- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 20, 2004

After a 15-year absence, BMW re-enters the coupe and convertible segment with the glamorous, high-performing 2004 6 Series.

A 325-horsepower V-8 engine powers the subcompact 645Ci coupe and 645Ci convertible, both classified as 2+2 seaters. The 32-valve 4.4-liter V-8 power plant produces its 325 horsepower at 6,100 rpm and 330 foot-pounds of torque at 3,600 rpm. The 645Ci comes standard equipped with a six-speed manual transmission, but is also available with either a six-speed automatic transmission or a six-speed Sequential Manual Gearbox, called SMG for short.

A car such as the 6 Series isn’t all about performance — it’s also about looks. On my test drive of the 6 Series, a colleague drove up beside me in another 645Ci test car, and my heart was set on fire. It was the way the sun glistened on the gorgeous 19-inch wheels that made me do a double take of the all-new 6 Series.

The 19-inch wheels with W-rated summer tires are part of the $2,800 Sport Package that includes sport seats and an Active Steering system.

One of the benefits of active steering, which electronically varies the steering ratio, is that certain tasks become simpler. BMW says the steering-wheel movements are reduced in maneuvers such as U-turns, parking and steering in corners.

During my test drive I didn’t discern a single thing about this system, so I suppose it worked without detection.

I drove the coupe with the automatic transmission up winding two-lane highways. The automatic transmission is fantastic. Its shift timing is superb, especially on downshifting when descending steep grades. The sound and feel of engine braking made handling this exciting, luxury coupe sport-oriented.

The iDrive system, which controls climate, navigation and audio, requires a college basics 101 course. I fiddled around for quite some time with the “mouse” and other buttons before gaining any minimum level of competence at turning on the radio and turning up the volume. People who actually buy this car, however, will get the full tutorial and add summa cum laude in iDrive to their CVs.

The 645Ci coupe starts at $69,995 and the 645Ci convertible starts at $76,995. I also had a brief opportunity to drive the convertible equipped with the six-speed manual transmission. It was thrilling to hear the aggressive sounds from the dual exhaust pipes when hitting the gas and shifting quickly through the gears.

The convertible top is ingeniously designed to be more than just a top that goes up or down.

The top can stay up in the lock position, while all four-passenger windows are lowered, and — get this — the rear glass window lowers, too. I drove the back roads with the top lowered and enjoyed the full force of the sunshine beating down on me.

As soon as I prepared to enter the interstate, I held a button to electronically raise the top, but drove along with all five windows lowered, enjoying the rush of cool wind all around.

The 6 Series is a “reward” car. It’s not going to be a primary driving car. The 6 will be the third or fourth car in an owner’s garage.

BMW says there is enough room for carrying two golf bags. BMW says the trunks of these 2+2 models are equivalent to the roominess of a midsize sedan’s trunk.

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