When it comes to building touring motorcycles German-motorsports conglomerate BMW has established itself as a leader. This year it upgraded its premium-grade luxury touring platform with the release of a new flagship model: the all-new 2012 BMW
K1600 GTL ($26,340).
Set your eyes on the new K-bike and it’s quite clear this is a BMW. The round shape of the halo-style headlights and smooth sculpted lines of the bodywork are all textbook BMW design features. We’re especially fond of the way the headlights look when powered as well as the streamlined air-piercing structure of the nose that looks more fighter jet than motorcycle.
Even though it weighs some 153 pounds less than the Gold Wing, it still feels like a large motorcycle when seated at the controls. Sure it doesn’t feel quite as long or wide but it’s certainly close. Our test bike came fitted with the lower 29.5 inch seat but it still felt nearer to the ground than the Honda’s (29.1 inch) despite what the spec chart reads. The seat itself is a little more narrow and doesn’t seem quite as well padded as the Honda or Can-Am but even after eight hours in the saddle it proved to be every bit as comfortable.
Elegant instrumentation appears similar in design to BMW’s line of luxury cars. The analog speedometer and tachometer are easy to read and feature a bright white backlighting. A rectangular color LCD display has enhanced resolution compared to the Honda’s but it is not quite as big. The K1600 GTL features a more consolidated control interface. Although there are a lot fewer buttons than the Gold Wing it has almost just as many features including heated hand grips/seats, cruise control and an XM and iPod compatible stereo. Notably missing was a GPS that is only available as an accessory, however, it does offer push-button windshield adjustment. It also takes a little bit more time to navigate through the menu with the multi-controller joy-stick device (located on the left-hand side handlebar) but after a few rides you start to figure things out pretty quick and it works well overall.
“It took me some time to figure out how to use everything,” notes Gauger. “The Honda’s set-up is a little more straightforward because you’ll have a dedicated button controlling each feature. But after you get the hang of it the BMW’s system works nicely, plus it is way less cluttered.”
While the electronics are interesting, without question the highlight of this motorcycle is its Inline-Six cylinder engine. BMW has a long-history of building engines with this configuration, so it comes as no surprise that the motorcycle-version is so well-engineered. Thumb the starter and the engine roars to life with a deep, slightly raspy growl. In our sound tests it was only slightly louder than the Honda (79 dB at idle, 92 dB at half of maximum engine speed – 4250 rpm) in person the difference is quite noticeable, and for the better.
As soon as you crack open the throttle its apparent how well-balanced this engine is. Like the Honda it has no engine vibration through its 8500 rpm range. The powerband feels smooth too. While it doesn’t have the same flat torque curve it is much more broad-feeling and overall superior to both the Can-Am and the Honda. In excess of 100 lb-ft of torque is available from 4300 rpm with a peak of 113.78 lb-ft arriving at 5300 revs. This, along with its superior horsepower rating of 136.84 hp peak @ 6800 rpm, give it bragging rights as the most powerful engine in this test.
And since that it only weighs 767 pounds with a full 7.0 gallon load of fuel (biggest in class), the power to weight ratio is exceptional. In our acceleration tests the BMW sprinted from a standstill to 60 mph in just 4.39 seconds. That’s 2.41 seconds better than the Spyder and just over a second faster than the G-Wing. It was more of the same in the quarter-mile with it running in a time of 12.65 seconds with a 12.7 mph higher trap speed than the Honda. Compared to the other machines the BMW employs one extra forward transmission gear but doesn’t offer reverse. But since it weighs so much less than the other bikes it really isn’t needed.
“The BMW has a full-on sportbike engine,” says Steeves. “The amount of power that it dishes out is borderline absurd. I can’t believe a touring bike can have this much motor. And the crazy thing is that you get all that power and performance and it still feels civilized. Plus the overall character and sound it emits from the exhaust pipes make you feel like you’re at the controls of a race car. The BMW might just have one of the best engines ever made.”
Despite employing a significantly more powerful engine, the BMW actually posted up much better fuel mileage than the competition. We calculated an average of 35.0 mpg which netted us a range of 245 miles based on the capacity of the 7.0 gallon fuel cell.
Advanced electronics including adjustable engine and throttle mapping allow the rider to tune engine performance based on skill or road conditions. For the most part we relied on the ‘Road’ setting, which allowed for maximum power with a less abrupt-feeling throttle response. By selecting ‘Dynamic’ mode throttle sensitivity is increased but it becomes a little too sensitive for our liking. There is also a ‘Rain’ setting which reduces power for use in traction-limited conditions. In addition to the power modes the K1600 GTL also integrates traction control.
More electronic wizardry comes in the form of computer-assisted suspension adjustment. A total of three suspension modes are offered (Normal, Comfort, Sport), furthermore the rider can customize each mode based on if you’re carrying luggage and/or a passenger. Each of the modes has a big effect on way the bike handles. Obviously for canyon carving we preferred riding in the ‘Sport’ mode but ‘Comfort’ had its place when racking up miles on the interstate and ‘Normal’ was versatile enough to run when you didn’t know what type of road conditions you were going to encounter ahead.
Handling felt noticeably lighter than the other two machines. In fact, the Beemer handles so well and offers such a high-level of ground clearance that it has the ability to surprise those on 1000cc sportbikes through some turns. The Bridgestone tires serve up great grip and the traction control system allows the rider to ride closer to the edge without having to worry about hitting the deck. Stability at speed was also at a level above the competition and with ‘Sport’ mode selected the chassis had reduced propensity to squirm even during aggressive cornering maneuvers.
“BMW’s engineers really nailed it with this one,” comments Steeves. “Touring motorcycles aren’t supposed to handle this good. If you blindfolded me and said ‘go ride this bike’ I honestly wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between it and a sportbike—it handles that good.”
The K1600 GTL received more praise in the stopping department. As opposed to the Honda and Can-Am the front and rear brakes are operated independently. ABS is part of the package too. Both brakes offer similar level of outright stopping power as the Gold Wing’s but they have an elevated level of feel which makes them friendlier to use aggressively. In our braking test it stopped from 60 mph in 137 feet—two more than the three-wheel equipped Can-Am but four feet less than the Gold Wing.
Then there's the Adaptive Headlight system which lights up the road in a way that the other two machines in this test can only dream of. The dual projector beams alone are on par with the Spyder and Goldwing headlamps but then BMW takes things a step further with the Adaptive center light. As the bike is leaned into a turn the reflector aims light into the approaching corner which adds another level of safety when riding at night.
In terms of cargo capacity the BMW doesn’t offer quite the amount of storage as the Honda but it is close. Two full-face helmets fit in the rear top case but there isn’t much room for anything else. Hard cases on both sides can swallow more gear plus each one of the three cases can be easily removed—something that you can’t do on either the Can-Am or Honda. Lastly, each case can be locked via a keyless-remote just like the Gold Wing.
One area that the BMW comes up a little bit short is in its passenger accommodations. The back seat is not nearly as comfortable as the Spyder or Gold Wing plus the grab-handles aren’t quite as big making it a little harder for your pillion to hold on especially when railing around corners.
After almost four decades of domination by Honda’s venerable Gold Wing there is a new champ when it comes to top-level luxury touring. And that champ is the K1600 GTL. On the scorecard the BMW trounced the competition courtesy of its tremendous level of road performance. Sure it doesn’t have quite as comfortable passenger accommodations or storage capacity, but in virtually every other category it is superior making it the bike to have if you’re looking for the world’s finest luxury touring motorcycle.