THERMAL, California — From the 600-horsepower 2018 BMW M5 Sedan to the over a half a million dollar Rolls-Royce Phantom—we drove them all at the 2018 BMW Group Test Fest. The event was held at the BMW Performance Center in and around the Thermal Motorsport Club.
We racked up miles from Coachella to the Salton Sea to Palm Springs to Palm Desert and back again. BMW even let us take a few home for an extended joyride back to El Segundo from this year’s ultimate driving fest.
Here’s what we drove and our quick takes on the new rides.
2018 BMW 740e XDrive iPerformance
We were a little confused as to why this needed to be a plug-in hybrid—who wants to take the time to charge their luxury sedan especially when they’re only getting a minimal electric range? The powertrain delivers ample acceleration and the electric motor and gas engine work together fluidly. The 740e feels its full weight, even with the iPerformance package and it was hard not to feel like a chauffeur when I was behind the wheel.
The Rolls-Royce Phantom was our first choice, but we drove this pleasant Magellan Gray Metallic boat from the Renaissance Indian Wells Resort & Spa to the BMW Performance Center. It offers a smooth, somewhat majestic drive despite only packing a thrifty 2.0-liter twin-turbo inline four-cylinder engine that offers a combined 322 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque—and an iPerformance plug-in hybrid system. The motor adds 111 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. The four is mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission. When fully charged it can zip from 0 to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds. All electric plug-in range is only 14 miles, which ought to get you to a Starbucks and back again with ease. Still with a base price of $91,645—our model rang in at $99,845—which is a lot of beans for most folks.
2018 BMW M5 Sedan
Fast and feisty—this is one heck of a ride on the track and a blast to drive on the outskirts of the Salton Sea. Rehbock and I snagged a pair of these Alpine White beauties early. The M5 packs a 4.4-liter twin turbo V-8 engine that offers 600 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque. The monster is mated to an 8 speed automatic transmission. Later in the day we raced them out on the track, which is where they truly belong. I didn’t come close to its top speed of 189 mph, but I had fun trying. If I were to rejoin the BMW flock, I’d start here in a heartbeat—well, if I could afford the $102,600/$129,795 (base/as tested) price tag.
I’ve spent a lot of time in our M550i xDrive long-termer, but the new M5 is a different beast altogether. It feels lithe, nimble, and stinking fast. BMW claims 0-60 mph can be attained in just 3.2 seconds and I’m inclined to believe a better time could be accomplished in instrumented testing. The mode configuration for suspension, drivetrain, and steering is simple to use and works in a broad spectrum of driving situations, which we experienced both on a road course and the track. The M5 had a lot of expectations to meet when it was first announced and after only a few hours of driving it proved to exceed them.
2018 BMW X2 xDrive28i
I’ll admit I was skeptical about the newest compact luxury crossover on the market but the BMW X2 impresses with tidy driving manners. Models with xDrive start at $38,400 but our testers, fit with M Sport packages and several other optional extras, ended up priced above $50,000. In this form, the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder is mated to BMW’s 8-speed “Sport Automatic Transmission” and delivers a linear 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Styling is a little unconventional, such as the BMW roundels on the C-pillars, but it helps the X2 stand out in a market saturated with competitors. We sampled the compact ute on track at Thermal Raceway as well, and it lapped the course with competency thanks to its predictable handling and strong braking. This crossover yields some practicality to its packaging but the driving experience delivers.
It’s not exactly a track star, but the sporty X2 was a hoot to drive at 100 mph, while chasing Rehbock and a pro driver around the asphalt. BMW’s Sport Activity Coupe handles like you would expect from a small wagon, but I was surprised how easy it is to control even when throwing it into sharp turns. BMW claims it has a 0-60 mph time of 6.3 seconds—which is quick enough for most getaways. We drove one back with us to the office for more testing and will get back to you with our updates.
2018 Rolls-Royce Phantom
The eighth-generation Rolls-Royce Phantom is striking in natural light and it’s as unique to drive as it is to behold visually. The steering wheel is large and thin and easy to twirl around with highly boosted feel. The leather seats are supple and cosset every occupant with supreme comfort. The switchgear is laid out in a pretty unconventional format compared to contemporary vehicles, even those within the BMW Group, giving way to a cabin that exudes old-school motoring. As it was my first Rolls-Royce, I was really tickled by the novelty of the power reserve meter rather than a tachometer. Once Frank Sinatra’s smooth tones burbled from the speakers, I felt like I was transported to another world of calm and cool.
Starlight headliner, Satellite aided transmission, front and rear massage seats—what’s not to love about the latest Rolls-Royce Phantom? It starts at $450,000 and our loaded dreamboat will set you back $561,110. Worth it? You bet. The silver Phantom is a jewel to covet, a joy to drive, and will make your passengers feel like royalty. Its 6.75-liter twin-turbo V-12 delivers 571 hp and 664 lb-ft of torque. It can accelerate from 0-60 mph in 5.1 seconds, but feels even quicker when you mash on the pedal. I love how the old world charm and modern technology blend seamlessly together in this top shelf machine. A pure delight.
2018 BMW X3 M40i
It was late in the day when I finally got behind the wheel of the X3. It’s big and roomy, but not as sporty looking as its little X2 brethren. The M40i packs a 3.0-liter twin-turbo inline six-cylinder that delivers 355 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. It’s mated to a 8-speed automatic transmission. We drove one back to El Segundo and will get back to you with a more detailed review shortly.
2018 BMW 330e iPerformance
A blend of gas and electricity lend their best properties to yield an athletic end product in the 2018 BMW 330e iPerformance. The sports sedan was huge fun to hoon around the roads of Box Canyon in Thermal with great body control, braking, and acceleration. The interior is classic BMW fare–our tester had a black dash with tan leather and attractive wood trim to polish it off. Steering feel is a weak point here; although it improves with increased input, it remains a little numb around center. This one didn’t have an M Sport bits added on, but its approximate price of $50,000 makes it a great luxury-sport value.
I was surprised how much fun the 330e iPerformance was and raced it from one end of the Coachella Valley to the other before having to call it a day. Under the hood, the spunky 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder offers 180 hp and it gets a delicious boost from the electric motor which adds another 87 hp—for a grand total of 248 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. It makes more sense in this car than the 740e we drove in the morning. Unfortunately, its all-electric range is only good for about 14 miles as well. If you have a few hours to kill to recharge its 7.6 kW battery—this machine is for you.
2018 BMW i3s with Range Extender
BMW lowered its eco-hatch and gave it a small power bump to create the i3s. Its electric motor makes 184 hp and 199 lb-ft of torque at its peak output. Acceleration runs feel peppy—BMW claims 60 mph can be attained from a standstill in 6.8 seconds. In the canyons, it didn’t feel like the suspension modifications were enough to give it a fully sporty feel in the corners. The i3s also felt like it lost acceleration capabilities ascending inclines, so it’s probably best to keep this electric compact to the city or suburb. I especially couldn’t get past is the whopping $58,000 sticker price as optioned. I had been rooting for the futuristic looking pod ever since it was announced, but after finally driving it, it turned out to be a bit of letdown.
2018 BMW M4 Convertible
A good friend of mine leases a BMW 4-Series and loves it. He was a little deflated when I told him about the piped in engine noise, but after taking a six-speed manual transmission M4 Convertible with M Performance bits, I was sold like Beyonce going vegan at Coachella. Under the hood, the 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine cranks out 425 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque. My only issue with the gorgeous Tourmaline Violet Metallic ($5,200 paint option) drop-top with Amaro Brown Merino Leather ($2,550) was its fluttering rear seat belts flapping in the wind—which can probably be easily fixed with a clip. It starts at $68,695 and there are plenty of options to add if you like to check all the boxes.