Purists Be Damned, This Is A Proper M

2012 BMW M6 Convertible - front three-quarter view, top down

The new BMW M6, and to an even greater extent this M6 Convertible, often causes automotive apoplexy in your typical armchair motoring enthusiast. That's because as soon as the M badge is applied to any BMW, all sorts of expectations are heaped upon it. Mostly those entail remembering what we, collectively, loved about the E30 M3, the E28 M5 and to a lesser extent, the E24 M6. Then cue bemoaning the added weight, complexity and unasked-for modernity of the new M.

Of course, those perceived infractions are all tantamount to treason for lovers of BMW history, but they're also critical elements of building a new, safe, stunningly competent luxury car that real buyers in the segment will take seriously. And the really good news is that, despite the sheer bulk, turbocharged engines, the continued existence of iDrive and a lack of manual transmissions, cars like this 2012 M6 Convertible are – shock, horror – far better overall than their storied precursors.

Let us immediately jump into defending that last statement, lest we be pilloried into early retirement by our razor-tongued commentariat. There are two real missions for this M6 droptop: go really, really fast, and make your driver look and feel like a million bucks. The convertible even more than the coupe, is meant to be a special-occasion car; where the occasion in question is a grand touring road trip more often than a day at the track, for instance. On these fronts, the 2012 version of the M car is far better off than was its ancestor, which was objectively slower and less richly appointed.

2012 BMW M6 Convertible front view2012 BMW M6 Convertible rear view

An impossibly long hood, aggressively raked windscreen and longish rear overhang all cause the body to appear about 50-feet long.

Whether or not the M6 Convertible rises to the level of "specialness" required from a visual standpoint is truly an open question. This is an unmistakably large vehicle, especially for a 2+2 that isn't overly endowed in the rear-seat quarters. An impossibly long hood, aggressively raked windscreen and longish rear overhang all cause the body to appear about 50-feet long (especially in profile). The M-spec body kit, most notably its front fascia, makes the 6 Series seem more aggressive, certainly, but not more beautiful in our opinion. The standard 650i convertible is such an arrow-straight, thin-hipped thing that the M6 treatment almost causes the car to seem cartoonish from some angles – albeit in a particularly brutal and fast kind of a way. Frankly, if we were judging by sheetmetal alone, we'd take any one of the Mercedes-Benz, Porsche or Jaguar competitors here.

Inside the cabin is a totally different story, however, as BMW has created a space that is at once lovely, useful and utterly rich. There's no question that the driver's seat is the best in the house, especially with the M-specific three-spoke steering wheel to hang on to. The rim offers a pleasant thickness while still having a great open space at top to see the gauges through. Leather here, and everywhere one can touch, is soft with nice graining. Not a single driver control feels anything less than well weighted, solidly constructed or elegantly designed for its task. A massive 10.2-inch display dominates the forward-center view, and it proved very readable in the shifting light as we drove with the top down.

2012 BMW M6 Convertible interior2012 BMW M6 Convertible front seats2012 BMW M6 Convertible infotainment system2012 BMW M6 Convertible center console

Mentally quick power delivery and exotic exhaust wail causes one to be a pretty happy camper.

In fact, the only luxury that was noticeably absent from this M6 interior was that of excess space. The front seats are incredibly supportive and malleable, but they're also quite large. A driver taller than six-feet, two-inches (your author included) will find just enough leg and elbow room to feel comfortable behind the wheel, and will never sit quite low enough behind that windscreen header to get truly tucked in. And, of course, if your big-and-tall driver is behind the wheel, any useable space for the seat behind him disappears but quick. The four-place BMW may boast more room than a Porsche 911 Cabriolet, for instance, but it's not a long-range tourer for four adults. Two grownups will find the trip very nice though, and very fast if need be.

This is a large car. It has a high curb weight (4,508 pounds) and impressive dimensions for both length and width (193 inches and 75.6 inches, respectively). But putting all of that bulk in quick context is the brain-busting power of BMW's 4.4-liter TwinPower Turbo V8. A very likely underrated 560 horsepower and 500 pound-feet of torque move this big convertible forward with alacrity that belies its size, and in a manner that most certainly calls into question BMW's stated 0-60 time of 4.2 seconds. (The well-respected testers at Car and Driver saw 60 mph in four seconds flat, for instance.) Further, even if BMW's official figures were true, the character with which the M6 gets up and goes – its mentally quick power delivery and exotic exhaust wail causes one to be a pretty happy camper. We like the engine... is that clear?

2012 BMW M6 Convertible engine

BMW's new seven-speed dual clutch transmission seems like a perfect match for the gargantuan power, too. Manual mode executes upshifts and downshifts quicker than we'd ever manage with a traditional stick, and yet it doesn't suffer the low-speed jerkiness that many other DCTs seem unable to resist. Considering that the Getrag manual used in the new M5 leaves a lot to be desired, we're perfectly happy endorsing the gearbox that BMW itself clearly prefers for this car.

It is very agreeable to drive this 6 at both fast and slow speeds.

Even with such monumental thrust available at the twitch of a toe and the tap of a finger, the M6 Convertible does not punish its owner in all types of driving for its very high level of capability overall. Said another way: it is very agreeable to drive this 6 at both fast and slow speeds. Much of this is down to the configurability that is built into the driving experience thanks to advanced software and mutable settings for shift logic, steering effort, suspension damping and more. Controls for all settings are found astride the stubby gear lever, and all feature three levels to choose from. What's more, like in M cars past, a predetermined selection of settings can be accessed and implemented by way of either of the two M buttons on the left hand spoke of the steering wheel.

Keep all of the settings on the gentle cycle, and this bad boy M6 will glide along in a very similar manner as the "lesser" 650i. Nice ride, plenty of power, quiet with the top up and with no neighbor-scaring sounds emanating from the tailpipes.

2012 BMW M6 Convertible headlight2012 BMW M6 Convertible wheel detail2012 BMW M6 Convertible taillight2012 BMW M6 Convertible rear bumper

Aim all of these settings at the hardest core end of their ranges, and you'll find yourself driving a car with blade-sharp throttle response, high-effort steering and a suspension that offers almost zero lean in high-speed corners. On some of our favorite Mid-Michigan driving roads, and with the M6 thusly configured, the big convertible seemed to shrink around us as the road became more technical. The speed at which the nose turned in and the available grip from the front end were well matched, though not racecar like, and the entire package felt remarkably settled when transitioning smartly from corner to corner. You'll find, with time and confidence, that while you may be able to make the far-away rear end perform some of the smoky feats that are to be expected of a powerful rear-driver, such lairy antics are naturally quelled by the M6's excellent balance.

Which isn't to say that the convertible is a natural dancer, exactly. Mass and a long wheelbase are clearly in evidence in all but the most obtusely angled corners; but BMW has done a damned fine job "hiding" the physics that govern such things. Also, the fact that the brakes feel utterly unflappable and resistant to overheating helps here, too. It's impressive technical work, but it doesn't satisfy the same kind of purist driving instincts that guide those for whom the original M cars are sacrosanct.

Close your eyes and think about your own go-to driving road. Almost certainly, no matter how winding and twisting the route, there is stretch where a good corner opens up into a decently long straight line. That's the place where this super convertible is most at home; transitioning flatly out of a bend into a place where the throttle can be floored and the totality of the epic M engine's power can be uncorked. It helps if the road can become a loop to run again and again, and that there not be much pressing you to get to home or to work. If you love convertible driving, you shouldn't find much to disagree with here.

2012 BMW M6 Convertible rear 3/4 view

At almost twice the weight of an E30, and with more computing power than IBM could've fit in a spare bedroom in 1972; this is a proper M car.

Let's consider, briefly, just what a puzzle the M6 Convertible poses for its top-dropping competition, too. After all, being good to drive, sexy and open to the world is not a set of character traits that BMW has cornered the market on. Big-time competitors include the Mercedes-Benz SL63 AMG, Jaguar XKR (or XKR-S) and the Porsche 911 Carrera S Cabriolet. All of these cars are fast, cool and really expensive, it's true. But the BMW entry, in addition to being arguably the most technology-laden, is either less expense, more powerful or quicker (and/or some combination of those things) than all three. That doesn't make the M6 an unquestioned home run here – the Porsche drives better and the Jaguar looks better as we've said – but it does make the car far more competitive than you might imagine when you see its $125,595 sticker price.

Make no mistake; this is a proper M car. At almost twice the weight of an E30, and with more computing power than IBM could've fit in a spare bedroom in 1972 when M-Technik was established; this is a proper M car. Since that time and those early examples, the one constant that we've observed from all M-badged vehicles is that they push the envelope by way of engineering advancement on all fronts, and with little regard for the conventions established with vehicles past. That this convertible does all of that, while also serving up one of the plushest driving experiences in BMW's range, is rather remarkable.

A pure driving car this is not. Nor will it serve to quell the bitching of those who insist that BMW has long since lost its way. But the BMW M6 Convertible is awfully good at its job; it goes fast and makes its driver feel great. On that point, there's little to argue.