn everything off – lapping the M6 on track is quite exhilarating. The track testers are equipped with optional paddle shifters and ceramic brakes, which make hustling the car around the challenging 11-turn circuit somewhat easier – and a lot more fun.
During those lapping sessions – with the DCT in the S3 program and the shock and steering settings in Sport Plus – the M6 is hair trigger responsive and challenging to drive fast while remaining under control. The firmed-up suspension and steering make a big difference in hustling the coupe around the undulating track, however, and after a few laps the confidence level increases. The paddle shifters ae remarkably precise and grab gears in a decisive manner to help get the most out of the V8. As one might imagine, Laguna Seca is hard on the brakes, but the ceramic discs handle the intense heat build up well and resist fade despite being working very hard.
We’re not recording lap times at Laguna or benchmarking any other performance metrics, but BMW Canada claims the new M6 will need only 4.2 seconds to climb to 100 km/h from rest and just 12.6 seconds to get to 200 km/h. Quite impressive for a car with a 2,851 mm (112.2 inch) wheelbase and a curb weight of 1,930 kilograms (4,255 pounds).
With so much going for it, the M6 is definitely a worthy addition to the M lineup.
2013 BMW M6 Coupe
Base Price: $124,900
Engine: 4.4 litre turbocharged V8
Horsepower / Torque: 560 hp / 500 lb-ft
Transmission: 7-speed DCT automatic
Fuel Economy Ratings: 13.2 / 8.6 L/100 km; 17.8 / 27.3 mpg (city / hwy.)