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BMW 640d review

Driven March 2012

BMW 640d review

So then, what do you think is wrong with grand touring? Nothing, actually. What could possibly be wrong? Just the two of you, a well-appointed, comfortable, long-legged car, lots of boot space and, if you’re in Europe, you could be crossing a few countries before the sun sets on a long summer day.

The problem is, you won’t. Because your long-legged grand tourer will be powered by some insanely powerful six, eight or even 12-cylinder petrol engine. It’ll sound great, it’ll cover ground very fast, but by the time you reach the border of your small country, you’ll need to stop and refuel.

No, you can’t put in a smaller petrol engine. What do you mean, why not? “Yes, so my grand tourer has a 1.5-litre 4-cylinder engine and one cylinder shuts off when I’m running low on fuel”. That doesn’t sound good at all. And putting a diesel in would be like turning up at the presidential ball in flip-flops. For all the advancement of diesel technology, it’s still the unglamourous of fuels. Imagine you’re in Monaco and your diesel clatter is reverberating off the V8 and V12 exotica parked as you pass by. Ewww.

But now there’s a solution. It’s called the BMW 640d. It’s a grand tourer. It’s well-appointed. It’s long-legged. It’s comfortable. It has loads of boot space. But it’s powered by the noisy, vibrating, unglamourous low-life of the internal combustion society. A diesel. And this diesel isn’t one of those mighty, torquey, orbit-changing, planet-tugging kind of an engines. It’s a mere 3.0-litre with a mere 308bhp and we doubt it can help an Airbus A380 into the hangar.

What it can do though is get you to 100kph in 6.21 seconds. That’s less than a second off other grand-touring stalwarts like the Audi RS5 (5.32, 444bhp) and even BMW’s petrol-powered 650i (5.39, 407bhp), which has a V8. When you floor this dirty fuel-powered grand tourer, it emits screeches from its rear tyres in first gear.

It then emits another set of screeches as the transmission kicks into second. Then a third set can be faintly heard when the transmission shifts to third.

By which time though, 100kph is long left behind.

Of course, they won’t approve of such things in Monaco, but the 640d is also a great tyre-smoking machine. With 630Nm of torque and very determined feet on the accelerator and the brakes, this 6 can shed quite a bit off its 255/55 R17 rubber without moving an inch. Which is the other relevant thing about the 640d, apart from the engine. The 17-inchers on this aren’t those anorexic ones that have a thin veil of black sprayed on pornographically ridiculous large wheels. So you won’t kerb the wheels when you are parking close to a pavment. Moreover, you won’t have your internal skeletal structure in disarray after hitting a bump.

The suspension settings span Comfort+, Comfort, Sport, Sport+, even Eco Pro. Comfort and Comfort+ barely result in any visible changes. The change is heavily evident in Sport and Sport+. In Sport, the steering becomes tighter and heavier, ride becomes firmer, and gear changes annoying. They’re not violent, but they’re not comfortable either. You just end up with a soft tug every time the car changes gears.

And while traction control gets switched off in Sport+, it still kicks in when you get the car sideways. Now the big question. For all its glory, and all its style, the 640d is going to sound like a Bajaj Matador. And the owners of those exotics will know you’re nothing more than a cheap prick trying to enter the world of old money. Point is, it doesn’t.

This engine is devoid of the drama and acoustics of a petrol. But this 3.0-litre straight six is smooth, doesn’t have any annoying vibrations or clatter, and if you engage the steering-mounted paddles, it actually sounds good between 5000rpm and 5500rpm.

The steering put me in a state of perplex. In the car industry, anything bigger is always more expensive. You want bigger wheels? Pay more. Bigger engine? Pay more. Longer wheelbase? Pay more. What happens to that rule when it comes to steering wheels? You pay more if you want your steering smaller. The 640d’s is a bit too large and adds bulk to an already rather bulky car.

Oh yes, it may be a two-door, but the 6 is not a lithe, sinewy sportscar. Its on-road dynamics are brilliant and it’s good around corners. However, putting a smile on your face is somewhere at the bottom on its list of priorities.

What is on top of its list though, is the need to be extremely competent, extremely fast, extremely sure-footed, and to try and sound closer to a small-capacity petrol engine than an annoying diesel. In fact, except for the howl of a high-revving petrol, you’d never feel you’ve compromised with this diesel. But if you’re looking for a sportscar that’ll leave you with an intoxicating experience every time you turn the wheel, the 640d is definitely not it.

On the other hand, if you simply want a bulletproof, fast and comfortable car that can turn heads the way only a two-door can, the 640d is perfect. It returns 9kpl in the city, which is a range of around 600km on a single tank of 70litres. Trust us, on the open highway that'll be way more than 9kpl.

So your mates in a Ferrari V12 or Bentley W12 might get to 100 quicker. And assuming they hit the kind of road that can get their cars close to 300kph – as likely to happen as an Indian politician returning illegitimate wealth back to the economy – chances are they’d have to stop every 200-300km to satiate their car’s intestines with some Middle Eastern gold. Which is when you’ll be passing by in your slightly slower grand tourer, pull over into the fuel station, say a kind word or two and continue onward, while they still have another half a tank to fill.

Show me one grand-touring two-door that does that. And BMW seems to have taken great pains to ensure this diesel behaves and sounds like a petrol. The lack of any diesel noise apart, even the way the power is put down is petrol-like. No turbo-lag, no sudden rush of horses. It all flows consistent and quick.

At first, I did find this idea of a diesel GT a bit hollow. But this machine is sophisticatedly smart. Any idiot can make a comfortable car and plonk in a big V8 or V12 petrol. It will seem right, sound right and make you look right.

But for all that speed, all that noise and all that status boosting, you aren’t going to get real far on your grand tour. In fact, the 640d is the kind of car you’d want to keep hidden away deep in your garage. The capitalists will want it banned because it makes them look like idiots with exotics that are ridiculously expensive to run. And the socialists will want it given away free to the poor.

Moreover, in a nation where the oil minister thinks diesel cars should be heavily taxed and where the Centre for Science and Environment still thinks diesel is a fuel that clogs our arteries and keeps the sun from reaching the ground, the 640d is like an apple to people who believe gravity is an act of god. The things this car connotes are way beyond what a test-drive report can encapsulate.

The 640d breaks a lot of conventions and turns some on their heads. Besides, on a grand tour, who do you think will reach first? The one who can go faster? Or the one who can keep going further?

Sriram Narayanan

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