2014 BMW K 1600 GTL Exclusive Review | Welcome to the Club

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2014 BMW K 1600 GTL Exclusive Review

I’m a motorcycle guy, so I am used to a level of roughing it – it’s part of the fun. Yet, when my fiancé Mary and I were offered a ride through California’s Big Sur on BMW’s luxurious new K 1600 GTL Exclusive, we jumped at it. The German company’s new touring flagship did not disappoint.

A premium aesthetic, clearly showing the BMW’s automotive DNA, is wrapped around the jet-turbine-like inline-6 motor. Every conceivable electronic aid and enhanced passenger accommodation ensured that our ride was luxurious.

The Exclusive is essentially the GTL with all the extras, plus a cosmetic makeover. Greater than the sum of the parts, the final product is a bit more than expected.

Contrasting colors of the most expensive paint from BMW’s car range are accented with silver metallic radiator fins. The upholstery is color-coordinated, and the bike has tasteful chrome accents and a chromed exhaust.

This results in an elegant, premium look in keeping with the “Exclusive” image and moniker. If you own a GTL, then you probably shouldn’t let your passenger try out the Exclusive, unless you are prepared to trade up.

The problem with the standard GTL is that there is nowhere for the passenger to really hold on, as the side handles are covered by the flare of the rear seat. Compounding the issue, the top case is also somewhat flexible on its mounting. So, when we rode the standard GTL, Mary was not impressed.

The seat on the Exclusive still covers the grab handles, but the need for them is obviated by the new armrests directly mounted to the frame — and they make an enormous difference. The redesigned seat is more comfortable; it is also longer, so it closes the gap at the rear between itself and the top case. If it gets cool, the now-heated lumbar support is passenger-controlled. The net result of all this was a relieved passenger who felt secure and very comfortable—no matter what the speed.

One of the joys of the BMW 1600 is its outstanding power in every gear. Some 160 horsepower and 129 ft/lbs of torque (claimed) encourage the rider to gas it hard on occasion, so a secure feeling passenger is mandatory if you want to enjoy yourself. The armrests can fold up under hard acceleration, so some sort of lock- ing mechanism would be useful. Still, the addition of those solidly mounted armrests is welcome, indeed.

From a rider’s perspective, the Exclusive enjoys all the positive aspects of the GTL model and more. BMW is arguably the king of electronic gizmos, and the Exclusive has the full set. In the safety department, ABS is naturally included, and Dynamic Traction Control is added to maintain grip on sketchy surfaces. With the aforementioned torque output, that is a useful piece of insurance to carry.

A tire pressure monitoring system reads out on the clear, colorized instrument cluster, and it is constantly on alert. Even if a tire suffers a blowout, you will receive a warning in the moments before the situation becomes dangerous.

Lighting is comprehensive on the Exclusive, and the center adaptive xenon headlight is pure genius. It reacts to both pitch (back and forth) and tilt (lean), so the beam actually points where you need to see. If you do a lot of nighttime rid- ing, there is no going back once you have experienced this lighting.

LED ring-shaped running lights surround the two high-beams, and LED auxiliary lights on either side of the lower fairing help visibility. The standard lights are not that easily seen by drivers at a distance, but the auxiliary lights can been seen from far away and are a tremendous asset. There is also an additional brake light strip integrated into the top case.

The other part of the electronics package is the engine and chassis. Cruise control works seamlessly with the ride-by-wire throttle, and the addition of BMW’s new Hill Start Control technology is great. Simply pull the front brake lever hard while stopped, and the brakes stay on while an icon appears next to the gear indicator. To release, simply drive away as normal; I used this feature a lot more than I thought I would.

Driving modes are a choice between Dynamic, Road, and Rain, and the fuel-mapping is dramatically smoother than before. The slipper clutch has a reverse- ramp system, so the action is light and, unlike previously, the bite is in the middle of the lever travel and incredibly easy to feel. Ergo: the Exclusive is now supremely smooth to ride.

The choppy on/off throttle response is gone, and shifting gears, even in the lower ratios, is smooth, despite a gearbox that is far from a light touch. You won’t find your passenger head-butting the back of your helmet anymore, and that is a Very Good Thing.

On the standard GTL, I had to ride in Rain mode to keep Mary somewhat comfortable; on the Exclusive, we used Road mode and, on occasion, Dynamic. Clearly, there has been some serious soft- ware upgrading and kudos to BMW for getting it right.

Incidentally, the mapping has been tweaked to boost revs very slightly as the clutch bites. There is no flywheel on the six-cylinder motor, so the GTL could stall when pulling away from a stop. The Exclusive has no such issue and, for me, the supreme test of feet-up U-turns two-up on narrow roads is no big deal at all.

I have always been impressed at the big K models’ handling. The Telelever front-end works exceedingly well, and both the GT and GTL have neutral handling that is far more nimble than its weight would have you expect.

Hard braking creates minimal dive, and the bike’s ability to soak up tight, bumpy corners and keep up with far smaller machines is impressive—bordering on astonishing. The ESA II electronic suspension allows for on-the-fly damping adjustment controlled via menus accessed by the brilliantly executed ring-controller at the rider’s left thumb. I’ll bet there are a bunch of engineers out there wishing they had thought of it.

The ESA II menu includes pre-load settings (one helmet icon; one helmet plus luggage; and two helmets) when the bike is stopped. Once moving, the menu only shows the rebound damping setting choices of Comfort, Normal or Sport. They are so effective I frequently tailored our ride from plush to sporty handling as conditions changed.

The windshield is electrically adjustable. I didn’t get on well with it in the lowest position, as I was constantly struggling to either peer over the windshield, or look through it. Raising it up didn’t help much; the reflections and distortion are distracting, and riding Big Sur at speed was quite challenging.

The result is quite fatiguing, so I would fit the windshield from the sportier K 1600 GT, which has a steeper rake and a V-cutout at the eye line. The plus side of a barn-door windshield is, of course, wind protection; when riding on the freeway in very blustery conditions, we appreciate that aspect.

The Exclusive features Keyless Ride — the key fob has to be within six feet of the bike and you’re good to go. The advantage of the system is central lock- ing. Simply one touch on the fob and everything—including luggage—locks. Likewise when waking, everything unlocks; it is a nice touch.

Luggage capacity is the same as the GTL and the hard inner bags are high quality. They do take up some room, though—if space is at a premium, leave them at home. Interestingly (and expensively) BMW have developed a film antenna built into the top-case lid, so no ugly waving antenna is necessary.

Overall, the Exclusive is a luxury cruise liner that sits at the top of the BMW Motorrad tree. It’s a big, heavy machine, yet the exemplary handling and smooth motor make for a fabulous ride that is far more sporting than it has a right to be. The fuel mapping and clutch are now refined, and the passenger accommodations are so good, that everyone can relax a sensible pace, as well as have fun at silly speeds.

It seems the BMW K 1600 GTL Exclusive has redefined the term flagship.

Riding Style (his)

Riding Style (hers)

Photography by Don Williams

Story from Ultimate MotorCycling magazine; for subscription services, click here.

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