BMW Goes Topless in Cabo

To say there is something magical about the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula is no exaggeration.  Yes, the area has become better known in recent years as the home of the Cabo Wabo, that tequila inspired dance that Sammy Hagar branded into a second career.  But beyond the alcohol binging frivolity of Cabo San Lucas lies an area that is almost mystical in its natural, rugged beauty.  As the place where the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez meet, the Baja tip not only hosts droves of sea lions and sunbathing tourists, but was once the gateway for more artistic endeavors, most notably the mid-career travels of John Steinbeck, which famously lead to some of the author’s most critically acclaimed work.

I doubt that this literary touchstone was what BMW had in mind when they invited me and a group of fellow journalists and media pundits to the area for a drive in the all-new third-generation 650i convertible.  In all likelihood, their location choice was based more on the infinite sunshine and the twisting roads of the Mexican locale, both of which played to the convertible Beemer’s strengths.  But, personally, whether I was behind the wheel of the strapping new 6 Series drop top or enjoying the dreamlike environs of Las Ventanas al Paraiso (the Windows to Paradise) luxury resort, I couldn’t help but let the closet Modernist in me drink in the environment-as-muse.

If the posh Ventanas was a clear fit for two of the 650i’s mission-statement adjectives – style and luxury – then the test bed of Mexico’s Route 1 that winds up to the provincial capital of La Paz commensurately challenged the new Beemer’s third self-decided quality – performance.  Indeed, while winding my way through precarious canyon passes that look down upon the Sea of Cortez, the 650i’s twin-turbocharged 4.4 liter V-8 delivered trademark performance to the tune of 400 horsepower and 450 lb-ft of torque, good for 4.9 second 0-60 mph starts.  Also especially useful during the peculiar foreign jaunt was BMW’s Integral Active Steering, an understated 4-wheel steering function that turns the rear wheels 3 degrees to help accommodate razor sharp hairpin turns or deftly execute passing moves.  The latter was particularly relevant on the Mexican roads, where slowly moving vehicles and lax traffic enforcement encourage regular passing.

Such conditions also begged active experimentation with the various suspension modes – comfort, normal, sport and sport+ – which in addition to changing spring and damping rates for better cornering or more luxurious ride quality, also adjust throttle response and shift points in the 8-speed paddle shift transmission.  The 650i will also be made available with a standard 6-speed manual gearbox, a testament to BMW’s continued commitment to their sporting identity.

In terms of ergonomics and comfort, BMW has further refined an increasingly user-friendly version of the once-dreaded iDrive, which is communicated through a 10.2” infotainment display that faces the driver and is smartly designed in a letterbox screen aspect ratio.  A heads-up speedometer display that appears in the lower portion of the windscreen from the driver’s point of view as well as active blind spot and inadvertent lane change warnings further ensure safety in non-intrusive ways.  To boot, this fall a 1,200-watt, 16-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system will become an available option, pairing the 6’s impeccable style with one of the luxury class’s leaders in premium multi-channel sound.  BMW claims that 60% of its U.S. 6 Series sales are convertibles, thus the new softtop has been prioritized, hitting dealerships this month at a base msrp of $91,375.  Coupe lovers will have to wait until October and can expect to pay at least $83,875.

Steinbeck may have traveled far up the Sea of Cortez to discover the inspirational folktale that would become the basis of his widely taught The Pearl.  The 220 km journey to La Paz was more than enough for me to realize that the pearl in this story would not be found at the end of the road.  It was already on the road and I was sitting in it – exactingly engineered and indisputably graceful.  Like a pearl itself, the 650i convertible is perfection resulting from the irritant grain of sand that is BMW’s tireless quest to further improve what is, as they have long told us, the ultimate driving machine.

Las Ventanas al Paraiso: