First Drive: 2012 BMW 640i
All the Six You Need
Years of unscrupulous cost-cutting and decontenting in the auto industry has deeply tarnished monikers such as "entry level" and "base car." In the past, buying a base car meant settling, but now that consumers are demanding more for their dollar, that's beginning to change. Take the new 2012 BMW 640i, for example. It's every bit the car the 650i is, and nearly all the motor.
How much power do you really need? Well, how many drag races do you engage in on any given day? If you're the kind of person who can afford a 6 Series and aren't interested in an M car, the answer is probably "not many." So let it be said here and now that the 650i's twin-turbo V-8 is a fantastic engine, but it's also far more than you need to get you to the office. If you're not married to the idea or image of a V-8, you really ought to consider this six.
In a world where naturally aspirated V-6s are breaking the 300-horsepower mark on a regular basis, a turbocharged I-6 that makes 315 horsepower and 330 lb-ft of torque might not sound all that impressive. As is often the case, though, the numbers don't tell the whole story. BMW's twin-scroll turbo technology is getting closer to eliminating turbo lag with every new engine, and this latest six is no exception. With a quick spool, the boost comes on early in the rev range and delivers linear power all the way to the top. Most important, it delivers much more low-end torque, a place where BMW's high-revving sixes have traditionally been weak. BMW claims peak torque from 1400 to 4800 RPM and peak horsepower at 5800 RPM. It certainly feels like it.
As noted, the 640i isn't the drag racer of the family, but it's no slouch. Consider that BMW claims a 0-to-60 mph time of 5.4 seconds, just half-a-second slower than the 400-horsepower 650i with its 450 lb-ft of torque. Weighing some 230 pounds less than the 650i certainly helps. Consider also that during our drive event on the Autobahn outside Munich, I was unable to pull away from the 640i from a 70 mph start until over 110 mph, and I was driving an M3. The 640i is no slouch.
Driving up in the Alps, the 640i was apt to remind us that it's a touring car, not a track car. It drives big, and naturally isn't as nimble as smaller, sportier cars. Still, it holds the road very well and gives up light and progressive understeer when pushed too hard. By BMW standards, the steering is slightly light and numbed, no doubt owing to its target customer. The eight-speed automatic (no manual is available with the six-cylinder) is impressively smooth in a way no DCT today can manage, and more than quick enough for the car. Manual shift commands are answered promptly, but without the neck-snapping fanfare you might expect in a sporty car. Again, think tourer. More impressive were the brakes, which answered with authority and refused to fade no matter how many mountain roads we threw at them.
Like all new BMWs, the 6 Series comes with selectable drive modes that range from Comfort + to Sport +, and they're-well differentiated. We certainly appreciate the comfort modes, but our inner enthusiast prefers the Sport setting (a notch below Sport +) for most driving, as it offers a nice balance of ride comfort and the kind of throttle response we prefer. We just wish we could make it the default instead of Comfort.
The 640i isn't all about performance, though. The combination of a smaller, less-powerful motor and a lighter curb weight helps in the efficiency department. The 640i claims an impressive preliminary EPA rating of 21 mpg city and 31 mpg highway, a dramatic improvement from the 650i automatic's 15 mpg city and 23 mpg highway.
So there you have it. The 640i really isn't a downgrade from the 650i. You get the same features and better fuel economy with the only real tradeoff being it's not quite as fast in a straight line. Sure, we wish it came with a manual transmission option, but we know the take rate would've been insignificant, and there's always the 650i for that. Naturally, you enthusiasts will go that route, but for a large portion of the 6 Series' target audience, the 640i is all the car they'll need, and the money they save will make it feel like a smart business decision. Hard to argue with that.
|2012 BMW 640i|
|Vehicle Layout||Front-engine, RWD or AWD, 4-pass, 2-door coupe|
|Engine||3.0L/315-hp/330-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve turbocharged I-6|
|Curb weight||4000 lbs (mfr)|
|Length x Width x Height||192.8 x 74.6 x 53.9 in|
|0-60 mph||5.4 sec (mfr)|
|EPA fuel economy||21 city/31 highway (est)|
|CO2 emissions||0.79 lbs/mi (est)|