At last BMW launches a strikingly designed coupe with impeccable manners

The great Bayerische Motoren Werke's initial foray into motor car manufacture started inauspiciously in 1927 with the launch of its Austin Seven Dixi. Built under licence, this middle-class motorised perambulator did the job but was not exactly the sort of machine to get the pulse of a young thruster racing.

BMW engineers soon got on top of their game and by the late Thirties the natty 328 sports racer won such legendary events as the Mille Miglia and the Le Mans 24 hours. BMW was now the sports car choice of gentlemen drivers. The quirky Isetta Bubble car followed in the mid-Fifties; it was a cute design icon but a bit short on road presence. Then the gorgeous 507 sports car, styled by Count Von Goertz, upped the ante once again, but it took until the early Seventies for BMW to produce a really good looking, powerful and desirable sports coupe, the BMW 3.0CSi.

Over the last decade BMWs have arguably become a little humdrum. But things have changed dramatically and the new wave of BMWs have caused consternation in the motoring press. It's all down to Chris Bangle, head of design. He has come up with what he refers to as his "flame surface" design: more razor edges, seams, darts and tucks than the sharpest of Dior's suits.

Most current "prestige" cars are smooth and organic so the new BMWs stand in stark contrast to the smugly rounded Audis, Mercedes and Porsches. And the 645Ci coupe is the most striking of the line up. BMW has produced a really arresting coupe, one that eclipses the 6-Series of the Eighties, the 8-Series of the Nineties and rivals the original Seventies 3.0CSi - the car Bangle used as his inspiration.

So here is a "grown-up" coupe. At last we have a machine that has strong road presence without ramming it down the throat of all other drivers. The 645Ci is mature and confident with a languid poise. If this was the Seventies, it might be described as svelte. Let's stick with languid.

The first 645Ci comes with BMW's innovative 4.4 litre all-aluminium V8, a superb engine and one that best suits this car's relaxed demeanour. BMW will no doubt launch hotter versions in the future - but why bother. This incarnation sprints to 60mph in 5.4 seconds and tops out at 155mph with its peerless six-speed ZF automatic gearbox in place. The optional manual is redundant.

The car's responses can be sharpened by the Active Steering and Dynamic Drive settings which make it handle superbly although sharp transverse ridges can cause some thump. Well, it is a sports car and the ride should be on the firm side.

Importantly, BMW has worked hard at keeping the 645Ci light thanks to intelligent technology. The boot lid and wings are plastic, and the bonnet, doors and suspension assemblies are aluminium. This all helps improve performance and economy.

The interior is pure BMW Bauhaus: clean, crisp and functional, with one caveat. The infernal iDrive control system, although second-generation, is still a hassle to use and requires a close read of the manual. But iDrive aside, the BMW 645Ci is innovative and different. And, unlike recent BMWs, it gives the appearance of never trying too hard.

BMW 645Ci AT A GLANCE

Price: €68,107

Power: 329bhp

Engine: V8,4398cc

Top speed: 155mph

0-60mph: 5.4 seconds

By Robert Coucher

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