2012 BMW M6 Cabriolet road test
Things that make you go Mmmmm ...
When you see a car like the BMW M6 Cabriolet, a high-performance convertible, what comes to mind? Is the driver a poseur, the sort of person who relishes the idea of being spotted at the wheel as much as driving the car? Or, are they a true purist who has removed as many layers as possible for the ultimate sensory immersion experience?
To the enthusiast, convertible supercars don't make much sense. They are slower than their hard-topped counterparts, and softer around the edges due to the extra weight they carry around from the roof. And try as you might to ignore it, the issue of rigidity is unavoidable. Engineers haven't completely gotten around the gaping hole where a roof once was — steering wheels and seats always jiggle and quiver a bit more in a drop-top.
None of these things are good in a car designed with a penchant for going fast, and yet almost all of the world's premier performance autos have a convertible variant, including the world's fastest automobile, the Bugatti Veyron. And if a case can be made for this 450-km/h-plus TGV-on-wheels, a case can be made for anything else.
Making the case
If you ask me, a big part of that reason is sensory immersion. Modern cars, especially premium ones, work hard to isolate their drivers from the noisy outside world, abating wind noise, road noise, tire noise and engine noise in a quest for silence. And that's where the M6 Cabriolet steps in. Lowering the roof strips back those layers of sound deadening and acoustic padding leaving nothing — nothing between you, the world outside, and a pair of twin exhaust pipes begging to fill your ears with acoustic goodness. As silly as it seems, I reckon if you're going to buy BMW's most powerful production car, you're probably going to want to hear as much of it as you possibly can.
You start the M6 as you do any other BMW: proximity key in pocket, index finger on the starter button. It wakes with a deep, dozy whuff! as if it isn't so much a twin-turbo V8 under the hood as a giant St. Bernard, before settling into a quiet idle, matched with a flood of technical, high-precision noises — the ticking of the direct-injection engine, the hissing of the fans and, when you graze the throttle, the breathy gasps of the intake greedily gobbling air. Add throttle and the soundtrack changes from semi-industrial to hard-edged and semi-synthesized, punctuated by fractional pauses as the double-clutch gearbox bangs out ultra-crisp shifts.
It's not quite the hollow bark of an Italian supercar, nor the chug of a big-block V8, or the old M6's wailing V10, but it's a sound you come to respect as it punts you into the horizon and gently rearranges your internal organs as you're pinned to the Nappa leather upholstery.
Do the math
Downsizing means the M6 does with a V8 instead of a V10 this time (it's a first), and 4.4 litres instead of five even, but what it gives up in size it gains in power. Additions to fuel and engine management systems like Valvetronic and double VANOS mean fuel consumption is down by 30 per cent; the addition of two turbos means power spikes to 560 hp from 500. I don't think there's a clearer case of a win-win scenario than this.
The best part is that it's all so easy to use. The seven-speed M-DCT dual-clutch makes this package work; it's the Cray supercomputer of transmissions, its calculations resulting in its calling up the right gear without fail, and a choice of three settings that can dish out whip-crack gear changes up, and rev-matched ones on the way down. Because of this, there's no waiting for turbo lag to bleed into thrust — partly because 500 lb.-ft. of it is deployed at just 1,500 rpm; it just juggles the gears and responds with precision. Unlike the M5, you cannot get a manual transmission, but that's fine: there's just too much to concentrate on — the steering, the brakes, the head-up display, and the scenery that somehow is always blurring by.