When you can't get a manual transmission on a new Ferrari at any price -- the 2012 599 GTB was the last car from Maranello to offer a stick shift -- you know times are tough for gear rowers everywhere.
In the exclusive club of four-door, six-figure performance cars, the BMW M6 Gran Coupe is even more rare for allowing buyers to vote for a manual transmission. And that act-of-faith vote -- pull the lever, press the clutch -- will leave well-heeled owners happy to wear out their left heels.
A lot of critical ink has been spilled suggesting that BMW has forgotten how to style a car. But the 6 Series Gran Coupe, along with the latest Z4 convertible and the coming 4 Series Coupe, show that the company's designers can still elicit a Pavlovian response.
As for performance credentials, this high-performance M6 version of the Gran Coupe shares a platform and mechanical components with the M5 sedan and the M6 coupe and convertible. This includes a 560-horsepower 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8 and comprehensive upgrades to the chassis, suspension, brakes, wheels and interior.
In this dearly priced foursome the M6 Gran Coupe is a compelling choice, given its knockout looks, folding rear seat, the most luxurious cabin of the group and the most gear-stirring performance.
Finally, more than most cars, the M6 Gran Coupe is transformed by the time-warping addition of BMW's typically excellent stick shift.
In my previous review of the M5 sedan, M6 coupe and M6 convertible, I found their standard 7-speed M DCT transmission to be a weak link. These cars are rockets, but they also feel a bit aloof and robotized. The dual-clutch, paddle-shifted transmission seems to put even more anesthetic between the driver and the car.
But in the M6 Gran Coupe, with the same horsepower, the ligature of clutch and shifter connected me to the car in the manner I'd been craving. (A manual transmission, I should add, is also available in other M5 and M6 models.)
The feeling was reinforced on the track at the Monticello Motor Club in the Catskills, where the M6 put on quite a show for such a large car. The direct-injection Valvetronic V-8 reacted more readily to the accelerator's lash, reminding me of the technology and potency packed inside. Spanking that shifter, I consistently took the BMW to nearly 150 m.p.h. on the long straightaway, about 10 m.p.h. faster than my speed in Jaguar's new 495-horsepower F-Type sports car. Not bad for a luxury-stuffed grand touring car that weighs 4,400 pounds, about 200 more than the M5.
M Carbon Ceramic brakes, a $9,250 option, brought the car to heel with no loss of stopping power on a blazing summer day.
Still, it was hard to believe that a clutch pedal could so transform my feelings toward a car. There had to be other reasons, right? Yet a BMW engineer assured me that the Gran Coupe's hardware and tuning are virtually identical to the other midsize M cars, from the hydraulic steering and electronic shocks to the limited-slip differential and the rear subframe bolted directly to the body.
That other reason, I supposed, was purely subjective: the Gran Coupe's sheer beauty cast its athleticism into sharper relief.
The price shoots the moon for this combination of style and performance: $115,225 to start (including a $1,300 gas-guzzler tax) and $131,575 as tested. At least the manual transmission is free. To those who argue that BMW should charge less for the stick-shift version, I'd suggest another glance at the Ferrari catalog: be thankful that BMW offers a manual at all.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.