THE contrast could hardly be sharper, writes Eddie Cunningham.
Here we are, hit by universal social charges, emigration, joblessness, fuel price increases -- and feeling miserable.
There they are, responding to universal social changes and global demand for cars that bathe you in luxury and go like a rocket.
And here I am, at the juncture of both worlds.
Taking me there is the new BMW 6 Series Convertible. It goes on sale here on March 26 starting from €107,690.
There will be two petrol versions from March: a V8 650i and a straight-six 640i.
Prices start at €107,690 (€108,540 on-the-road) for the 640i, and €133,040 (€133,890 on-the-road) for the 650i.
Standard equipment, I could fill pages with it, includes Dakota leather upholstery, heated front seats, 18in alloys on the 640i SE (19ins on the 650i SE), Xenon headlights/LED front fog lights, USB audio interface, Bluetooth telephone preparation, sat nav, 10.2ins hi-res standalone control display, electric/folding/dimming wing mirrors and so on.
The 650i has a 4.4-litre eight-cylinder engine; two turbochargers contribute to a thumping 407hp. It hits 100kmh from zero in five seconds. Top speed is electronically limited to 250kmh. Fuel consumption of 10.7l/100km means emissions of 249g/km (€2,100 road tax).
The 640i (single turbocharger, direct injection) pumps 320hp and is only 0.7 seconds slower to 100kmh than big brother (250kmh top speed limit too). Its emissions of 185g/km (€630 road tax) come on fuel consumption of 7.9 l/100km. Both versions have electric power steering (good feedback) and an eight-speed Sport automatic gearbox, with Auto Start-Stop technology as standard.
It looks an exceptional piece of craft: low-slung with a flat waistline and a cabin set well back from that imposing, sloping bonnet.
It is big (two ample front seats, two tiny ones behind) but does not feel like it. Think M3 taut, compact handling -- only in a much larger frame.
The 4.4-litre in the 650i (the 640i will come too, don't worry) delivers punch with alarming nonchalance. Maybe the gearbox could kick down a little sooner when you're really reaching for extra milliseconds of acceleration. But for those going to buy one here, this is the sort of car where the pleasure comes as much from the sound of the exhaust, the power of the engine, and the responsiveness of the chassis, as anything else.
Of course, one can ask what justifies such a car at a time like this. The simple answer is: demand. Despite all the gloomy talk, there is a substantial worldwide market in the US, Germany, Japan, the UK (and even Ireland). As one BMW executive put it: "Production follows the market." So they're making it because it will be bought. And the rest of us get to drool.
Give it half a chance and it would lift your spirits. With the hood down, warm air and sunshine in your face; wasn't motoring at this level always a mix of esoteric and escapism? This certainly is.
On a practical level, there is more cabin room and lots more equipment.
They say you can get two full-size golf bags and a business suitcase into the boot even with 'fin' roof (strengthened and improved, 24 seconds to close, 19 to open) stowed.
And the heads-up display is the best I've seen -- key information (speed, sat nav) in your line of sight so you don't have to take your eyes off the road.
This is much, much better than the old one on handling. My biggest criticism of the predecessor was it lacked the stiff body that gave its coupe counterpart greater command of the pulls and pushes associated with power driving. Now stiffened by 50pc, the new Convertible has a real edge.
Of course, it is a car for the really well-off but it signals, in its design and engineering, shapes of things to come (coupe in the autumn, 4-door next year).
And, if nothing else, it shows what a little optimism can do. God knows we need all we can get of that.