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BMW 645Ci

With flights to Europe costing as little as £1, travelling has never been so affordable. But a long time before budget airlines came along, the proper way to explore the Continent involved loading up a car and heading for a Channel port. The age of the Grand Tourer was born - and today, it's enjoying something of a revival. With that in mind, BMW has relaunched the 6-Series.

There's no denying the new 6-Series is a competent grand tourer. The engine is sublime and the exhaust note is an acoustic thrill. The 645Ci has rekindled fond memories of the old 6, and BMW should be applauded for that. However, much of the equipment is on the cost-options list.

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With flights to Europe costing as little as £1, travelling has never been so affordable. But a long time before budget airlines came along, the proper way to explore the Continent involved loading up a car and heading for a Channel port. The age of the Grand Tourer was born - and today, it's enjoying something of a revival. With that in mind, BMW has relaunched the 6-Series.

The last time we saw the number on the back of a Beemer was in 1989, when production of the 635CSi ended. However, early indications are that the new 6 is set to get the brand back on track in the expanding luxury GT market. The entire UK allocation for 2004 has already been snapped up, and orders stretch well into 2005. We got behind the wheel of a left-hand-drive 645Ci in Issue 777 - but have the people now waiting for their UK cars bought wisely?

Sitting on its bespoke all-aluminium platform, the body of the BMW stretches out before you. But though the controversial, if aerodynamic, styling makes it seem large, at 4,820mm bumper-to-bumper it is shorter than a 5-Series.

The protruding double kidney grille hides an electronic air-flap control which regulates the amount of air en-tering the engine for improved performance. And what a powerplant it is! The 4.4-litre V8, which has already impressed us in the 545i and 745i, suits the 6-Series's grand tourer image even better. With 333bhp on tap, 0-60mph takes only 5.6 seconds before the new car tops out at an electronically limited 155mph. Maximum torque is 450Nm at 3,600rpm but, more impressively, 330Nm is available from 1,000rpm.

In the real world this makes for smooth, effortless overtaking, particularly in third and fourth gears. Drivers can choose an SMG gearbox as an £880 option or a full automatic at £1,350, but our test drive only concentrated on the six-speed manual.

And while you're glancing at the extras list, why not take a look at the Active Steering. At £675, it is inexplicably £135 cheaper than the same option on the 5-Series, but opinion is still divided as to whether it's worth it or not.

With 50:50 weight distribution, our 6 handled well, aided by the optional Dynamic Drive intelligent suspension system. And inside, refinement is first-class, too. A full leather interior is fitted as standard, as are multi-function steering and electric seats. Park Distance Control is also included, and the 450-litre boot capacity is the best in its class, so you'll be able to take plenty of luggage on those long-distance trips.

But for all the 645Ci's plus points, two factors count against it. One is the styling; the other is the price. The model we drove had nearly £6,500-worth of additional equipment, but didn't include a cup-holder, which was a £70 option. On a car costing nearly £50,000, we'd expect such simple kit to be standard.

Driving the 645Ci easily beats flying budget class, but a Porsche 911 is a better driver's GT, while others may prefer the graceful looks of Jaguar's XK8.

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