There is arguably nothing more evocative in the world of automobile design than a long and lean gran turismo. The GT name was born in homage to grand touring, and strongly implies a powerful sports car capable of delivering long distance travel in luxury and style.
BMW has a particularly rich heritage in this genre - from the 327 and 503 coupés and convertibles of the 1930s and 1950s, to the first 6 Series coupé of the 1970s and 1980s and later the 8 Series coupé in the 1990s, before the GT mantle finally went back to the all-new 6 Series of 2002.
Muddled numbers aside, the classic grand tourer is very much where the latest 6 Series coupé and convertible recantations are positioned. Unusually, the marque choose to launch the convertible first, with a coupé poised for its premiere at the Shanghai Motor Show later in April (highlighting the growing importance of the Chinese market).
The 6 convertible retains the essential GT aesthetic - a two-door coupé with a long sweeping bonnet, low stance and a cabin set back to enhance these evocative proportions. The BMW signature grille, broad air intakes and the wide, contoured bonnet dominate the car's 'face'. According to exterior designer Nader Faghihzadeh, inspiration came from the movement of water, and an aquatic theme is referenced throughout on the car's surfaces and forms. 'Imagine moving water. It is flat but then you introduce distortion by entering a stick into it to create an opening,' explains Faghihzadeh. 'What you see on the car are hard edges that merge into soft surfaces. The geometry of water became my inspiration for surface treatment.'
The Munich-based Iranian designer's proposition won an internal competition for the 6 Series coupé and convertible. Faghihzadeh explains how from the start he wanted the car to represent a modern sporty aesthetic. 'The interplay of proportions and surface detail had to be the focus - the surface treatment needed to create this athletic elegance,' he says.
One continuous line runs the length of the car to the rear, right through the integrated rear lights. This is a great trick to create visual length. At the rear, the surfaces change direction, accentuating the rear wheels and forming a visual expression of rear wheel drive - a traditional BMW trademark. The aquatic theme continues at the front, where the distinctive BMW shark nose is complemented by an almost fin-like treatment of the rear of the soft-top roof. 'The fins in the rear creates a second section at the boot that looks almost like a boat,' enthuses Faghihzadeh. Apart from being a rather quirky style exercise it serves as a functional housing for the folding glass rear window.
The classic retractable cloth roof, rather than a hardtop like the 3 Series convertible, lends the bigger car the breezy romance associated with open-top driving. Faghihzadeh notes that it is very uncompromising for such a long car to have a fabric roof that has to function as well as the seamless roof of a coupé. Taking just 19 seconds to open up (at speeds of up to 25mph), the roof is available in three colours, including one with a new anthracite silver affect.
Inside all is typical BMW, with a highly driver-focused cabin with all functions, including the central section of the instrument panel that contains the iDrive system, tilted towards the driver. Despite the use of traditional material wood, leather and chrome, there are enough sporty touches to set it apart from the more 'adult' 7 Series. And although lower in height than its predecessor, the 2+2 layout offers greater headroom in both the front and back seats. Plus, as expected the car offers the very latest navigation and connectivity intelligence as well as driver assist and safety technology.
It's easy to draw a lean and elegant luxury convertible like the 6, but few carmakers are capable of turning conceptual ponderings into a cohesive production vehicle. Faghihzadeh and his team have taken a minimalist approach, reducing the car's design to a few simple lines. The result is a car that manages to look graceful in the flesh -- especially in darker shades that slim the sizeable body -- yet seems always ready to take to the road, with perhaps a dash more style than speed. A classic gran turismo.