BMW, the luxury brand from Bavaria, Germany, has built quite a reputation worldwide for performance and more recently, luxury.
Although BMW has been selling cars in the U.S. since 1957, the brand really came to prominence here in the States with the popularity of the iconic BMW 2002 sports coupe. With a torquey four-cylinder motor, along with crisp handling the 2002 set the roots for the company’s exponential rise in popularity.
After the 2002, the BMW 320i was introduced in 1977.
With the immediate popularity of the 320i, sales for the brand really took off, and the legend of “The Ultimate Driving Machine,” BMW’s marketing tagline, was born. As the saying goes, “the rest is history,” as BMW has hit full stride, offering an impressive array of sedans, coupes, convertibles, and sport utility vehicles. Over the years, BWW has added weapons to its portfolio with the addition of legendary British marques MINI and Rolls-Royce.
We recently traveled to warm Palm Springs California for a bi-annual event BMW has named Group Test Fest. The Test Fest gives automotive media the opportunity to drive all of the BMW Group offerings: BMW, MINI, Rolls-Royce, and BMW Motorrad motorcycles. One event is held on the right coast in Spartanburg, South Carolina, home of a BMW manufacturing plant and The BMW Driving Experience; and the other is held on the left coast in Palm Springs, also home of the BMW Driving Experience. The BMW Driving Experience gives BMW enthusiasts the opportunity to drive performance versions of BMWs like the potent “M” cars on racetracks and road courses and timed gymkhana courses. It’s a great thrill that must be experienced to fully understand.
And while the Pacific version of Test Fest is usually at the Thermal Club Raceway, this year for logistical reasons it was staged at the luxe Ritz-Carlton Rancho Mirage. Not to worry though, as the full squadron of the BMW Group was available, including five outlined for this story: the BMW 760i xDrive Sedan, the BMW X1 xDrive28i, The MINI Cooper S Convertible, the Rolls-Royce Phantom Series II, and the full-electric BMW i7 XDrive60.
To understand the breadth of vehicle and motorcycle drive choices, there were multiple cars and bikes of the following models to test drive, with various colors and options:
- 3 Series
- 7 Series and i7
- M3 Edition 50 Jahre BMW M
- M4 CSL
- iX M60
- Cooper SE
- Cooper S Clubman ALL4 Untold Edition
- Cooper S Countryman ALL4 Untamed Edition
- Cooper S Convertible Resolute Edition
- Phantom Series II
- M 1000 RR
- R 18
- R nineT Scrambler
- K 1600 GT
- CE 04
Following is a sampling of test drives during Group Test Fest:
2023 BMW 760i xDrive
In the luxury sedan segment, competition is fierce. The BMW 760i xDrive does battle with the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Audi A8, Lexus LS, and Porsche Panamera. Salvos have also been fired in this segment by Genesis, Hyundai’s luxury brand, with their excellent G90.
The 760i, with a base MSRP of $113,600, is the most expensive trim level for the 7 Series. The $93,300 740i starts at $93,300. Both are impressive, with the more expensive 760i offering standard all-wheel drive versus rear-wheel drive only on the 740i; as well as turbo V8 power versus turbo V6, and more interior comfort and convenience features.
Some new features for the 2023 model year include adaptive air suspension, rear-wheel steering, Swarovski crystal full LED headlights, four-zone climate control, an available 31-inch rear seat entertainment screen, heated, cooled, and massaging seats for front and rear occupants, and much more.
A new 48-Volt mild hybrid system is also significant. When coupled to the 536-horsepower TwinPower turbocharged V8, on-road performance is excellent. And even with a curb weight of just under 5,100 pounds, the 760i returns an impressive 18 mpg city/26 mpg highway.
Extensive aerodynamic enhancements are also a hallmark of the new 7 Series. Active Air Vent Control opens and closes the main front grille to optimize aerodynamics and engine cooling. A pair of air vents flank the center grille on the outside lower edges, and feature air curtains to optimize airflow in the wheel arches, where Air Performance Wheels take over air-smoothing duties. The use of extensive underbody panels contributes to an airflow-optimized underbody design. At the rear, the rear lid and diffusor are redesigned for optimal airflow.
The interior of the 760i is, as one might expect, a very good place to be. Peer out the windshield, and a high-definition Head-Up Display shows pertinent road speed and additional information. Don’t see what you need? A new curved display panel houses a 12.3-inch driver’s information cluster, as well as a 14.9-inch infotainment display. Live Cockpit Pro allows for voice and iDrive operation of clusters.
Back-seat passengers are in for a real treat when you opt for Rear Executive Lounge Seating. At $7,200, it’s not cheap, but is certainly worth every penny. Dual seats recline and utilize footrests to help occupants enjoy the available 8K resolution 31” theater screen with Amazon Fire TV built in that folds down from the headliner. All functions are controlled via a rear center console. A powerful Bowers and Wilkins surround sound system makes your Sirius XM, streaming audio, or movie soundtracks sound terrific.
On the road, the 760i is a blast to drive. We chose a winding mountain road to ascertain road manners, and folks, even at its large size, it’s all BMW.
Our tester was outfitted with options, including Active Roll Stabilization and Active Comfort Drive, part of the $3,600 Autobahn Package, that surely contributed to the car’s stellar twisty road performance. Total vehicle price was $162,045, inclusive of a very reasonable $995 destination charge.
BMW i7 xDrive60 Full-Electric
Built on the same assembly line as the 760i in Din golfing, Germany and sharing an identical body and interior, BMW takes a new tack with the i7 xDrive60 on marketing Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV). Most manufacturers, including a key Germany based competitor, build fine BEVs, but the styling on some screams “this is an electric vehicle!” I find the shared body style execution very refreshing, as both “7” models are very, very handsome. The i7 shares the same Carbon Core construction of the 760i, which includes carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic, aluminum, steel and magnesium body structure components.
The i7 carries a base price of $119,300, and our test model came fully loaded at $156,595 including destination charge, and joins the i4 and iX in the BMW full-electric lineup.
Essentially, the ICE and BEV cars are twins, as the exterior and interior are equals in content, style, and standard and available luxury features. And yes, the $7,200 Rear Executive Lounge Seating option with the sensational 8K 31.3” HD screen was an option on our tested i7. It also shares the standard panoramic Sky Lounge LED roof with integrated graphic design for a spectacular and entertaining nighttime ambiance using light threads backlit by LEDs.
The structure this creates replicates the pattern of the quilting on the seat surfaces. The color palette of the light effects can be selected independently.
So does the electric “7” handle like a BMW? You bet it does.
The i7 features two electric motors for all-wheel drive capability with a combined output of 536 horsepower and 549 pound-feet of torque. While the i7 xDrive60’s 4.5 second 0-60 is quick, the massive near-three-ton weight of the i7 enhances the sensation of speed. Range is good, with BMW estimating 296-318 miles. The Level 2 charging capability offers a sub-ten-hour full charge from 0-100% charge. A ten-minute DC fast charge can yield 105 miles of range. Brake energy regeneration adds to the range totals. EPA economy estimate is 87 MPGe.
The available BMW Wallbox is a Level 2 (240V) home charger that lets you charge your all-electric BMW at a 9.6 kW speed from 0-100% in as little as 12 hours – without going any farther than your garage. With its minimalist, weatherproof design, it’s also perfect to install outdoors. A cable and plug holder is included for easy cable management and organization while not in use.
Also, enjoy three years of free charging at Electrify America charging stations. This tailored program gives you access to over 3,000+ fast chargers and 800 charging stations open or under development.
The i7 carries an 8-year/100,000 mile High Voltage battery warranty, in addition to BMW Ultimate Care, which covers maintenance for free for the first 3 years or 36,00 miles, and the 4-year, 50,000-mile new vehicle warranty.
MINI Cooper S Convertible Resolute Edition
It may seem odd that the MINI Cooper S Convertible was one of my favorite cars at the Group Fest, given my “svelte” 6’9”, 280-pound frame. But yes, I fit well in the MINI, with ample head and legroom. With the warm sun beckoning me to drive a drop top, we motored around Palm Springs in this incredibly fun-to-drive Cooper S Convertible.
The Cooper MINI is named after legendary Classic Mini tuner John Cooper, who saw the racing benefits and balance of a small car with a wide stance. Cooper’s Mini creations dominated 1960s racing, winning Monte Carlo four years in a row.
With the acquisition of Mini by the BMW Group in 1996, the tradition stays alive.
You can choose three different trims for the MINI Convertible: base Cooper (134-horsepower), my test trim Cooper S (189-horsepower), and the high-performance John Cooper Works (JCW) Convertible (228-horsepower). Want more JCW power? Choose from hardtop 301-horsepower Clubman All4 (all-wheel drive) and Countryman All4 models. In addition to more power over base MINI models, JCW models feature more powerful brakes and upgraded suspension components, as well as signature design elements like full-aero body kits that are a hallmark of the Cooper transformations.
My test Cooper S Convertible Resolute Edition carried a base MSRP of $35,900, and was $41,750 as tested, with the $3500 Iconic Trim package the most expensive option. The Package includes a heated steering wheel, 7-speed sport dual-clutch transmission, power-folding mirrors, auto-dimming rearview mirror, great sound harman/kardon premium audio, and performance summer tires. The $1,000 Resolute Package adds black wheels and trim, and special MINI driving modes.
MINI also offers the Cooper SE Electric, a two-door hardtop with a base MSRP of $34,225. With only 114 miles of range, this model is best suited for urban environments with shorter commutes.
I drove the X1 when it first launched in 2012 as a 2013 model. I was not impressed. The 2012 model was underpowered and had fit and finish issues, and had the worst road ride quality I had ever experienced in a small crossover utility. It rode like a dump truck, and the overhead glass moonroof panel shook over rough surfaces.
Ten years later, I want the X1!
The new X1, to me, is the best small Ute available today. It does everything well. Power from the 2.0-liter turbo four is smooth and linear. Step on the throttle at any speed, and the 7-speed dual-clutch transmission seamlessly matches your intent to go faster. Interior fit and finish is first rate. Test driving it in the hills around Palm Springs proved it handles just like a BMW should, and ride quality is excellent.
And the glass moonroof panel doesn’t shake!
The X1 price is also a great motivator to buy one. The Xa1 xDrive28 starts at just $38,600.
Very well done BMW!
Rolls-Royce Phantom Series II
Roll-Royce recently launched the Phantom Series II with the goal of keeping it the best car in the world.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, power, style, and high luxury are the hallmarks of Rolls-Royce Phantom Series II ownership. To quell any road disturbances, Phantom coachwork is supported by a super rigid aluminum spaceframe structure. Vigorously press the accelerator, and effortless power emanates from the iconic 6.75-liter, twin-turbocharged V12 engine. Routed through a seamless eight-speed automatic transmission, 563 horsepower and 664 pound-feet of torque moves the near three-ton Phantom with aplomb. Phantom II’s Satellite Aided transmission can alert your Phantom when the road ahead will be steep or super curvy and automatically adjust shift and performance parameters. Windshield-mounted cameras can sense road imperfections like potholes and adapt the suspension accordingly, lest you or your passengers would feel any ruffled behavior. Active Rear-Axle Steering and Cornering Brake control also assist with what may feel like an autonomous driving experience. It’s really that effortless.
Inside the serenely-quiet Phantom Series II cabin, if it’s not standard or optional, then the Bespoke Collective can make it happen. Want commissioned artwork in your dashboard? There is a feature called The “Gallery” on the passenger front dash that allows for the exhibition of art, photographs, or any special effect or feature that fits within The Gallery’s space. Above your head, you can commission the Starlight Headliner in any pattern or galaxy you desire. Rest assured, only the finest woods, leathers, and fine metals adorn the interior.
My test Phantom Series II carried a base price of $475,000, with a whopping $142,100 in bespoke options like the $22,500 Ruthenium Bloom Gallery fascia, inspired by the delicate contours of flowers. Rolls’ talented artisans laser cut and engrave the geometric design into dual-finish ruthenium (a rare metal) coated layers.
The BMW Group Test Fest was a real treat for automotive media, as we sampled a wide range of outstanding automobiles and motorcycles for those who test bikes.
My only regret is the star of Test Fest this year, the beastly BMW M4 CSL Coupe. The race-inspired coupe defines what BMW is all about – pure, unadulterated performance.
With a BMW M TwinPower turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine outputting 543 horsepower and 478 pound-feet of torque, the M4 CSL hustles to 60 mph in just 3.6 seconds and tops out at 191 mph. Supercar performance and BMW reliability starts at just $139,900.
So what is my regret? At 6’9” and 280 pounds, there is absolutely no way I can fit in the M4 CSL Coupe! So during the entire Test Fest, I had to listen to my media colleague wax ecstatic about the car.
Pursuitist automotive and lifestyle contributor Brian Armstead has been involved in print, radio, web and television for over 47 years. Brian has traveled to 79 countries. He is a North American Car, Truck and Utility of the Year (NACTOY) Juror.