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BMW’s certain sameness: share and share alike

Published: May 30, 2012 | 8:20 am
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Pick one, any one. If you have a bent for BMWs, you’ll love that car. In fact, you’ll love the dynamic responses of all the BMWs, the utter sure-footedness of each car and truck in the lineup, top to bottom. A given.

But pick only one because across the BMW line there is a sameness to the interiors that no one should or would sensibly endure in more than a single family car. Want to know where BMW cuts the costs that become billions in profits (net profit in 2011 of €4.9 billion on 1.67 million various BMW Group vehicles sold)? It’s in the use of shared parts and designs, right across the lineup, from vehicle to vehicle.

If you don’t drive different models, you won’t know to notice this. But if you do, like I’ve just done here at a press drive for two new BMWs that ride on a platform shared with the latest 7-Series, you will find yourself doing Linda Blair head spins at the identical interiors. Okay, BMW has tossed in a few wrinkles here and there, car to car. But not as many as you might think, not at these prices, unless you explore the extras of BMW Individual.

Before I go too far down this road, however, let me say this: Even the most rabid BMW critic concedes that whether it’s a $30,000-something 3-Series or a $100,000-plus M6 convertible, a BMW does fundamentally drive like a BMW. There’s nothing else like it. Even as BMW has turned into a profit-spinning machine, the heart of the brand remains the driving piece. And it’s good.

On the other hand, if you think you might want to put both a 2012 M6 convertible and a 2013 6-Series Gran Coupe in your personal fleet, then you may not like this parts bin approach to delivering two ostensibly different cars – cars that collectively will cost you $200,000-plus. (I think. Read on for more on pricing.)

Yes, the M6 has its own special steering wheel and the trim bits are slightly different, too. But the rest, including a 10.2-inch chrome-ringed display screen that looks like a household TV set dropped oddly into the middle of a dashboard, is one and the same in two cars. Door pulls, most switchgear, handles and so on – all shared.

Of course, the $100,000-plus M6 convertible does have a folding fabric roof, while the Gran Coupe has rear doors. They are clearly different body styles. Yet even so, more is shared between them than there are differences. That is the way of the car business in 2012, but I would think it would limit growth. I mean, if you already have a BMW, you might want your second car to be an Audi or a Mercedes or perhaps even a Lexus or Infiniti.

Those seeking an excruciatingly fast ragtop, however, should have a look at the M6 due in showrooms later this month. I think. I’m hedging because I’d like to tell you how much it will cost in Canada, but I cannot. BMW is mum on pricing. I can tell you it will be sold to Americans at a base sticker of $113,995.

Even the rich and famous must care just a little about the “how much?” question, don’t you think? Surely it is as important as the 560-horsepower, turbocharged V-8; the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission; the optional M carbon ceramic brakes (“the size of most rental car wheels,” says M6 planner Matt Russell); the 4.3-second 0-100 km/h sprint; and the 250 km/h top speed that in your dreams is ideal for the Don Valley Parkway or one of Calgary’s ring-road Trails. Some time in June Canadians will get the M6 pricing for the convertible, then later in the summer the numbers will come for the M6 coupe.

The same is true for the latest four-door BMW, the 2013 6-Series Gran Coupe, which will go on sale in the fall. The American Gran Coupe starts at $76,000 for the six-cylinder car (the 640i at 315 horsepower), but we in Canada won’t get that one. We’re lined up for the V-8 powered 650i (445 hp), which in the U.S. starts at $86,500.

Why won’t BMW tell us the price? The on-sale date is too far away to be certain, say officials. The euro is looking a bit shaky these days, isn’t it? Perhaps that’s behind all the skulduggery and hedging on basic facts. Between now and when the cars arrive in Canada, the euro just might be kaput, sparking a return of the deutschmark and some very tricky competitiveness problems for the currently high-flying German auto makers.

Still, you would think BMW has had plenty of time to mull over pricing. Take the M6. It’s been absent from the lineup for two years. Moreover, the M6 badge has been a staple at BMW since the first-gen of 1987, though by today’s standards the “Shark” – BMW’s then-flagship coupe – was powered by fairly modest 256-horsepower inline-six-cylinder. Personally, I want to see a dollar figure if for no other reason than this: The Americans already know how much. BMW Canada does report to BMW USA, you know.

Both cars are lovely from behind the wheel, though. The M6 is so fast it would be at home doing timed runs on the Bonneville Salt Flats. It’s a rocket, though given that it’s based on the 7-Series architecture, it’s also heavy as a three-stage moonshot: 2,045 kilograms or 4,508 pounds! Wow. That for a 2+2-seater with a back seat barely big enough for Emmy winner Peter Dinklage, the “Imp” of Game of Thrones fame.

Meantime, the Gran Coupe is the third prong in a German assault on a marketplace for four-door cars that try desperately to project the impression of a two-door. Audi, of course, has its A7 and Mercedes the CLS that started this trend.

BMW says the Gran Coupe is, of course, a pure driving car with a 4+1 seating configuration, meaning the rear seat has space for a third. If I tried to be that No. 3, I might suffer permanent damage from twists, bends and contortions. Traction, for sure. Long-term disability, without a doubt. It’s tight back there for two, much less three.

Oh, but the car delivers a terrific experience for the pilot. Compared to the M6 convertible, the Gran Coupe is a svelte 1,901 kg, yet it feels more like a light heavyweight, rather than a big-punching bruiser. BMW did not have V-8 cars on hand, but the six-cylinder 640i was plenty powerful, shockingly planted and while something on the Brett Lawrie-bullish side of things, nimble when asked to be – much like the tattooed Toronto Blue Jays infielder.

BMW does not expect to sell boatloads of imported M6s and Gran Coupes, though both will find a small audience of committed adopters. The engineering is exceptional. But new parents surely won’t be adopting both cars at once, unless they want to live in twinned interiors.


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