On a sunny Saturday morning in Howell, Michigan, I entered my next destination into our Four Seasons 2017 BMW M2’s navigation system: a Holiday Inn Express in Des Moines, Iowa, a bit more than 500 miles from where the car currently sat, humming an impatient idle. It was ready to hit the road and so was I, with a supply of caffeine in the back seat ample enough to keep a small child up for days on end, a Spotify account to keep me entertained through thousands of miles of featureless farmland, and the M2’s 360-hp turbocharged straight-six engine constantly willing to park my butt in a rural jail for flagrant disregard for speed limits. Should be a fun trip, in other words.
Residents of either coast love to write off Michigan and cast doubting shadows on its struggles to return to a prosperous existence, but as I head for the western state line, I’m reminded of the wonderful time I had over the previous few days. From the picturesque, wooded recluse of Howell to Kalamazoo, still rich with its guitar-building history, to the numerous automotive museums around the greater Detroit area, Michigan has much to discover.
Nevertheless, this initial stretch of the 2,500-mile jaunt home to Los Angeles is fairly blasé. Interstate 90 takes me through the northwest tip of Indiana, then across Illinois, just south of Chicago and Lake Michigan. Unexpected are the first signs of construction, with whole lanes blocked off for repaving and speed limits dropped by 20 mph or more from normal, but not a whole lot of work actually seeming to happen—a theme that would be continued throughout the trip.
The M2’s trunk is packed with photo and video gear, while the rear seat holds my laptop bag, a single roll-aboard packed with a week’s worth of clothes, and several boxes of Automobile and Motor Trend back issues—a gift from our Michigan office as we rebuild the archives at our Los Angeles headquarters following its recent floor-to-ceiling renovation. There’s still plenty of room in the car for me to feel comfortable, and the M2 never struggles with the extra load. It’s eager to go all the time.
I-90 gives way to the less-interesting, arrow-straight I-80, and the first night’s stop is in Des Moines. I’m back on the road a little after 7 a.m., heading towards Sterling, Colorado. I’ve got the entire state of Nebraska to contend with, and before long, the M2 noses into the state and finds itself traipsing through a traffic-clogged Omaha. The M2’s dual-clutch gearbox (a $2,900 option) makes traffic a breeze, but it’s not perfect in its operation. Especially when cold, the transmission’s response moving away from a stop can be lazy, with longer than expected periods of clutch slippage followed by abrupt take-up and the resulting jerk forward. It’s an inconvenience more than a serious issue, but I can’t help but think I’d just save myself the hassle—and the $3,000—and spec the standard manual gearbox.
The rest of Nebraska is featureless and uneventful, with straight interstate, lots of farmland on both sides, and the occasional wind farm to boot. The M2’s satellite radio and Spotify are my primary sources of entertainment, and my voice is becoming hoarse from singing along—over not just the radio but also over the noise of the M2’s rubberband-like 19-inch tires (245/35 front, 265/35 rear). Excess road noise and a little bit of harshness over sharper bumps are the car’s main faults in grand touring–style driving, and both appear to be largely to do with the narrow sidewalls. After another eight hours on the road, I veer onto I-76 and shortly after, find the small town of Sterling, Colorado. There’s a cute historic downtown area, though it’s sparsely populated, and just beyond that, a Union Pacific train station. Fast food for dinner isn’t ideal, but it’s about 95 percent of what Sterling appears to offer, and the M2 spends the evening resting in the parking lot of a newly built Holiday Inn Express—evidence that this town is a popular rest stop.
Day three dawns, and I have high hopes of some exciting scenery for the first time on this trip. Before hitting the hay the night before, I plotted a course that would take me around the south of Denver, through Colorado Springs, and on to Pike’s Peak—the mountain famous for its big elevation (14,115 feet) and the annual hill climb race that bears its name. The day’s driving goes largely according to plan, with wide-open plains leading the way to Denver and my first view of the Rocky Mountain range behind the city. After a quick stop in Colorado Springs to check on a family-owned rental property, I made my way to the Pike’s Peak tollbooth. The sunshine I had going through Denver has turned to dark skies and light rain by the time I pay the $15 toll and start making my way up the mountain’s sinuous, 19-mile road. It’s been a couple decades since I was here last while on a family vacation as a child, and now, of course, the entirety of the road is paved—a response to environmental concerns about the amount of loose soil that used to be kicked off the sides of the old partial-dirt roadway.
The speed limit up the mountain is low—just 15 mph or so—and there’s plenty of traffic, even in the damp conditions. Occasionally, slow traffic will pull over whether out of courtesy or just to do some sightseeing, but it’s still a crawl for most of the drive, as expected. I rarely get the chance to pick up the pace and string a few corners together, the M2’s straight-six bark reverberating off the mountainside, and the snap-crackle-pop downshifts trailing off into the very thin air. The M2 is the perfect size for this road, and I wish I had this little ribbon of asphalt all to myself. By the time I reach the summit, over an hour has passed.
Stepping out of the car, I’m greeted by air with just 60 percent of the oxygen content at sea level, and it feels like it. The slight light-headedness wears off quickly, and I buy a decal at the gift shop and a hot cup of coffee before heading back down the mountain, keeping the car mostly in second gear to avoid cooking the brakes. A mandatory inspection station is set up a few miles down the road from the summit, where attendants stop each and every car to check brake temps with an infrared thermometer gun and issue warnings where necessary.
I make it to the mountain’s base and set off west for Grand Junction, Colorado for the evening, by way of the 24 and 9 highways through such scenic ski towns as Breckenridge. The smaller highways blends into the scenic I-70, which follows the winding Eagle River to the western edge of Colorado and my stop for the night. The M2 is a blast to drive through this undulating section of mostly high-speed sweepers, and we make good time as the weather clears to sunshine once again. The weather is in a constant state of flux in the Rockies. It’s a long day on the road with the Pike’s Peak excursion. I’ve been in the car nearly 12 hours by the time I’m eating dinner in Grand Junction before settling in for the evening.
I’m back on the road early the next day for the last big leg of the trip, 500 miles to Las Vegas, Nevada. From there, it’ll just be four or five hours of desert highway on the way home to Los Angeles. The scenery continues to impress as I plod across Utah and a small corner of Arizona along the I-15. Though I’m not at the right trajectory to pass through Monument Valley, the red rocks and bold cliff faces outside Zion National Park are stunning, and I stop several times for a better look and some photographs. The environment, combined with the relative isolation of a solo cross country road trip is refreshing—a thankful reprieve from a daily life filled with computer monitors, cellphone screens, and the constant, tiring churn of city life.
Before long, that all fades as the bright lights of Las Vegas come into view. The M2 is parked safely in the garage at the Treasure Island hotel and casino, and I check into my room and decide on plans for the night. The Who are playing at Caesar’s Palace, a short walk down the Las Vegas Strip and a quick StubHub.com search reveals good tickets for under face value. The Who aren’t spring chickens any longer, but the show is surprisingly energetic. In any case, a couple beers and a great concert are amazing rewards for nearly 2,000 miles of driving over the last several days.
In the morning, the M2 feels refreshed too and bursts to life with its staccato brap! filling the garage with echoes of exhaust noise. It’s a straight shot to L.A., where the BMW and I arrive by early afternoon. The car is filthy, and I’ll wash it over the weekend by hand in my driveway. Best to savor these moments alone with one of BMW’s best cars of late, before the rest of the staff gets to it.
Our 2017 BMW M2
|MILES TO DATE||22,304|
|ENGINE||3.0L DOHC turbocharged 24-valve I-6/365 hp @ 6,500 rpm, 343 lb-ft @ 1,400-5,560 rpm|
|TRANSMISSION||7-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, RWD coupe|
|EPA MILEAGE||20/26 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||176.2 x 73.0 x 55.5 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.2 sec|
|TOP SPEED||155 mph|