BMW K1600 GT: When what you really want is a car

With a six-cylinder engine and full-dress sport tourer design, the K1600 GT sits at the pinnacle of BMW Motorrad’s range.

What a topsy-turvy world we live in. Take BMW for instance. For the longest time, one of the heavily advertised USPs for their cars was the creamy smoothness of the inline-six engines. Yes, they had four-cylinder motors but those were for dinky entry-level models. As for the bikes, try as they might, the Motorrad boys couldn’t replace the venerable boxer-twin despite it being as contemporary as eight-track cartridges.

The ‘6’ on the engine block signifies the number of cylinders and ironically, almost extinct on a new BMW car in Malaysia.

In 2017, you can hardly find a new BMW with an inline-six. In fact, if you want more than four cylinders in a 3/4-Series, you’ll need to buy an M4 in Malaysia, which means there are now less engine formats for buyers to choose from.

Their motorcycle division is doing the exact opposite. The boxer engine remains (in both air-cooled and liquid-cooled form) but there are now two four-cylinder motors (K1300 and S1000 family) and a shared powertrain from Kymco (C650). The crown jewel though is the inline-six used to power the K1600 GT and GTL.

Launched in 2011, the K1600 family set new standards for smoothness and effortless urge in a touring bike, which was both a blessing and curse for BMW. Everybody could appreciate how good the marriage of new engine and machine was on paper, but it felt boring to ride, looked a bit like an overgrown scooter and kept the rider out of the equation. Hardly good points to have if you ride bikes for the interactive experience.

Adaptive xenons adjust their brightness according to conditions and will swivel to allow the rider to see through corners.

So, six years on, the Motorrad boys have given their sport tourer an update to win back disillusioned fans (many owners have called it the worse BMW bike they bought) and maybe even bring new members to the fold.

What’s new on the GT? Mechanically, it’s a case of refining the total package rather than going for an overhaul. The 1,649cc engine is unchanged, producing 160hp at 7,750rpm and an impressive 175Nm at 5,250rpm, but the ancillaries are new. Shift Assistant Pro has been added for clutch-free up and down shifts (with rev matching) plus there’s reverse gear too, which is taken from the GTL.

Your left hand has numerous buttons to press but the main control is the thumbwheel that gives access to various menus and settings.

Other mechanical changes include a new generation of Dynamic ESA semi-active damping, active cornering headlights and a new exhaust system to meet Euro4 emissions regulations. The fairing has been restyled too, especially the area around the shins, which now house two lockable compartments with one containing a USB connector to charge phones.

Climb aboard and you can’t help feeling the car division boys lent a hand to their Motorrad counterparts. The K1600 GT has cruise control, central locking, keyless operation and even the fuel filler cap uses an electronic button. Ride in the rain and there’s heated seats and grips to keep your hands and bum toasty with all functions accessed via an extensive on-board menu system that’s easily navigable via a thumbwheel. Even the radio sounds good though you’ll need to pair it with earbuds if you want to hear any music when on the move.

With twin panniers, a comfortable seat and more mod-cons than the average car, you can cover big mileage and not feel beat up when you arrive.

BMW makes no claims of the new exhaust adding decibels but to my ears it sounds better than before. There is noticeably more induction burble and while it’s not as uncouth as an Akrapovic equipped S1000 XR at peak revs, the music it makes is unique and characterful.

That’s an odd word to use when describing a bike but one of the main bugbears the old K1600 GT had was the perceived lack of character or soul. The added noise makes it seem more exciting, which is backed up by a turn of speed that shows BMW placed the emphasis on sport when designing their sport tourer.

Smartly designed instrument panel shows more car influences and provides a wealth of information.

Topped up with fluids and panniers, the K1600 GT tips the scales at 330kg but the weight i not an issue once you get moving. Rev the engine out in its most aggressive setting (you can choose from Rain, Road and Dynamic) and it feels quick and gathers speed like a proverbial train. 250km/h would be a doddle on this bike and if you raise the electrically adjustable screen high enough, you won’t even feel the wind blast.

When you’re not riding like a loon, the big BMW will easily inhale far-off horizons in one gulp and thanks to the 25-litre tank the frequency of stops is dictated by bladder control instead of fuel range. You can’t criticise how it feels on a smooth highway but even when the blacktop looks like a series of swirls on your Waze screen, it’ll corner confidently and allow you to get low enough to fear for the paint finish on those big panniers.

Each pannier will swallow a full-face helmet so they can be stowed away when you’re not riding.

BMW can’t beat Isaac Newton though, so while the K1600 GT is fast for its size, it feels like a 330kg bike when you’re braking and cornering in quick succession. The weight transfer will give your wrists and shoulders (along with the brakes, suspension and tyres) a workout and though most would say only an idiot would ride a tourer like a sport bike, it’s hard to resist doing so when the engine feels so energetic.

Speaking of physics, there’s also an odd aerodynamic wobble at about 160km/h where things feel a little loose as if the tyres are over inflated. It disappears beyond 170km/h but it can make you fill your Y-fronts the first time it occurs.

Four-piston callipers grips fat 330mm discs with ABS but the brakes just about up to the task of stopping this 330kg beast.

Those minor issues aside, there’s very little to dislike about this bike. It’s comfortable, fast, practical and doesn’t force you to forego fun to enjoy its touring capabilities. Conversely though, there’s also still very little here to excite most bikers.

Call it a lack of soul if you want but every time I got on the K1600 GT I felt like the bike and its clever electronics did most of the work and I was there just to steer it away from potholes and trailers. Everything feels a little over damped because feedback has been sacrificed at the altar of effortlessness to the point that riding becomes about the destination instead of the journey.

That sounds like a familiar requiem and you can imagine the ad copy for a BMW 2-Series Active Tourer or a 7-Series limo trumpeting about arriving feeling fresh and rested. This however is a bike. Sorry BMW Motorrad. As clever as it may be, the K1600 range must remain the weakest link in your arsenal and as a rider, if I really wanted a bells and whistles tourer from you, my choice would be the R1200 RT and RM36,000 in my bank account.

BMW K1600 GT
Price: RM159,900.00 (including GST, w/o insurance)
Engine: 1,649cc, liquid-cooled, 24V, inline-6
Output: 160hp @ 7,750rpm; 175Nm @ 5,250rpm
Frame: Cast aluminium bridge
Suspension: BMW Duolever, BMW Paralever, Dynamic ESA
Brakes: 4-piston calliper, 320mm discs (F), 2-piston calliper, 320mm disc (R), ABS
Wheelbase: 1,618mm
Fuel tank: 25 litres