Sunday, November 25, 2007

Why the 630i is really the old M6

What differentiates a two-door sports coupé from a GT? Size and price would be among the main criteria. When the BMW M635CSi first went on sale in 1984 it was big in both departments.

The £33,875 it would have cost you to get your hands on one of the 5,585 M6 models produced between 1984 and 1986 equates to roughly £71,000 in today's money.

Compared to the Toyota MR2 of the day, the M635CSi was 60mm wider, 850mm longer, 800kg heavier and £22,000 more expensive. Customers could opt for one of the other variants in the E24 6-Series range that ran from the mid '70s to late '80s - but the M6 was the definitive model and the one that kick started the M revolution. Its heritage was thoroughbred - the M635CSi featured the engine from the M1 super car - built for racing homologation purposes but rendered useless by a change in racing regulations. The M1's six-cylinder 24-valve unit was actually tweaked for more power before being used in the 6-Series.

158mph '70s style
By the time it found its way under the huge bonnet and behind that fearsome 'sharknose' grille the 3.5-litre unit was boasting 286bhp. As a result, the M6 could reach 62mph in 6.1 seconds and keep going until it hit 158mph. With its performance and practicality the M635CSi proved that GTs and sports coupés needn't be mutually exclusive. Two decades later and its legacy is reflected in the current BMW 6-Series range. The latest generation E64 6-Series range is once again topped by the M6. The M badge is still one that earns instant respect: as sure an indicator of cutting edge technology, class leading performance and tremendous power now as it was then.

At a shade over £80,000 the current M6 works out more expensive than the first generation model - but two decades of development mean you get considerably more for your money in terms of equipment, technology and performance. But that same period of development has meant that you no longer need to look to the top of the range for the performance found in the M635CSi. The entry-level 630i has a limited top speed three mph short of the original M6, is only 0.1 seconds slower to 63mph and a mere 14bhp down on power. It's just as big, features the same wide stance, low profile and enigmatic looks plus an equally scintillating six-cylinder engine.

New meets old
Launched in late 2003 the 6-Series was a long awaited return to the GT arena by BMW. There had been no 6-Series model in the 14 years between the two generations and philosophy of the old car is evident in the new. Both share a two-plus-two platform with room in the rear for two adults. Both have a low-slung driving position and luxurious, highly specced interiors. Both have endless bonnets to hide their potent engines. Both have boots big enough to carry four sets of luggage across the continent. And while they both feature the classic front-engine rear-wheel drive sports coupé layout, the age gap highlights itself in terms of the driving experience.

The M635CSi is quick in a very old fashioned way with a long throw on the six speed gearbox, what feels like fathoms of travel on the dampers and steering that's heavy despite its precision. The engine snorts, grunts and bludgeons its way up to speed. The 630i feels altogether lighter on its feet with an engine that buzzes and howls, suspension that floats over the bumps rather than smashing through them and poise and agility in the corners. Much like pitching George Foreman against Muhammad Ali these two cars have very different ways of achieving the same goal - but it is very difficult to pick between the two.

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