BMW M6 bytes a bit much

Andretti explained, among a myriad of other topics, his views on automotive electronics.

While Andretti’s comments were motor racing-related they conversely were relevant to road car technology.

Sitting in the lagoon restaurant of the Marriott Hotel at Surfers Paradise, Andretti was having a good old natter about whether driving skill has been taken away in this age of electronic overload.

“I look at the computer as a tool and I’ve said it a thousand times, a tool to advance your knowledge.”

The 1978 F1 world champion qualified his opinion by saying “a computer does not do the work for you – it gives you information.

“But you have to ask the computer what you want to know therefore it’s not a substitute for what you know.”

That conversation was recalled when a letter to the editor in an issue of Forbes magazine in March appeared where a reader proclaimed his horror at electronic advances in cars.

He wrote: “Allowing software unfettered control of our automobiles removes one of our chief assets; human decision making.”

Well thanks for coming and don’t mind us because for all the fancy pants technology there isn’t a car you can buy that does the driving for you.

The letter writer suggested if a child stood in the middle of the road and a car was programmed not to swerve into another car then it may instead swerve towards the child and put it at risk of being run over.

One car which ranks as a gold medallist in terms of electronic wizardry, if not complexity, is BMW’s M6 convertible.

For $296,000 there are a trillion things you can program it to do – but you can’t program it to run over a human.

The M6 soft top possesses the same complex and sometimes awkward SMG Drivelogic 7-speed transmission attached to the 5-litre V10 engine as the hell-raising M5.

But the real trickery is in the spider’s web framework of M car’s software.

The driver has an arsenal of tricks from which to chose, depending on mood, road conditions or whether you can hire a track for a day to let the full complement of the M6’s considerable athletic juices flow.

There are a welter of different settings to suit your taste with the EDC (Electronic Damper Control) smoothing, or firming, ride in three distinct settings.

The SMG gearbox is good for 11 different driving programs – six for manual S mode and five in automatic or D mode.

Most are plain useless and make you wonder why BMW don’t simplify the whole deal and cut the number of settings to normal, sporty, and hyper performance, for example.

In sequential mode, the pure driving program is position six and this can only be activated if Dynamic Stability Control is switched off.

The magic button to cut all the nonsensical steps you have to take to personalise the settings is M on the steering wheel.

Press M (the “magic button”) and it lights everything up like a pinball machine.

It gives you an instant extra 100bhp to lift maximum grunt to a neat 500bhp or 373kW, it firms up the dampers to their hardest setting and it gives you the maximum position of the Drivelogic gearbox.

Whammo, everything is instantly maxxed out for a red-hot launch.

All this smart-alec stuff is no gimmick.

The personna of the M6 softtop changes from a little old woman shuffling down the street to a manic pole dancer on an endless prescription of No-Doz.

Trying to convey the extent of the grip levels, the integrity of the rebound damping and the quality of the meaty steering feel of this convertible in words seems impossible.

You need to taste the real thing to fully understand how the ragtop M6 can transfer all of its considerable energy on to the road with prodigious ease.

In fact the dare is to find a road where you can explore the car’s limits and the truth is they are few and far between.

What helps harness all the brutality is the tricky M differential lock that keeps torque nice and balanced while it feeds varying amounts of torque to the rear driven wheels.

That is one of the main reasons why the M6 convertible is such a traction attraction.

Flaws in rigidity are always the issue with softtops but flex and shake here is negligible and you really need to be a test engineer who knows how to lap the Nordschleife blindfolded to detect any weakness.

The M6 fires from 0-100km/h in less than 5sec but it does not lose marks when it comes to changing direction.

Blip the right peg and the induction note and exhaust note coming from the four barrels sticking out the rear spoiler are infectious.

This ballistic convertible is simply a car for all seasons, all conditions.

It is as comfortable trucking along the city grind as it is in the spaghetti twists.

Every now and then you need to glance at the head-up display that beams a colourful graphic of revs, speed and gear selection on to the windscreen.

Of course all this silky performance is backed up by a braking package that can bring the M6 convertible to a stop from 100km/h in 36 metres.

The two-stage brake lighting display is handy in stop-go traffic particularly if you need to give the pedal a serious nudge in a hurry which is when the area of brake lights grows more intense.

Removing the carbon fibre roof that defines the M6 coupe has lost little in the way of dynamics.

This V10 is a weapon and like many supercars these days, they are engineered to be driven way above what is socially acceptable on public roads.

Expect to clock up the fly-buy points big-time at the petrol bowser as this is a demon on the drink and shows no respect for premium petrol prices heading towards $1.50 a litre.

This test car averaged 19-litres/100km on a 450km drive that comprised 300km of 110km/h running and the rest in stop/start weekday traffic.

Separately, a spirited run on fast winding back roads lifted the guzzle-rate to well over 20litres/100km.

The M6 convertible is not a car for everyone, the price alone backing up that statement.

But it is a car you need to spend a lot of time in if you are to have any chance of becoming intimate with the performance and electronic gadgetry.

You need to tell it what to do in order for you to extract the best from the experience and learn what particular settings work best in particular environments.

And for that, the BMW M6 convertible is truly gifted.