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The high-rised 5 Series GT was a troubled car. Has BMW sorted it this time round with the 6 Series Gran Turismo?

Any expanding company is likely to launch at least a couple of slow-selling product ‘flops’ for every successful model introduction – even with the most thorough, expert designers and market researchers on the payroll.

It’s an unavoidable consequence of growth, you might say. And BMW has certainly been growing quickly enough these past 20 years to have perpetrated the odd dud in among its glitteringly successful product triumphs.

More raked A-pillars and curving roofline than the 5 GT are key attempts to add visual appeal to the bigger 6 GT

Very few car-industry watchers – living in Europe, at least – would argue that the 5 Series Gran Turismo ought to be spared criticism on that front.

This awkward-looking jacked-up executive hatchback has singularly failed to hit its sales targets everywhere apart from in China, where buyers responded more positively to its blend of luxury, convenience and value than anywhere else on the planet.

This was a car launched in 2009, before either of Audi’s Audi A7 or A5 Sportback siblings, before the original Porsche Panamera and before Mercedes-Benz’s CLS Shooting Brake.

Its genesis therefore came before consensus had formed about the most viable way to combine style and space in an alternative to a modern executive saloon. And to look at one today, wouldn’t you know it?

You might imagine BMW could ill-afford to directly replace a car like that – and yet, encouraged by BMW the warmer reception enjoyed by its current 3 Series Gran Turismo, that’s more or less what it is doing.

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The 6 Series Gran Turismo is a slightly lower, longer, roomier, better-looking and better-appointed attempt at precisely the same vehicle concept as the 5 Series GT, the change in identity from ‘5’ to ‘6’ intended to more accurately define the car within the wider BMW range.

And with BMW the old 6 Series Coupé and Convertible set to be replaced by de-facto equivalents in the bigger 8 Series family, this will be the only 6 Series you can buy before too long.

The particulars and nuances of its mission, compared with luxury executive rivals and BMW’s large and medium-sized in-house alternatives, are what we’re here to explore. 

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DESIGN & STYLING

BMW 6 Series Gran Turismo LED headlights

BMW’s approach to this car’s redesign looks more like an evolution than the wholesale reboot you might have imagined was required.

The 6 Series GT is 87mm longer and 21mm lower of roofline than its predecessor and it has more steeply raked A-pillars, a more curvaceous roofline and a much lower bootlid.

Tried a 640i with Integral Active Steering. It confirmed that the diesel engine is the pick of the bunch and its rear wheels are best left solely for driving

You’d describe the new car as much less odd-looking than its forebear, but this is still a car of deeply challenging visual proportions, one that fails to produce a tellingly elegant impression or to make much of a virtue of its outward appearance.

Given that it’s in competition with cars that achieve that last feat so plainly, that’s a problem.

In a more rational sense, though, the 6 Series GT doesn’t struggle nearly as much for appeal. With the same 3070mm wheelbase as a current 7 Series saloon, the new 6 Series betters the already generous levels of passenger accommodation of the 5 Series GT as well as improving on that car’s boot space by some 110 litres.

BMW’s Cluster Architecture platform underneath the car mixes high-strength steel with aluminium and makes for an average 150kg weight-saving for the car compared with its predecessor. On the outside, its ‘liftback’ hatchback, doors and bonnet are aluminium too.

Mounting longways under the bonnet and driving either the rear axle exclusively or both of them, the engines represent a familiar choice between four- and six-cylinder turbo petrol or six-cylinder diesel power.

BMW’s 255bhp 2.0-litre 630i turbo petrol is the entry point to the range, and at its height, you can choose between a 335bhp 3.0-litre six-pot 640i or a 316bhp twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre 640d diesel, whose price is still to be confirmed.

We elected to test the likely-big-selling 261bhp 630d GT xDrive, in similarly majority-selling M Sport trim.

For suspension, the car comes with an adaptively damped mix of steel coils up front and self-levelling air springs at the rear as standard. Four-corner, fully adaptive air suspension is an option and appeared on our test car.

BMW’s Integral Active Steering four-wheel steering system is also an option and can be paired with active roll cancellation as you prefer, but our test car had neither system.

INTERIOR

BMW 6 Series Gran Turismo interior

BMW is offering an intriguing sort of relatively affordable, moderately high-rised alternative to conventional executive-car luxury here.

The frameless doors, swept-back A-pillars and curving roofline may all be taken from the grand touring coupé’s design rulebook, but the 6 GT feels like anything but from inside.

Had fun testing the voice-recognition. It found ‘Ian Dury & The Blockheads’ when asked but couldn’t match ‘De Doo Doo Doo, De Dah Dah Dah’ by The Police

Its seats are semi-recumbent, with a more highly set hip point than you’d find in a full-sized limo such as a 7 Series or Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Up front, the bent-legged ‘sit-up-and-beg’ driving position feels almost akin to that of a vintage chauffeur’s.

But that doesn’t mean you’re short on space anywhere in this car; quite the reverse, with more head room and better visibility in both rows than you’d get from a large executive saloon, and excellent knee, foot, elbow and shoulder room available too. 

In the driver’s seat, conflicting sensations of familiarity and difference come at you. The fascia is much as you’d find it in a 5 Series saloon.

Like those of the 5 Series, the 6 GT’s flatscreen digital instruments change their scale, colouration and theme depending on the selected driving mode.

The centre-stack-mounted air-con controls are as you’d find them on a high-end 5 Series too; likewise the centre-console-cited iDrive controller and gear selector.

But your position and orientation to all of the above is different. Your vantage point on them is higher – either a little bit higher or quite a lot so, depending on how you set the electric seat.

Our test car had BMW’s optional Rear Seat Comfort Pack (£2995), which adds a pair of tablet-sized rear entertainment screens in addition to side-window sunblinds, electric backrest adjustment and an on-board TV tuner.

The back seats aren’t as widely adjustable as those of, say, a long-wheelbase S-Class or a Bentley Bentayga, but they’re very agreeable.

Up front, the 6 Series sets a high standard on material fit and finish but leaves itself vulnerable to relative criticism in one or two areas.

There is no shortage of apparent quality about the fixtures and fittings, but there is a deficit of richness compared with some luxury rivals, BMW’s switches and trims missing a little bit of tactile material swagger in places.

Where BMW reaches for smooth nappa leather, on the door cards and around the centre console, it uses it very well, but it’s notable by its absence on top of the dashboard and the upper interior doors, where moulded ‘leather-effect’ plastic lets the side down a little.

At the back, meanwhile, the 610-litre cargo bay looks enormous enough to easily give credence to BMW’s claim that it’ll swallow four full-sized golf bags without the need to fold a single seat.

It has a flat floor and a powered tailgate actuated by gesture control, making sliding awkward loads in and out very easy.

The 6 Series GT gets BMW’s latest ID6-generation iDrive infotainment system with a 10.3in display screen that permits touchscreen control, gesture control, voice control and input via the rotary commander that so many BMW regulars will be used to.

ID6 allows you to set up your Home screen however it suits you best and it’s very intuitive to use.

It also has much more advanced voice control algorithms, so instead of giving commands like “navigation”, “enter destination”, “Paris”, you can simply say: “Take me to the Eiffel Tower.”

The voice control interface extends to the car’s connected entertainment systems.

Spend £160 on BMW’s Online Entertainment package and you get access to music streaming via Napster and Deezer, all provided over the car’s own 4G data connection.

ID6 also includes vehicle-to-vehicle communications so that warnings about ice, rain, fog or accidents on the road ahead can be relayed directly to your car from other BMWs with a compatible system that are at least three miles in front of you. 

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

BMW 6 Series Gran Turismo side profile

Any engine that makes a two-tonne luxury conveyance like this capable of accelerating as quickly as a hot hatch, of soothing away miles with the manners of a first-class cabin attendant and of delivering more than 50mpg merits a warm reception from all quarters.

To be fair, the greatness of BMW’s 3.0-litre six-cylinder diesel is so well established that it’s almost beyond question. If any oil-burning engine deserves immunity from the toxic swell of public opinion against diesel, it’s this one.

Four-wheel drive system proactively shuffles power away from the rear axle as you exit tighter corners

Whether it will survive that swell or not will have little to do with what’s just, of course. But rest assured, this engine has the muscle and tractability to move a heavy car effortlessly, and its application in the 630d GT has more than enough suaveness and refinement to suit a car with such a luxury-targeted brief.

This engine’s 457lb ft of tractive urge and ZF’s excellent eight-speed automatic gearbox make relaxed ground-covering blissfully easy.

There’s a distant, faintly gravelly thrum audible from it at times, but even at high revs and under high loads, it’s no chore to listen to.

And you can easily ignore it if you prefer: the 67dB of cabin noise we recorded in the 630d GT at a 70mph cruise shaded an Audi Q7 3.0 TDI by 1dB at the same speed and, despite its frameless doors and windows, the BMW seems very well insulated from the outside world when you’re travelling within.

What’s more, although our noise measurements are always done in the front seats for consistency, the 6 Series GT ought to be even quieter for its back-seat passengers because BMW has used extra soundproofing materials inside the rear doors, roof and seat backrests compared with what you’ll find in an equivalent 5 Series.

As well as being refined, the car is made deliciously smooth to drive by a progressive brake pedal feel and superbly linear-feeling accelerator. 

RIDE & HANDLING

BMW 6 Series Gran Turismo cornering

If there’s justification in recasting the bigger of BMW’s two GT cars as a 6 Series rather than a 5 Series, it may be that it better prepares you for the fact that, dynamically more than anything else, this remains a luxury car first and foremost rather than some kind of extra-large middleweight executive saloon.

Simply put, as something both to drive and be driven in, the 6 Series GT is at least halfway to a 7 Series limo; probably slightly more than halfway, if you had to be absolutely specific.

Handling response is softer than a lower-profile car’s would be on the entry to faster corners

Despite its M-Sport-specification 19in alloy wheels and run-flat tyres, our 630d GT test car rode surprisingly well – although not without a little bit of rumble over coarse tarmac, or without a slightly firm, hard edge over sharper lumps and bumps.

The car has Comfort and Comfort+ modes for its air suspension as well as the usual Normal and Sport settings and probably feels most at home in Comfort.

Thus configured, it glides along very smoothly and with excellent long-wave compliance at typical motorway and A-road speeds, but never quite oscillating on its springs or running out of close body control as readily as it can at higher speeds in Comfort+.

BMW’s Adaptive mode ought to be the car’s most effective setting but, as more than one tester noted, it allows the secondary ride to become just a little bit fidgety and excitable.

In Sport mode, the air suspension lowers the body by 10mm, stiffens the chassis rates and loads up the Servotronic power steering but, although it does all of that discreetly enough that the transformation doesn’t seem incongruous and it ultimately makes the 6 Series handle well enough to feel like a modern BMW, the net result doesn’t suit the 6 Series GT’s various strengths nearly as well as Comfort mode does.

So, more often than not, Comfort is what you settle for, delivered not at all costs but against a sufficiently high background level of handling composure that the car feels comfortable at both a 50mph pootle and a fairly brisk country road clip.

The 6 Series GT’s ride-and-handling compromise is sufficiently cleverly struck as to make the car handle like a relatively well-balanced, naturally controlled, authentic-feeling BMW up to fairly high road speeds.

On track, though, its body control and grip levels begin to betray its weight and fairly high centre of gravity. That’s entirely as you’d expect, though.

Ultimately, there’s more body roll in extremis here than in an equivalent large saloon, and less speed and commitment are needed to find the edge of adhesion, although that edge is well guarded by BMW’s dynamic stability and traction control systems.

It’s commendable how quickly you can drive this car before that limit is reached, and how easy that is to do.

Good balance and controllability are maintained even under high lateral loads and control weights stay manageable in spite of the considerable masses and forces being moved around.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

BMW 6 Series Gran Turismo

The figure that’s likely to convince those who see a clear and rational case for 6 Series GT ownership may simply be the difference between the price of this car and an equivalent full-sized limo such as a 7 Series or an Mercedes-Benz S-Class. That can be the thick end of £20,000.

Given that the 6 Series’ refinement, equipment sophistication and occupant space are fully commensurate with a full-sized executive limo and in some ways (cargo space, visibility) it even offers more, you could see why that might seem like a good deal if you’re not put off by the car’s somewhat unconventional appearance.

CAP expects 6 Series GT’s freshness to be worth a more favourable position than its rivals until its fourth year

BMW’s big ‘value’ message with the car is that it’s effectively the same price as an equivalent 5 Series once you load up the smaller car with the same equipment. The 6 Series GT is certainly a well-equipped car.

As well as a surprisingly frugal one. Our 630d GT produced a touring test fuel economy result of 54.5mpg in Eco Pro driving mode.

The Mercedes S350 Bluetec saloon we tested in 2013 was fully 10mpg short of that standard.

On that basis, it should be capable of putting almost 600 miles between fuel stops, which high-mileage business commuters will surely appreciate.

The car’s 154g/km CO2 emissions rating should also make it competitive with most big-engined diesel executive saloons on benefit-in-kind tax.

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VERDICT

3.5 star BMW 6 Series Gran Turismo

We’d wager that not everyone at BMW believed replacing the 5 Series GT was the right thing to do.

It launched an odd, half-formed executive car in 2009 with an abundance of rational appeal but a dearth of desirability.

It does all the right things but what it is remains a puzzle

And although the new 6 Series GT attempts to address the shortfall, it’s really only in a tokenistic way.

In objective terms, the 630d GT has true luxury-level comfort, refinement, occupant space and convenience, as well as all the on-board technology expected of a modern limousine. It’s a superbly pleasant and easy car to drive and an agreeable one in which to be driven, and its practicality and usability far exceed normal saloon-car standards.

But although the 6 GT is a marginally more appealing car than its forebear, it falls a long way short of the desirability expected of a £50,000 luxury car for most testers.

While subjective, that’s a conspicuous failing in something that ought to be an emphatic statement of status and style as well as a car – and the luxury class isn’t short of options that show what’s missing.

Overall, the BMW 6 Series GT doesn’t make our top five with the Jaguar XJ, BMW 7 Series, Tesla Model S, Range Rover and the impressive Mercedes-Benz S-Class all proving to be more compelling options.

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Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

BMW 6 Series GT 2017-2020 First drives