BF Road-trip Review: 1,500 Miles with the BMW M6 Along the West Coast

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Climbing up and up with the Pacific on my right, a cliff face on my left and a 575 hp lump inches from my feet it was clear to me that this was pretty close to bliss. When you’re a car crazed kid with torn-out pages of Autoweek on your wall, you dream of this moment. A car with 575 hp, the best roads in North American and a purpose. Living this moment for over three days was surreal and I’m still not sure I have my head wrapped around it.

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Let’s start with the car. This is not just any M6. This is the highly anticipated M6 Competition Package which includes the following:

  • • 15 HP more than the standard car
  • • Firmer springs and dampers
  • • 10 mm reduced ride height
  • • Firmer suspension bushings
  • • Re-calibrated power-steering
  • • Re-calibrated M Differential
  • • M Dynamic stability tweaked to allow higher intervention threshold

After 1,500 miles on some of the most amazing and challenging roads I’ve ever experienced, it’s very evident that the steering is the key improvement with the M6CP. Yes, the improved stance and body control delivered by the revised suspension is welcome. But it’s the quicker rack and improved feel that make the experience slightly but noticeably more intimate than the standard M6.

Along with the Comp package our test car also came shod with the always impressive Carbon Ceramic brakes. If there was one option on our $134k tester that truly blew us away it was this. We talked about them in our M6 Gran Coupe review earlier this year but they deserve another mention here. They are relentless in their stopping power the way the 575 hp S63 Tü is in its power delivery. And the best part is that they never fade. Ever.

But this trip wasn’t only about the car. It was about an idea. Three days and 1,400 miles to get from Seattle to LA while taking nothing but the best roads in North America.

I’ve always had this fascination with the idea of European aristocracy grabbing their Maserati (or preferred Italian GT) and heading from Turin to Amsterdam on a whim. Maybe with something sexy in the passenger seat or a bag of cash and a toothbrush. Either way there was business to be had at the end of the journey or simply a party to be made.

So when out in Seattle to test a handful of new 2014 BMWs in Seattle we knew we had one of those rare opportunities to replicate the type of cross continent journeys people dream about.

Making a quick stop at the Seattle Public Market

Making a quick stop at the Seattle Public Market

Clearly there was one car that would be ideal. We could have taken a new 4 Series or even one of the highly efficient diesels. But let’s be honest. If you had the choice of an M6 you wouldn’t pass it up. And the BMW M6 is made for this kind of singular journey where speed and comfort is prized. After getting the thumbs up from BMW, we were all set for an early morning departure heading south from Seattle through Portland and into Northern California. Nine hours of driving and 575 hp at our disposal.

Setting off that morning from Seattle the M6 provided an intoxicating mix of power, freedom and purpose. Even if the first hour or so was relatively straight and forgettable road the experience of driving that car out of Seattle’s Public Market and onto Highway 5 is one I’ll never forget.

For this midwestern kid anything looks more interesting than fields of corn. And the northwest is full of rolling hills and golden vistas. Highway 5, while the most ordinary road we’d take on the trip, proved plenty exciting as it wound through the mountains and into southern Oregon.

Heading west onto Highway 5 and into the Redwoods

Heading west onto Highway 5 and into the Redwoods

But things didn’t really get interesting until we turned off of I5 and onto the Redwood Highway.

Because our schedule demanded speed, the trip began to take on a dream-like feel. The majestic beauty of a redwood forest, punctuated by quirky towns and the one-nozzle gas stations where everything from jerky to freak-shows was being sold roadside. Passing by places that catered to tourists (or refused to). Jaded locals used to vacationing scenery gawkers got their own eyeful when the Sakir Orange M6 flew by. But we didn’t have time to linger or inquire about public restrooms. We had two days left to get to LA.

The surprisingly good Highway 5 on the Oregon and California border

The surprisingly good Highway 5 on the Oregon and California border

The road got increasingly more tight and the countryside became closer and the trees more dense. Before long we had entered California and dusk had turned to night due to the intense vegetation. I’ve never appreciated the need for automatic brights or LEDs fully until this moment. They allowed for full concentration while delivering maximum illumination on one of the darkest roads I’ve ever experienced.

Wrestling the M6

Wrestling the M6

As the road tightened further I did what any of you would do, I pushed harder and started to explore the M6′s driving dynamics on the wonderfully cambered corners of Highway 99. I felt like I was diving deeper and deeper into the forest as all light from the sky began to fade into what felt like absolute darkness.

Then suddenly it was over and I was out of the forest and the light of the sun re-appeared in the sky. The forest was so thick and the hills so extreme that any light that remained of the day had been completely blocked.

Now onto the coast it was time to find the hotel and begin to plan our next leg.

I can’t remember a car ever looking better than walking out the next morning. I decided not to whip out a camera as nothing would ever give justice to what I saw in front of me. Our orange M6 was covered in thick morning dew with the ocean fog just behind it. Another dream-like image that was punctuated by the growl of a V8. The S63Tü isn’t as musical as the amazing V10 it replaced but the start-up on a cold morning is undeniably menacing.

The M6's interior jewelry

The M6′s interior jewelry

After nine hours of nothing but manual operation I decided to finally (for one of the first times in my life) click an M car into “D”. Nine hours of driving in one day is a bit much. Luckily day two was a bit more sane with an easy 7 hours and 45 minutes or 475 miles. This gave us a chance to plan a few detours into whatever looked interesting. After a prototypically Californian quick stop that resulted in a “to-go” mason jar of organic coffee, we were ready to head back into the redwoods.

The majesty of 2,000 year old trees

The majesty of 2,000 year old trees

The first part of the day found us threading through the Redwood Highway (101). But the call of wild being what it is I wanted to get even closer to the majesty of the forest itself. Minutes later we found ourselves off the highway and on the Avenue of the Giants. While California 254 lacked some of the eclectic character that we saw on the previous day’s drive, it more than made up for it with surreal scenes I didn’t know existed outside of film.

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The M6 thundered through the forest with surprising finesse. There is no getting around the 4,300 lbs of car behind the controls but as I sawed away at the wheel I couldn’t help but think about what BMW M has done here. They’ve taken a grand tourer in the 650i and sharpened it to a point that it feels faster than you can ever wrap your head around. But it’s more than just straight-line performance. With the countless suspension and chassis tweaks the M6 has vault like quality while remaining more nimble and neutral than it has a right to be.

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With the Competition Package BMW has refined an already outstanding car by simply turning up the volume. The extra power is appreciated but it’s the firmer springs, dampers and reduced ride height that make this car feel noticeable more serious and a bit old-school. There’s mountains of feedback with every twist of the wheel and something that many modern cars have forgotten exists – feel. In the company of amazing roads and scenery that often left us speechless, it was the M6 Competition Package that was the lasting impression as we wound out of the mountains.

There’s an edge to this car that I don’t remember ever feeling in a large M car – even the E28 M5. The Competition Package turns the already good M6 into something that is much more of a serious tool on the road or track. But it’s not jarring or uncomfortable – it still works as a grand-tourer. It’s simply more focused as a large sports car. The suspension and steering tweaks allow a level of trust that’s incredibly rare in such a large heavy car. The feedback from the steering wheel and chassis allowed me more confidence navigating the hairpin cliffs of Highway 1 than I had a right to.

As we left the forest and slowly entered society again I was reminded how unearthly the sight of our orange M6 must look amongst the mundane grey and white four doors dotting the Northern California roads. Grown men pointed and stared, kids snapped photos, and women gave us double takes. A big sleek coupe can either have pretense or presence. The M6 dishes out presence in spades with the golden ratio of width and height playing against massive wheels and wide tires.

The M6 Competition makes you feel like there is nothing more important on the road. Nothing more stylish and certainly nothing faster.

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Suddenly there it was. The striking red/orange and the impossibly narrow lanes of the Golden Gate Bridge were upon us. It was a bitter sweet moment. The sights we had seen and the experiences we had been through wouldn’t be the same for the rest of the trip. Society and mass humanity would see to that. But perhaps most meaningful the roads, while still excellent, would likely not afford us the opportunity to push the M6 like we had over the last two days.

As a final exclamation on the day I decided to pay a special visit to Laguna Seca – where I first drove the M6 in 2012. The roads around the track are surprisingly challenging and, depending on the time of day, devoid of traffic. The crescendo of the day’s final drive without question was the Laureles Grade. A road that twists its way up, over and down one of the highest points in the area while providing views of the valley below that remind you of your mortality.

And just like that, the day was over and the wine began to flow.

Dream come true - the M6 & Carmel Valley Rd.

Dream come true – the M6 & Carmel Valley Rd.

The next day began early. After a quick espresso and a purposely light breakfast, the plan was to take a turn east and onto one of my favorite roads in the world. Carmel Valley Road is one of those rare roads that demands respect of even the most capable modern cars. No better place to test the ultimate M car naturally.

I’ve driven every M car from the past five years down this road and all of them have compromises exposed – from the 1M to the M6. But with the M6 there’s one glaring weakness that smacks you in the face the first time you walk up to it – the size. And on Carmel Valley Rd that size becomes even more of an issue. Wrestling with the full 4,300 lbs through decreasing radius corners isn’t always fun. Yet M engineers have made corralling all of that mass quite rewarding. But you’re reminded that this is a GT designed to be effortlessly fast and luxurious. Tacking the undulating topography and tight switchbacks of a road like this isn’t it’s core competency.

But my God is it fast. And it’s even faster coming to a stop. This road proves the value of the Competition package through and through. The extra power, revised suspension and quicker steering make everything more immediate. But it’s the Ceramic brakes (a stand-alone option) that make this particular M6 feel nearly invincible on this road under the California sun. As with most modern large M cars, the M6 may not give you the sheer amount of feedback through the wheel or seat of the pants but placing the car with precision turn after turn was not an issue.

After nearly inducing vomit in the passenger seat I decided it was time to turn south and my attention to what many would look at as the highlight of this trip. Highway 1 from Monterey to LA is the stuff of legends. The problem is that everyone knows the legend and the result is often epic traffic. My hopes weren’t overly high for a clean shot at one of the best roads in the world as I pointed the 575 hp M6 south.

The great thing about low expectations is that they’re easily exceeded. The Highway 1 Gods smiled on us that day because the road simply opened up. With the mountains on our left and a sheer drop-off to the Pacific on the right we barreled south ever cognizant of the death that awaited us with the flick of the wrist in the wrong direction.

The epic nature of the beauty that Highway 1 provides is hard to put in words. The scale of the views and the majesty of it all is overwhelming at times. This combined with relatively open roads and almost 600hp on tap provided one of the more memorable moments of the trip. A car this big shouldn’t be this much fun in such tight quarters. But the M6’s revised steering (mostly thanks to the new revised suspension an bushings) give the car a knife-edge quality that allows you to place it with supreme confidence belying it’s size. Coupled with the S63 Tü and its ability to produce monstrous torque the M6 CP simply ate Highway 1 alive with speed and accuracy.

As happens with all great roads things eventually began to straight out and calm down. But we had one run left before hitting Santa Monica and eventually LAX for the red-eye back to Chicago. After what felt like hours entering the outskirts of LA we turned onto CA 27 (Topanga Canyon) for a final workout. The road provided the perfect swan-song for the trip combining attributes from each day’s best roads into one 20 minutes drive. And the M6, having just done 1,500 hard miles felt un-phased and ready for whatever came next.

Back onto Highway 1 with the beach on the right and the hills of Malibu to the left it was time to reflect. How can you put three days like this into perspective? The M6 CP is a sensory overload in itself. But snaking through some of the best roads in North America behind its thick rimmed steering wheel is an experience that will stay with me forever.

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Is the M6 the perfect car? If you’re looking for an aggressive GT car capable of pretty much anything you could ever ask, it comes as close as any BMW ever has. Is the Competition Package worth it? Absolutely. For those ponying up for the M6, you’d be remiss in not taking it to the next level for the ultimate M car experience. It’s a package that combines the best of old-school M with what makes modern M products so special.

The purpose of taking a car from Seattle to LA in three days was a great backdrop for an adventure. And what we experienced behind the wheel and out the windshield will never be forgotten. Drives like this, if done right, turn into the kind of epic journeys that you never forget. While the M6 was the star of the show over three days, it was the roads, people, places and landscapes that endure in my memory more than anything.

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  • BimmerFile_Michael

    Love this!!

    I am hoping to do something similar this summer here in Europe- I would love some input. Everyone does the Alpine Passes… but I am thinking Croatia or Spain or Even some Fjords. Something out in left field with great roads and hoping as great a car.

    Love how you got to appreciate what the M6 is all about- speed in a GT sense.