Wednesday, April 25, 2012

BMW 6-Series Gran Coupe: The End of the Two-Door Coupe?



Audi has the A7, Mercedes the CLS and now BMW comes up with an answer to both of them in the form of the the 6-Series Gran Coupe. As a BMW fan, I should be happy the Bavarians have such a cool four-door coupe, especially since a range made up entirely of turbocharged engines and the availability of all-wheel drive make this a winner on paper. But I'm not, because I'm worried the big coupe will go the way of the dinosaurs, slowly but surely.

Clearly, people have really forgotten what the whole idea of a sporty coupe is supposed to be. In order to survive, carmakers are using the name for SUVs, disguised estates and even cars that are powered by electricity alone these days. Even Lamborghini may jump on to the bandwagon, as they are going to decide if they'll make the Estoque next year, so clearly the problem here lies with people's conceptions.

Let’s look at the market first! A decade ago, about the only choice you had for an stylish and imposing vehicle in this segment was the 6-Series, the Jaguar XK, the Mercedes CL and maybe the Porsche 911 that catered to the guys that value handling above all else. Now though, things have changed - half of Porsche’s sales are attributed to the Cayenne SUV. I think that going for say an X5 instead of a 6-Series is as ridiculous as buying a 1963 Mercedes Benz 600 instead of an Aston Martin DB5 back in the day.

Things are even worse for BMW. The E24 6-Series, the first generation that followed the E9 coupes, was in my opinion one of the coolest cars of its time. But, sales have been on a steady decline over the past six years, from 23,340 6ers delivered globally in 2005 to just 5,848 in 2010. In my honest opinion, this has everything to do with with the rise of the SUV as the vehicle to be seen in. Bankers and stock traders, real-estate developers and big-shot lawyers, I’ve heard them all talking about how cool their 4x4 Qs, Xs and AMGs are, and they really don’t see the image benefit of having a lot of sheetmetal and only two doors.

Until I read the market figures, I really thought they had ruined the 6-Series by making the four-door Gran Coupe, even though they needed such a car, but I’m not so sure any more. Analysts blame tough competition, fickle buyers and the recession, but the market for the two-door might have dwindled a bit. Yes, they did record a 733.5% increase in demand last month (November 2011), but it’s just not the flagship it used to be.

The rear seats will always be cramped and harder to get to, and the rear visibility is bad. I also know you’re never going to treat your 640d as the best grand tourer for long journeys and take it on some 1,000 kilometer trip from the cliffs of Dover to the sandy beaches of Southern France. You can’t put a Labrador in the back, and you can’t carry logs to your Swiss resort cabin.

These are all things I rally like about a proper coupe and the 6-Series has yet another thing for it - it’s a BMW. “So what if they added a couple of extra doors?!” you might say. But you’re wrong - this isn’t about being practical. It’s not about offering rear passengers more legroom.

So what’s a 6-Series really supposed to offer then?! How about an engine that sound really naughty, a responsive chassis and the sort o steering that makes you believe you’re stroking the asphalt as you go along. That’s really cool, and so is what you’re supposed to do with it.

The 6-Series is a five-meter car that will leave all back seat passengers with chronic back pains, and I don’t really care. But I know you do, and so do all the automakers. Four-door coupes like the Audi A7 and Mercedes CLS make a lot more sense in this perspective, and they are actually cheaper than the 6-Series.

So, should you hold on to your money until the Gran Coupe arrives next year? Is the 2+2 segment going to be put on the back-burner? I’m not so sure!

You see, having all that metal in the format of a coupe, and a big engine, and a sea of leather is best explained by describing a real life scenario. Close your eyes and imagine this: you’re making six figures a year and it’s Friday night. You put on your Hublot watch with gold inserts, your Armani shoes and jump into the 650i, drive to pick up your lady friend and her less fortunate friends that have to sit in the back because they don’t know any rich dudes and go for a night out. And yes, I know that people hate that sort of thing, but that because you love yourself too much (no pun... please!) since you’ve made it, you’re all set, you’ve arrived at your life’s destination.

Having only two doors is very arrogant, very macho and not very logical. But, sitting in a huge car with a pair of long legs on your right (or left if you’re in Britain) is what a BMW man does. It’s brash, superficial and... very addictive.

Buckets of luxury, GT characteristics and a BMW badge is also what the 6-Series Gran Coupe has. But is that brash? Certainly, your lady-friend will be envied by her friends because she’s snagged you, but they will be just as comfortable in the back as she is, and that’s not good. I’m joking of course, but fact is it looks exactly like any German saloon from a distance, albeit an expensive one. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s good looking, though not like the old Mercedes CLS, but will people think you’ve made it, or will they think it’s a company car in some cases?

It’s uber-cool that BMW finally has a four-door with a flowing roofline, but people are forgetting coupes mean sacrificing the practicality they don’t really need for style. I really can’t tell you, or the automotive world, what’s cool. If you think it’s the car for you, than you're probably guilty of the SUV mentality. But ask yourself this: would you rather live in a single-bedroom flat with an Estonian model, or a five-bedroom spread with a woman that can't fit through the door. Practicality? Come on, you don't need that to love your life!    

Komeng Adul

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