BMW's 6-series gets a midlife update
Sexy retooling of BMW's 6-series One way to recognise the facelifted BMW 6-series is to count the slats in the front grille. -- PHOTO: BMW

It was a trip that almost did not happen, no thanks to Lufthansa's striking pilots. Missing the flight would have meant missing the opportunity to drive the facelifted BMW 6-series, a car said to pack a host of improvements.

The current 6-series was launched in July 2012 and offered in three guises: coupe, cabriolet and a four-door grand coupe. The following are six key changes that make the sexy 6 even sexier.

1 Fresh design

The key differentiator for all facelifted cars and their predecessors is an updated design that usually involves minor tweaks accomplished by introducing newly moulded bumpers or newly designed lights, both of which are seen on the 6-series LCI (Life Cycle Impulse). It is hard to spot the differences at first glance, but a giveaway is its new kidney grille, which now has nine instead of 10 slats per side.

If counting is too laborious, then look out for angled bends in the grille that give the car a more brawny look.

And if that is still too difficult to spot, then look out for a more chiselled front lower apron that allows for more airflow.

The changes are subtle, really.

But they all add up for a more sporty stance without losing the elegance of a grand touring type of vehicle.

2 Reduced emissions

The new 650i coupe, which is powered by the same 4.4-litre V8 in the outgoing model, now produces 7g less carbon per km driven at 199g/km. It consumes 0.3 litre less fuel per 100km at 8.6 litres/100km, while maintaining an output of 450bhp and 650Nm.

So what is behind the lower emission ratings? Nothing much has changed mechanically, but the car benefits greatly from improved aerodynamics throughout. Apart from better airflow through the intakes, the 6-series comes fitted with underbody panelling to aid undercarriage aerodynamics.

There are also minor additions, such as the small curled lip under the wing mirrors and a kink in the tail lights to optimise airflow at higher speeds. In other markets, the efficiency is brought to the next level with wheels that have a more "closed face" design to reduce drag caused by fancy designs of multi-spoke alloy rims.

3 Better sounding exhaust

Despite not producing more power, the V8-powered 650i sounds far sportier than the version it replaces. It does not matter which variant you choose - couple, grand coupe or cabriolet - the 6-series now comes with a sports exhaust system.

The previous model sounded rather muted, keeping its creamy V8 notes to the confines of the engine compartment. But the new sport exhaust uncorks all the glorious sounds when the car is driven in Sport or Sport+ modes, or revved past the 3,500rpm mark. It does not sound as raucous as a Jaguar F-Type, but it has a distinct big-engine rumble when pushed hard, complete with an intoxicating overrun on upshifts.

This is, of course, best enjoyed with the top down on the convertible version.

4 Darkening out

Despite the more brash sounding exhaust, BMW is now offering buyers of the 6-series an option to make their cars a little more understated. It comes in the form of what it calls Design Pure.

The package includes a black grille and tailpipes instead of chrome. In the cabin, you get handsome two-tone leather seats with contrasting trimmings.

The mid-life update also sees minor changes to the interior. The centre console is now surrounded by glossy piano black panels and the multimedia screen sitting right in the centre of the dashboard gets a new layer of bonded glass - or what Apple fans know as Retina screen - to enhance readability in any condition.

5 Brightening the path

While the designers were hard at work trying to make the 6-series less "visible", engineers have made the road ahead of the 6-series brighter than ever.

The car has all-LED headlamps. The pure white lights are not only more energy-efficient than halogen and xenon options, but they are also brighter. Even in daylight, you can catch a glimmer from the headlights reflected by street signs.

However, they are not glaring for other road users. In fact, there is an option called Selective Beam anti-dazzle that allows you to leave your headlamps in high-beam mode without fear of irritating or blinding drivers of oncoming vehicles. The technology detects other vehicles ahead of the car and the headlights "blank out" appropriate areas.

The extensive use of LED technology throughout the car has undoubtedly reduced the electricity required from the alternator, which in turn helps with overall fuel consumption.

6 A more dynamic drive

Among all the other changes seen on the 6-series, the last change is what excites me the most. Lisbon roads are mostly poorly maintained - think of trunk roads just north of the Causeway, and then add some more unevenness and pot holes.

The outgoing model would have faired poorly here, especially with its soft and rather unwieldy nature. There would have been too much body movement, and even on Singapore roads, the suspension felt somewhat wallowy at times.

However, the new suspension setup, which is now rid of the weaknesses of the previous system, is impressive. This was done by changing only the rear suspension mounts as well as tuning the suspension software. Apparently, no geometry settings were altered in this iteration. However, current 6-series owners have no cause to celebrate because the software-based tuning cannot be applied to their cars.

Another important software change is the steering programming. The steering feels more direct and precise compared with the last one. At speed, the car feels more stable as the steering does not react as quickly in the first few degrees of movement. The 6-series maintains its point-and-shoot behaviour. Even with all that torque powering the rear wheels on the 650i, the car goes where it is told in a neat and tidy fashion.

Many LCI projects are merely cosmetic (such as in the 1-series) and ignite little excitement. But BMW has done much to refresh the 6-series and, in doing so, hopes to boost sales (85,000 units of the current model have been sold globally).