2006 BMW Z4 M CoupeClick to enlarge picture

Powered by the same 330-horsepower inline 6-cylinder engine as the M3, the M Coupe is only available with a 6-speed manual transmission.

BMW

The M Coupe is a quick, lithe instrument with lots of feedback for the driver, providing a fun, rewarding experience behind the wheel. Piloting the M6 is more of an exercise in amazement—it is hard to believe a car of its size can be so fast and so capable in every respect. And with a 500-horsepower V10 engine under the hood, it's a good thing the M6 comes with all the electronic assistance that it does to aid the driver.

A Short M History

BMW M GmbH produces all the M versions of BMW vehicles, operating as a separate business division within BMW. The first M Car from BMW was the legendary M1 mid-engine sports car in 1978.

The M1 was never officially imported into the United States, but a few examples still muscled their way onto American roads. The first M car officially sold in the U.S. was the 1987 M6, the high-performance version of the 635 CSi that was powered by a 256-horsepower twin-cam 3.5-liter inline 6-cylinder with a 5-speed manual transmission.

The M6 was followed by the 1988 M5, the 5-Series 4-door version powered by the same drivetrain. The M3 first debuted in the U.S. in 1988 as a 1989 model, and BMW has now sold a total of 30,000 M3s and more than 110,000 M cars combined.

This year BMW offers the widest range of M models ever, with the M Coupe and M6 joining the existing M3 Coupe, M3 Convertible, M5 and M Roadster.

BMW Z4 M Coupe

The 2006 BMW M Coupe debuted in May, just three months after the M Roadster. Both are based on the Z4 Roadster, retaining the signature styling of that car.

The new M Coupe is a stylish fastback design with a center depression in the roofline reminiscent of some sports coupes from the 1950s. At the rear, the roof meets an abrupt cutoff point that forms a rear spoiler for the rear deck.

The M Coupe includes all the BMW M details that distinguish the M Roadster from other Z4 versions, such as a distinct front bumper, a unique front spoiler, kidney grilles set farther back into the openings, larger air intakes, two longitudinal lines on the aluminum hood, 18-inch M Double Spoke wheels, rear bumper, rear diffuser and M logos on the front fenders behind the signature diagonal slash and on the rear hatch.

While the new M Coupe design is more flowing and artistic, the M Coupe that debuted in 1998 was an example of form following function that received a fair amount of criticism. Powered by the drivetrain from the M3 of that time, the Coupe delivered incredible performance and at the time was the quickest production M Car offered in the U.S. The square, notchback design was described as odd at best, and even by some as downright ugly, but the performance outshined the controversial design and the original M Coupe is sought after by enthusiasts today.

The 2006 M Coupe once again borrows the drivetrain from the M3, which this time around delivers a stout 330 horsepower at 7900 rpm from the 3.2-liter inline 6-cylinder engine mated to a 6-speed manual transmission. According to BMW, the M Coupe will accelerate from zero to 60 mph in less than five seconds. The engine benefits from Double VANOS variable valve timing, machined intake ports, machined combustion chambers, a special engine management system, direct injection, low backpressure dual exhaust and M Dynamic Driving Control with normal and sports settings for throttle control.

Performance enhancements for the M Coupe over the Z4 Coupe include M Variable Differential Lock, Dynamic Stability Control with specific M logic, new front suspension with a wider track, a modified rear suspension with a larger, stronger subframe, M-specific suspension calibration, M3-type hydraulically assisted steering as opposed to electric power steering for the Z4, compound cross-drilled ventilated disc brakes, and 18-inch M Double Spoke wheels that are 8 inches wide on the front and 9 inches wide on the rear to accommodate 225/45ZR18 and 255/40ZR18 performance tires front and rear, respectively.

On the inside, the M Coupe adds both luxury and performance with a higher-grade Nappa leather as standard equipment; M Extended Leather is optional, as well as a leather-covered M sport steering wheel with stitching in M colors.

Driving the M Coupe

Considering the expectations created by the high level of performance delivered by the original M Coupe, the new version has a high threshold to reach, but the new package will certainly meet the expectations of demanding enthusiast drivers.

The M Coupe provides a level of feedback not often found through both the chassis and the steering, which we found gives the driver a high-level of confidence in the car. The thick rim of the M sport steering wheel adds to the connection between car and driver, but a steering wheel with a little less girth might be in order.

Journalists out on the road during our press drive were in groups consisting of both the M Coupe and the M6, and at 3,230 pounds the M Coupe held its own—at least at lower speeds. The M Dynamic Driving Control allows the driver to select quicker throttle response with the sport mode; however, throttle response is very good in the normal setting so some drivers might find it easier to be smooth in that mode.

The M Coupe is quick in terms of acceleration, but also quick to respond to steering input. With almost a perfect 50/50 front to rear weight distribution, the M Coupe is very balanced and predictable, and quickly responds to any input from the driver.

The level of driver feedback and quick response makes the car feel a bit high-strung, but not in a negative way that might be described as twitchy. It simply feels like it is on a sharp edge and ready to do whatever the driver asks.

On the track at Road America, even after a heavy downpour, the M Coupe was totally predictable and very easy to drive quickly. The brakes are equally as impressive as the acceleration and handling, stopping the M Coupe rapidly and smoothly—even from triple-digit speeds.

The Return of the Mighty M6

BMW does not refer to the M6 as the flagship of the M Car lineup, but more of a complement and a stablemate to the M5 sedan, with both cars delivering the top level of BMW M power and sophistication.

While the 2006 M5 is the fourth generation of the M5 sedan, the 2006 M6 is only the second M6 ever offered, returning after a hiatus of almost 20 years.

The new M6 is powered by the same high-revving 5.0-liter V10 as the M5, which produces 500 horsepower at 7750 rpm. The Sequential Manual Gearbox (SMG) is an electrohydraulically actuated, electronically controlled seven-speed mechanical transmission with six sequential and five automated shift programs and a twin-disc clutch. A six-speed manual transmission will be offered as an option at a later time.

At 3,909 pounds the M6 is light for such a big car—about 100 pounds lighter than the M5 due to extensive use of aluminum, carbon fiber and plastic. The front-end structure of the unibody is aluminum, the hood and doors are aluminum, the front fenders are thermoplastic, the roof is carbon fiber and the trunk lid is Sheet Molding Compound (SMC).

The specially calibrated M sport suspension is aluminum with a double-pivot design for the front and 4-link setup at the rear, combined with twin-tube gas shocks that are controlled by Electronic Damping Control (EDC) and offer Normal, Comfort and Sport modes. The steering is rack-and-pinion design with Servotronic speed-sensitive power assist and the choice of Comfort or Sport assist modes. M Variable Differential Lock is also standard.

Wheels are a 19-inch M Split-Spoke design that are 8.5 inches wide on the front and 9.5 inches wide at the rear to accommodate 255/40ZR19 and 285/35ZR19 performance tires front and rear, respectively.

The massive brake discs are 14.7-inches in diameter in the front and 14.6 at the rear, and are two-piece compound discs to cut weight and reduce rotor deformation due to heat. Dual-piston calipers are used at the front.

Performance and Luxury Combined

The M6 features an exterior and interior that reflect the balance of performance and luxury. Most noticeable on the exterior is the carbon fiber roof, which not only offers weight savings but also lowers the center of gravity for performance improvements and adds a unique element of style.

The front bumper, spoiler and air intake have an aggressive appearance, as do the rear bumper, spoiler and lower air diffuser. The side sills are more sculpted, Satin Chrome Shadowline side-window trim is standard, and M exterior mirrors have improved aerodynamics and reduced wind noise. Four unique BMW M colors are offered.

Inside, the M6 also combines performance with luxury. The speedometer and tachometer dials feature Titanium II finish on the outer rings, illuminated scale rings, and red indicator needles. The tachometer is scaled up to 9000 rpm and includes the M logo and an oil temperature gauge. Power, DSC, EDC, and SMG mode switches are located next to the shift lever.

Heated M sport seats are standard, as well as Merino extended leather upholstery that includes leather on the seats, head restraints, door panels and center armrests. Optional full leather adds additional leather to portions of the seat, doors, console and dash, as well as Alcantara material for the headliner and roof pillars. The doorsills are illuminated with M6 logos and colors.

M6 Driving Impressions: So Fast

The M6 is addicting to drive because it is so fast—it seems almost crazy for such a big car. According to BMW the M6 will accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, and based on our experience we have no reason to doubt that claim. Hold down the throttle pedal and click through the gears and just as you chose fourth gear from the seven available, the head-up display indicates just under 100 mph. Top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph.

We drove the M6 in the rain at Road America and thanks to all the electronic aids watching out for us, we were completely comfortable up to 140 mph in the rain.

When driven hard in the hard rain the M6 was in its element, upshifting and downshifting with ease via the SMG transmission. Even in the most aggressive shift mode, the gear changes did not upset the balance of the car.

Enough has been said about iDrive and we're still not fans—it just makes simple adjustments too complicated, such as changing the radio station or the temperature of the air from the climate control system.

In the M6 the iDrive adds the MDrive submenu that controls 3 throttle/power settings, 11 transmission programs, 3 EDC modes, 2 DSC modes and DSC deactivation. The M button on the steering wheel allows the driver, with one touch of the button, to select the preset preferences for each of these adjustments. Fortunately for us, the M button was already preset so we didn't need to venture into the MDRive submenu. Many of these changes can also be controlled by separate buttons on the console, but MDrive must be used to program the M button.

The head-up display is an M version that can display standard information or in M mode includes a dynamic engine speed band in green, yellow and red; upshift indicator, gear currently in use and vehicle speed.

Focused Performance for Few

The M Coupe and M6 are both very specialized cars that will only appeal to a small number of buyers who are intensely focused on performance, and who are willing to pay the price to have the highest level of performance.

The 2006 Z4 M Coupe pricing begins at $49,995 including a $695 destination charge, but not including a $1,000 gas-guzzler tax. EPA estimated fuel economy is 16 city and 24 highway.

The 2006 M6 begins at $96,795 including a $695 destination charge, but not including a $3,000 gas-guzzler tax. EPA estimated fuel economy is 12 city and 18 highway.

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