Forget everything you know about BMW. Forget the roundel, the Hofmeister kink, the twin-kidney grille, and Hans Stuck taking flight in a CSL “Batmobile” at the Nürburgring in 1974. Pretend that the 2002tii was never a thing, that M5 was only Dr. Richard Daystrom’s murderous multitronic computer on Star Trek, and that yuppies drove Buicks. Wipe your mind clean. Okay, now let’s approach the 2018 BMW 640i xDrive Gran Turismo with fresh eyes and glistening objectivity.
First of all, it’s big. With its 200.9-inch length, 120.9-inch wheelbase, and 74.9-inch width, the 640i GT is about the same size as a Dodge Charger. But it’s taller than that brawny sedan and features a liftgate that opens to reveal a generous 31 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second-row seats. The Charger’s trunk, by contrast, has room for only 17 cubic feet of flotsam. Volvo’s V90 station wagonhas 26 cubes behind its second row, and the XC60 crossover offers only 30.
But even those numbers understate the 640i GT’s usefulness. The rear hatch opening is huge and extends down to the bumper, and the aluminum liftgate opens without struts impeding access from the sides. The space back there isn’t just generous but also flat, so things slide in easily. And it’s deep enough that many bulkier items fit in without having to remove the cargo cover. Plus, the rear seats fold down to increase total cargo capacity to a vast 65 cubic feet. The 640i GT isn’t a station wagon and it isn’t a crossover, but it may be smarter than either of those things.
For all its utility, the 640i GT isn’t a UPS truck. The interior is straightforward, conservative in design, sweetly detailed, and very accommodating. Not just for the people in front—the rear-seat passengers are treated royally, too. There’s plenty of legroom in back; the seats are well shaped; the cushion is raised slightly, theater-style; and thanks to a generously tall greenhouse, the car feels airy and pleasant (it would be weird if it were airy but unpleasant). And the front seats are even better. Except for the goofy electronic wandlike shifter, the entire interior is well conceived. The leather quality is Hermès or better, the switches all work with precision, and the only nicer wood trim is on 17th-century French furniture.
For vehicles beyond the $50,000 threshold, it’s tiresome to list all the electronic features; all such conveyances are loaded with gizmos and carry the full complement of modern safety gear. What matters more is how the driver and the techy stuff interact. In front of the driver, the 640i GT has a digital screen that mimics analog gauges, with needles that sweep across a large speedometer and tachometer and smaller fuel and temperature gauges off to the side. It’s easy to read behind the thick, leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Most of the other functions are displayed on a single, brilliantly clear 10.3-inch screen that’s controlled three ways. First, there’s the traditional rotary iDrive knob alongside the shifter. Second are gesture controls that consist of waving one’s hand in particular ways in front of the screen. And third—as a touchscreen. In an age of quicker-responding, intuitively programmed touchscreens, the iDrive knob feels like a throwback to 2010, and the gesture controls lack tactile feedback. The war is over, and touchscreens seem to have won.
But why is Apple CarPlay compatibility a $300 option on this car? Best Buy sells entire Sony touchscreen head units with CarPlay for only $350.
Wearing 245/45R-19 Pirelli P Zero RSC Run Flat tires on 19-inch wheels and boasting the $1200 M Sport package, the big 640i GT looks grounded and serious. It’s not pretty, but it has a robust presence that isn’t SUV-ish or wagon-y. And despite the standard xDrive all-wheel drive, it’s not ready for off-road adventures, either. It’s a bit awkward in its proportions, but it doesn’t call attention to itself.
BMW’s naming scheme has become a muddled, incoherent mess. The 640i Gran Turismo has nothing to do with previous 6-series coupes dating back to 1976. And it’s not that close in concept to the low-roofed four-door 6-series Gran Coupe that BMW has sold since 2012. Also, BMW should get rid of the word “Gran” before they start putting half-vinyl roofs and carriage lights on their cars.
Internally, the 6-series Gran Turismo is known as the G32, and it shares most of its fundamental engineering with the 5- and 7-series sedans. There’s a lot of aluminum used in their structures, but all these machines are seriously heavy. And as far as practicality goes, the 6-series Gran Turismo is clearly superior to both the 5-series and the 7-series.
All the 6-series Gran Turismos that BMW sends to the United States are 640i models with the turbocharged inline-six and xDrive all-wheel drive. It’s a sweet package, but it means the base price for the Germany-made 640i xDrive Gran Turismo is up at $71,195. Meanwhile, BMW’s America-assembled X5 SUV starts at $58,195 and, while all BMWs exist at lofty price points, $13,000 is still a lot of money. For many people, the 640i GT would be a better choice, but most buyers will look at the price difference and take the SUV. That’s a shame.