2014 BMW K 1600 GTL Exclusive

Road Test Review

When BMW’s K 1600 GTL streaked onto the scene for 2012, packing a 1,649cc in-line six that sends 135 horsepower and 114 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheel, it set new performance standards in the luxury-touring segment. It also raised the bar for technology with throttle-by-wire, riding modes, electronic suspension, lean angle-sensitive traction control and an adaptive headlight that points into corners. The K 1600 GTL knocked our socks off and easily clinched Rider’s 2012 Motorcycle of the Year award.

Taking a swing at Honda’s stalwart Gold Wing, which was updated for 2012, BMW boasted that it had built “a shark, not a whale.” Without a doubt, the K 1600 GTL offers more power and less weight, but when it comes to luxury touring, dyno results often take a backseat to comfort, wind protection and luggage capacity. When measured against these yardsticks, as our head-to-head comparison showed (Rider, May 2012), the Gold Wing reigns supreme.

The new K 1600 GTL Exclusive offers “the most comprehensive equipment level ever on a BMW motorcycle.” Setting it apart from an “ordinary” GTL is a special paint scheme—four coats of Mineral White Metallic on most of the bodywork, with contrasting Magnesium Metallic Matt that matches the unique upholstery material—as well as extra chrome and a brushed aluminum tank cover embossed with the “Exclusive” logo. The bike is laden with nearly everything that’s available for the GTL, from the premium option package to accessories such as engine protection bars, luggage liners and even floor lighting. The only thing you need to add is the BMW Motorrad Navigator V GPS ($799), which fits into a special compartment and can be operated using the Multi-Controller on the left grip.

Any manufacturer that pampers the passenger with greater comfort and warmth certainly knows on which side its bread is buttered. The Exclusive indulges the passenger with a longer, wider seat, a backrest with more padding and heat (to complement the heated seat) and armrests that fold up/down. My wife, Carrie, already a fan of the GTL’s plush pillion, loved the more generous accommodations. But she was less enamored with the armrests, in part because she’s unaccustomed to using them on a motorcycle. The issue we both had with the armrests is that they don’t latch into place. They easily dropped from the up to the down position when Carrie mounted the bike and got in her way. And when I was riding solo on a gusty day, the wind repeatedly pushed them into the up position, putting them in my line of sight in both side mirrors. Understanding that they can’t lock into place for safety reasons, something like a spring-loaded detent to secure the armrests in both the up and down positions would help.

The Exclusive adds to the K 1600 GTL’s impressive array of technology with several innovations, including Hill Start Control (to assist with pulling away from stops on an incline), a “radio film aerial” (a wide, flat antenna inside the top trunk’s lid that replaces the stubby one) and redesigned analog gauges featuring “indirect illumination” (i.e., they’re fully backlit). It’s also the first motorcycle offered with BMW’s Keyless Ride system. When the key fob is within two meters of the bike, the steering lock, ignition, fuel filler cap and central locking system can be operated by buttons, and when the fob is out of range the alarm system arms automatically. Keyless Ride is convenient and easy to use, as long as you don’t put the fob in the trunk. The lid blocks the wireless signal and makes the system think the fob is out of range, which can leave you stranded if you also happened to hit the central locking button. BMW provides a “valet” key for such emergencies, but it must be kept handy and separate from the main fob. This is an easy mistake to make, so putting another fob sensor in the trunk would provide a failsafe.

Everything that makes the K 1600 GTL an impressive motorcycle—its smooth, powerful and symphonic in-line six, its sharp handling, compliant suspension and powerful brakes—carries over to the Exclusive. Racking up 1,400-miles-and-counting in four states on this bike has been pure pleasure, and I’m constantly looking for excuses to take it back on the road. It’s an ideal candidate for the riding-on-a-cloud comfort of BMW’s Dynamic Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA), but its more conventional ESA II is above reproach. Some of our previous complaints about the GTL—excessive driveline lash, confused throttle response at low speeds and clunky gear changes at times—still need to be addressed, but those are minor complaints on a bike this good.