With the new Audi A5,and the storming success of the four-door Mercedes-Benz CLS, there is suddenly more competition in the luxury coupé market. Almost half the sales of BMW’s 6-Series are accounted for by the swish convertible, so can a diesel help matters? Russell Bray says BMW’s new 635d Convertible has got the range – but has it got the touch?
I have always thought GT, or gran turismo, cars were impossibly glamourous. They are as wonderfully emotive to me as steam trains pulling out of stations in black and white movies. The idea of crossing a country in a day, in a highpowered car, possibly accompanied by a slinky blonde, while imagining I was The Saint, Simon Templar, was as good as it got. So, when as a naïve young journalist the chance came in 1986 to take a BMW M635CSi to the Geneva Motor Show, I hesitated only as long as it took my shocked brain to find the word “yes”. Even then, the question was “how would I afford the fuel?”. Who cared! It was the high-performance M version, you notice, so the fantasy was running at full speed. Only the presence of two other hairy-arsed motoring journalists spoiled it.
On the way back, on a deserted autoroute, I gave the car its head, got caught by the French police at 156mph, and coughed up a not unreasonable fine to give them a good weekend on the town. Back in the UK, BMW’s urbane PR manager, an ex-Navy officer called Raymond Playfoot, renowned for his sang froid, asked how everything had gone. I felt I had to mention le incident and without batting an eyelid, he reached for a cheque book while murmuring: “It should do 158mph; I think we had better pay your expenses.”
It wouldn’t happen today, sadly, but I declare my sin to point out that the most powerful firstgeneration 6-Series M coupé produced 286bhp and the latest models, the new 635d Coupé and Convertible are only four bhp adrift. But while my car could average 18mpg at far more mundane speeds, the new twin-turbo six-cylinder diesels can eke out 40.9mpg and 39.2mpg according to the official Combined fuel consumption figures. In the real world, that makes the compressionengined car the better GT, if you really have miles to cover at a pace. While I had needed nearly two and half tanks to get safely to Geneva, the new 635d would get there on one tank today, with fuel to spare. Well in theory, but driving the new convertible normally in Berkshire, with an already warmed-up engine, it averaged 32.7mpg according to the on-board computer for an average speed of 30.2mph. There wasn’t much traffic, but the car had covered only 640 miles so you could expect this to improve as the engine loosened up. And during my test, there weren’t any opportunities for touring in high gear. The convertible, which isn’t only frustratingly more to buy (£59,600 compared to £53,910, and £61,800 and £56,110 if you go for the Sport versions), but will also cost you more in road tax because of our capriciously-chosen carbondioxide- based tax bands. The coupé is in band E attracting £165, while the seven-grams-perkilometre- heavier convertible’s driver must cough up £205. I would love to think HM Gov does anything useful with the money to reduce climate change, but frankly I think world over-population or lack of water will get us before climate wobbles, even if we are causing it, which is totally unproven. Ahem… (Enough ranting -Ed)
Keen observers of car styling may notice the subtle restyling on all 6-Series, which includes new headlight clusters, a reshaped bumper and lower valence, glass-covered fog lamps, and a bigger air intake. At the back are new tail lamps, a more sculpted bootlid with integrated air spoiler, and a revised bumper. Together with a more pronounced side sill along the car, the changes make it look lower and longer. It’s still a big car, but once you get it rolling it doesn’t feel it. The 3-litre engine, despite the badging is not a 3.5, which you may already have encountered in the 3- Series (335d) and 5-Series (535d) ranges. In this latest installation, the engine ticks over evenly at about 650/700rpm, and you can’t really hear it from inside the car, but there’s noise pollution for those outside. What’s more, the sound doesn’t match the car’s sophisticated appearance. The car feels solid, but you can tell it hasn’t got a metal roof, and there was some shake and shimmer over poor surfaces. The test car also had an irritating tremble in the steering, and the ride was quite lumpy on the low profile tyres. There was also the odd noise from behind the right-hand side air vent, as if a leaf had got trapped in the piping. Noises and rattles annoy me, as you can probably tell.
Most 6-Series buyers in the past have chosen the six-speed automatic transmission, replaced as standard on the 635d and optional for £1,570 on other models with the new Sports automatic gearbox. Just press the ‘sport’ button behind the gear lever, and you get quicker gear changes, sharper accelerator pedal response, and faster steering though the fat-rimmed steering wheel. You expect a diesel to be hearty from low revs, but it’s the mid-range punch that impresses and overshadows a 630i. The engine uses two turbochargers; the smaller operates at low revs, the bigger one blends in at higher revs. For most UK driving conditions, third gear would be all that you would need.
It really does pick up its skirts and fly, but I got more satisfaction using the powerful brakes to obliterate speed, and feathering them smoothly off for cornering, than I did from caning the engine. And for its size and weight, it is impressively nimble.
With the sport auto transmission, you can change gear using small levers on the steering wheel, but rather than ‘left’ being for down changes and ‘right’ for up changes, as has become the convention, both levers let you go up or down. You push forward to go down and pull back to go up, but the push forward part of the lever is small and fiddly, so I think most drivers will stick the selector lever in D. By 1,750rpm, the engine has reached maximum torque and from then it’s like surfing a big wave.
The 635d (and 650i models) get a lane departure warning system that over 40mph uses a camera to tell if a car moves over a white line and gently vibrates the steering to attract the driver’s attention. It was so irritating that I turned it off, and if you are that unaware of where you are going, should you really be driving?
The extensive list of options is impressive, and includes active cruise control with stop and go for boulevard cruiser types, and in the cabin there are anti-whiplash active head-restraints for the first time, and heat-reflecting leather seat trim.
While lacking that ultimate edge in refinement compared to the petrol versions, the 635d is a great all-rounder, delivering huge touring range, easy cruising ability, good acceleration when needed, and low exhaust emissions. Now where did I put those ferry tickets?
On sale: Now // Price £61,800
- Price: £61,800
- Engine: 2,993cc, six cylinder, twin turbochargers
- Max Power: 286bhp at 4,400rpm
- Max Torque: 428 lb at 1,750rpm
- Max Towing Weight: N/A
- Combined Consumption: 39.2mpg
- CO2 Emissions (taxband): 190g/km (F – £205 per year)
- 0-62mph: 6.6 seconds
- Max speed: 155mph
Standard equipment includes:
Body-coloured bumpers, door handles, and mirrors, metallic paint with high-gloss shadowline exterior trim, automatic soft top, 19-inch alloy wheels, electric windows front and rear, xenon headlights, tinted glass, front and rear fog lights, heated door mirrors, rear spoiler with brake light.
Cruise control with brake function, lane departure warning system, iDrive controller for moving between climate, entertainment, navigation, and communication functions, rain sensor with automatic headlight activation, remote control alarm.
Dark birchwood interior trim, sports seats with lumbar support, three-spoke M Sport multi-function steering wheel, BMW Business CD with single CD player, six speakers, on-board computer.
Automatic air conditioning, Dakota leather upholstery, anti-whiplash front head restraints, electric front seats with heating, front cabin centre armrest.
Six-speed automatic sports gearbox,power steering, tilt and telescope steering wheel, steering wheel audio remote controls, traction control system, stability control system.
Seat belt pre-tensioners with load limiters, illuminated ashtray, cigar lighter, and ignition key slot, 12V power outlet, integrated audio with RDS, MP3,WMA & iPod compatibility.
ISOfix child seat anchorage (rear), luggage net/hook, adjustable intermittent front wipers.
It’s got the looks, it’s got the go, and even drives smaller than it looks. Plus, there’s room for four at a squeeze. When the sun shines, it’s a fine way to travel
As always with expensive cars it’s the D-word. No, not diesel, but depreciation that makes ownership scary. Other running costs should be predictable