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Grand Prix - BMW 645i SMG

Harking back to one of the most revered of all BMW cars, the new 6 Series was built to tug at the heartstrings as well as the strings on the backs of your driving gloves. The question is, does it also pull too hard on your bank account? What price beauty?

Having two seemingly similar cars in the test--BMW's 545i and this 645Ci--might seem redundant, but we found them to be two very different machines. While both are powered by the same 4.4-liter V8, the 645Ci is faster off the line than its four-door sibling, achieving 0 to 60 mph in 5.5 sec., 0.2 sec sooner than the 5er. This is where the power-to-weight ratio (4,619 vs. 4,905 lb) comes into play, as all felt the 6 Series to be quicker than the 5.

That the 6er we tested was fitted with the SMG and the 5er with the manual made no difference in elapsed time: the 545i's 0 to 60 time is the same for both gearboxes. Compared to the SMG on our long-term Z4, the 645Ci's version was much improved. All agreed that shifts were smoother and quicker, yet the sequential gearbox still didn't make anyone's most-favored list.

Most everyone raved about the 5er's Active Steering System until they got behind the wheel of the 645Ci and realized how much tighter and more controlled it felt in the coupe. Handling preferences were split fairly evenly between the two vehicles, which led us to believe that the better drivers preferred the 645 over the 545, as the coupe offered a sportier driving experience.

The coupe also has more visual appeal than the sedan. Most testers thought it was the superior looking of the two, but that wasn't saying a whole lot when you considered the caustic comment the 5er elicited. The 6er's interior was also liked more. A key point was that the coupe's sweeping dash wasn't interrupted by pop-out cupholders the way the 5er's is. And everyone was sorely tempted to abscond with the 645Ci's "work-of-art" console-mounted (and removable) cupholder.

Where the 545 came out better was in price. Our 645Ci rang in at $80,840. The base price is $69,995, but our tester had a load of high-dollar options--Sport package, $2,800; SMG, $1,500; heated front seats, $450. The 645Ci was better liked than the 545i, but it still wasn't a case of love.

The Buzz...
"Freaky fast. Feels quicker than the 5er for some reason."

"Much-improved SMG gearbox. Feels well tuned to the V8's power curve. Shift at 4500 to 5500 in Sport mode, the only mode to use."

"Looks like an Aston wannabe but with a butt that looks like an unfinished Continental kit."

"However debatable the styling, the ride and handling cannot be challenged. Sport setting makes it a Z8."

"Maybe my favorite car, similar to the 545i but feels better when cornering. Better seats."

"Interior is elegant and modern. Hands-down winner of the best cup holder award. A work of art."

"A wonderful modern take on the big coupe--from certain angles, it's downright beautiful."

"Gnarly engine sound. Powerful."

The Contenders

Audi S4

Audi TT 3.2 DSG

BMW 545i

BMW 645Ci

Mercedes-Benz CLK500 Convertible

Mercedes-Benz E500 Wagon

Volkswagen Phaeton

Volkswagen R32

Volvo S40

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