You've got to love Los Angeles. It's swimming pools and movie stars, just like they say. The sun hangs in a bright blue sky, and the light is magic. It gives everything a kind of supernatural clarity, as if things had just come to life a few seconds ago. It's no wonder that L.A. is obsessed with looks. If something can look good here, it can look good anywhere. That's why there's a car wash on every corner in this town, and it's also why every major car manufacturer in the world has a design studio here.
We walked out of the Beverly Hills Hotel on the wide red carpet, down the steps to valet parking, and there we were introduced to the BMW 645Ci convertible. Make no mistake, this car looks good. It's got a big ego; it's ready for the red carpet. Any car in this category has to be, because when you ask for the key to a $76,995 convertible, that's the treatment you've signed up for.
Like all the latest-generation BMWs styled under the design leadership of Chris Bangle, the 6-series convertible is a shock to the system at first. The crisply defined, rectilinear shapes that have marked the past three generations of BMWs have been erased. Instead of static, streamlined speed lines from a designer's pen, there are wild, turbulent, three-dimensional forms, as if the wind itself had whipped the car into shape.
Beverly Hills isn't a bad neighborhood in which to drive this car. People keep their distance, and you never feel as if you're attracting undue attention. This car's unique buttress-style convertible top utilizes the wind blocker as its rear window, so you can keep the top in place, retract all the windows, including the one at the rear, and enjoy the breeze through the cockpit while warding off skin cancer.
This car is at home in Beverly Hills, but so are the Cadillac XLR, the Jaguar XK8, the Lexus SC430, and the Mercedes-Benz SL500. The question is, does it make it in the rest of L.A.? Does it make it on the freeway and in the parking structures? Does it make it in front of restaurants and music clubs? Does it make it as a BMW, or is it simply another convertible?
We decided to ask around. We first went right to the people who deal with looking good on a daily basis: the women who cut hair at the Ce' La Luna Salon. As Kimberly, Kimberly, Kimberly (hey, it's L.A.), and Elyse eyed the BMW as if it were a prospective boyfriend, they liked the newness of its look. But they would have chosen a bolder color from BMW's extensive palette than this particular car's champagne gold, which made it look like an old lady's car. Kim DiLeva provided insightful advice to car designers everywhere: "When you're driving a $77,000 convertible, you want it to look like a short skirt, not a long one."
But is this a car that appeals only to women? Michael Huddlestun, John Sadler, and Scott Shelton sell advertising for ABC Television, which makes them serious players on the L.A. scene. Each confessed to being deeply troubled by the look of the latest 7-series BMW and completely despising the appearance of the new 5-series sedan. Nevertheless, the familiar form of the 6-series interested them. Its big tires meant business, they said, and its twin-kidney grille would still scare the little fish out of the fast lane on the freeway.
At the same time, these three car guys were wary of so much pure style. The 6-series convertible tries so hard to be stylish that it blurs the line between function and ostentation, like one of those cookie-sized wristwatches with too many dials and too many numbers. And shouldn't a BMW be more than just the fashionable wristwatch of the moment?