As we made our way back to Los Angeles, we learned that this car is, however, terrific to drive. There's plenty of grip underneath you, especially with the optional, dry-weather, nineteen-inch tires in place (a run-flat design, just like the standard eighteen-inch tires). BMW's Active Roll Stabilization works so well that it can fool you into underestimating the car's cornering speeds. The 6-series has a wheelbase 4.3 inches shorter than a 5-series sedan's, as well as a lower ride height and a lower center of gravity, so it's responsive, but wide rear tires provide so much grip that the front of the car always lets go first, when the latest-8.0-version of BMW's stability control is engaged. Turn it off, push the car really hard, and you can slide it around, but only the bravest should apply.
This 4189-pound car is as long as a 5-series sedan, so it drives like a big car, not a small one. With the optional Sport package in place, there are three different shift schedules available when the transmission is in drive, in addition to manu-matic, helping the ragtop 6-series get from 0 to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds. The steering is less lively than it should be, as if the engineers had spent too much time on steering action but not enough on steering feel.
Finally, Michael Desmond cleared it all up for us. A young designer just leaving Mitsubishi to do automotive projects for Jesse James's West Coast Choppers, Desmond appreciates the sheer energy of the 6-series. "There are things that might be resolved a bit better," he says, "but I wonder if the car would have the same visual snap if they were."
Desmond says that BMWs have always had a look of amazing stability because they are so wide on their tires and then narrow and become lighter in construction toward the top. A BMW looked like a streamlined brick on wheels, leading with its chin as it went down the highway. In contrast, the body sides of the newest-generation BMWs are virtually upright, and the greenhouses have very little tumblehome, so the cars look large and upright in comparison.
What Desmond likes most about the new BMW look is the way it challenges expectations. "Design is a journey," he reminds us. "And we have to wait to see where this will take us." He also says that the way the car drives is crucial. "What makes me buy into the look is the engineering. As long as this is the ultimate driving machine, then I'm willing to go along for the ride with the style."
The 6-series convertible is a driver's car, but it is also a large car. It reminds us that this is not the company of the BMW 2002 any longer. BMW now has such a large constituency, it is searching for ways to keep everyone in the family.
When you see one of the new BMWs, it's like walking into an art gallery. You feel challenged, as if your personality were being tested. Indeed, it is being tested. These are art cars, not mere consumer products designed to have an appealing appearance. Bangle-designed cars ask whether you have the cojones to be a BMW owner or whether you'd rather have a rolling wristwatch.
And yet, despite the style question, the bottom line for all the new BMWs remains the same as always: driving pleasure. BMW enthusiasts fear that this character has been lost with the heavily styled Bangle cars, but the 6-series convertible gives us a driving experience that Cadillac, Jaguar, Lexus, and even Mercedes-Benz can't match. Maybe we should all stop worrying so much and just drive.