R8D R: The 2017 Audi R8 V10 Driven On Laguna Seca

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For many of us, taking a supercar out on the track is something we’ll experience only in the virtual sense, like in the video game Forza Motorsport. So when you get a notice from Audi that you’ll be able to take the new R8 V10 on the legendary track Laguna Seca, you don’t ask questions you just get to the track as quickly as you can. We where already at the track for Monterey Car Week to checkout some of the Monterey Historic Racing Series events. As the day wound down, we got to checkout Audi’s hospitality paddock on the track and we were given a surprise pep talk from none other than Tom Kristensen himself. In case you don’t know who he is, he’s the driver that’s won LeMans a staggering 9 times out of the 13 total LeMans wins Audi has.

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Getting out onto the pit lane, our fleet of R8’s awaited. We could not help but have flash backs to our very firs track day years ago at Sonoma Raceway, where we took out the first generation R8 V8 on that track. How much has the R8 evolved since then. The R8’s we were driving were the V10 model, with the 540 horsepower V10 engine sourced from the Lamborghini Huracan. Starting at $165,000, the R8 is priced and spec’d to be a solid contender for buyers looking at entry level supercars.

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Igniting the engine of the R8 gives the sensation of a nice purring sound as the engine comes online. Although the engine is Lamborghini, everything about the R8 is Audi, so there’s a sense of engineered refinement about the car. The R8 is not about flash, it’s more about refinement. Getting the R8 out on Laguna Seca for a sighting lap was a great thrill, as we took our time to get a proper feel for the car and for the track. Perhaps the most thrilling moment was diving 6 stories downward for the first time on the infamous corkscrew. That combined with the increased speed through turn 1 on our second lap where the most thrilling and terrifying moments…until lap 3 when we managed to get the R8 a little sideways for a fun little drifting session.

On the track the R8 is fast, fun and very responsive. Oddly though, the R8 actually seems better suited for the road as you get the feeling that the car is engineered to be a little more subdued and refine rather than balls to the wall. The V10 has plenty of power but the delivery is not as neck-snappingly instant as it could be, the steering is precise but you feel that the AWD could be dialed in a smidge more give the car a little more edge. Don’t get us wrong, we think the R8 is a great car, it’s got a cool look and was a very fun car on the track. However, it feels a little too Audi for it’s own good, which if you’re a big Audi fan is a great thing.  But if you’re not fully sipping the Audi kool-aid, then you might find yourself with a slight feeling of needing something a little more. Overall we’d say the R8 V10 is a great road car and good car for those looking to dip their toes into the supercar world, we’d highly recommend it over the new Acura NSX. We do want to thank Audi for taking our track virginity on a new track again, as the chance to really experience Laguna Seca was a gear head dream come true.

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Cheers,

-JB

 

 

Weapons of Choice II: The McLaren 570S Spyder Vs the Lamborghini Huracan RWD Spyder Vs the Acura NSX

If you recall from our test last year, we took out the McLaren 570S Coupe and the Lamborghini Huracan Spyder for a head-to-head line up. The Huracan won that contest, but it got us thinking this year that it would be more fair to make the playing field a bit more even. Spyder vs spyder, rear-wheel drive vs rear wheel drive, that should make the results a bit more interesting. And just to add spice to the mix, why not toss a wild card into the mix as well. This year we did just that with 3 supercars:

The Cars: Lamborghini LP-580 Huracan Spyder VS McLaren 570S VS Acura NSX

The Location: Carmel, California

The Lamboghini LP580-2 Haracan Spyder:

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As Lamborghini fans we were exited to see how the real-wheel drive setup would impact the feel of the Huracan compared to the all wheel drive. Starting at $220,000, it’s $42,000 cheaper than the All-Wheel drive Hurcan Spyder, so it has that going for it.

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Compared to the All-wheel drive version, the Rear-Wheel drive Huracan is virtually identical in appearance except for the front and rear bumpers, which looks slightly more aggressive on the All- Wheel drive car. The Rear-Wheel drive car also has 30 less horsepower, so instead of the 610 of the All-Wheel drive version you have “only” 580 horsepower.

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Turning on the Huracan is an event, as the V10 roars to life. The naturally aspirated engine provides instant power and terror and it’s nice to see that despite having less power than the All-Wheel drive, the same amount of punch is delivered. The handling is the huggest difference between the All-Wheel drive and the Rear-Wheel drive variants, as the LP580 feels more nimble and agile than the AWD version. The LP580 actually feels a lot like the McLaren 570S in how accessible the car feels, which inspires confidenceas you throw it around the turns at speed. The RWD drive also feels more responsive to direction input from the steering wheel, making the car feel that much more impressive rather than terrifying.

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The McLaren 570S Spyder:

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When we drove the 570S coupe, we felt it was a solid car but not an exciting car. Over the last year we must admit the styling has grown on us a lot more (maybe because we don’t care for the front end of the big brother 720S), but if the Spyder was like the coupe, then we’d be in for a purely technical drive with subdued engine sounds and less-responsive-than-we’d-like-it-to-be braking.

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Having our pick of Spyders to thrash, we opted for the smurf blue (Curacao Blue) which we thought was a stunning color on the car. Turning it on we heard the twin turbo-charged V8 growl to life, which was unexpected because the coupe we drove last year sounded subdued. The Spyder starts at $211,000, which is $16,000 more than the coupe, and we must say it’s more than worth it.

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What we didn’t like about the coupe, the lack of emotion and sound, seems to be what McLaren directly addressed with the Spyder. The Spyder had all of the things we loved, which was the solid feel and confidence inspiring handling, but somehow the Spyder felt more analogue and connected to the driver. It was a bit weird because the McLaren is very anti-analogue: It’s got electric steering, a turbo charged engine and more computing power than silicon valley. And yet it somehow felt old school, playful and a little more raw. If we had been blind folded while in the coupe and the Spyder we would have sworn that they where to 2 completely different cars.

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Did the 570S Spyder also address the other things we disliked about the coupe? Well, when it came to the brakes, not at all. The brakes still take too long feel like they’re working which forces you to radically adjust your braking zones because you know in your mind that they will work but you instinctively don’t rust them as the brake pedal has to travel a little too far for comfort. The exhaust note issue has been thoroughly and gloriously addressed, as the Spyder growls aggressively, especially when in track mode. The only other annoyance is that even while in track mode the transmission automatically kept shifting up, instead of letting us cruise in a lower gear. We know better than the machines and it annoys us when they take our power of choice away. If those two items get fixed in future updates of this car then the 570S Spyder is going to be tough for anything to beat.

The 2017 Acura NSX:

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As fans of the original NSX, we must admit that we had mixed feelings about the new NSX before we drove it. We where excited to see the moniker return sporting some fun new technology, but we also were not exactly thrilled with how far away from the original NSX concept the new version deviated. The original NSX was about simplicity and superior handling. The concept for the new one seems to be more about the latest technology and driving aids over the pure driving experience, but we didn’t want to rush to judgement.

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The NSX starts at $157,000 with only a few minor options, so what you see is pretty much what you get. At that price, it’s about $50,000 cheaper than the Lamborghini and the McLaren, so it seems to be the bargain car to buy. On the exterior the NSX was draped in a gorgeous red. Though we liked the color we felt the design of the NSX to be a little underwhelming…The original had a very unique look but the present generation one looks a little too much like the Audi R8. The interior of the NSX is small but fairly cozy. The ergonomics take a few minutes to get used to which is a stark contrast to the original, which was just a seat and manual transmission. But, we were not here to compare the new NSX to the old one, so compared to the McLaren and the Lamborghini, the interior did feel rather nice, though the Lamborghini’s was the easiest to navigate.

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Firing up the NSX is not much of an event, as it starts up in silent mode. That’s perfectly fine if you want to start your car so your wife won’t hear you leave as you head to your girlfriend’s house, but if you compare it to the McLaren and the Lamborghini, both of those cars give you the feeling of the car coming alive, where as the NSX just lets you know that car is on with a change in the dashboard display.

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Stealthily cruising our way out into the road in eco mode, we put the car in sport mode and suddenly we heard a little life coming from the 573 horsepower V6, which is turbo charged. We took the NSX up a winding canyon road and we had to admit that it felt very solid when going around turns. While not the fastest feeling car the NSX does feel planted at speed as the AWD system works to ensure maximum grip at all times. So what is there not to like about the NSX? Not too much, which is a problem, because that’s the exact same answer when you ask the question of what is there to love about the new NSX? Not too much. The NSX is a good car, but in this day and age good isn’t good enough to be special. Especially compared to the McLaren and the Lamborghini. Sure they both cost a lot more, but those cars also feel uniquely special and magical in their own ways. The NSX is a great machine, but it doesn’t really standout in anyway, it looks too similar to another car, it sounds nice but not exceptionally special, and the driving feel is good, but nothing to brag about. It’s a grade A trying to compete in a field of A+ candidates, and that is where the NSX falls short.

The Verdict:

It was an interesting group, with all the cars having similar power but drastically different price points. Overall we still love the Lamborghini but were surprisingly impressed by how much more we love the McLaren 570S Spyder over the 570S coupe. The NSX is a bargain in comparison to the other two, but it seems to be a case of you get what you pay for as we where disappointed with how minimum level the car feels.

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Ranking in 3rd place is the NSX. Despite having similar numbers and being a huge bargain over the other 2 cars, the NSX feels very minimum level for a supercar. It has the minimum level of speed, of handling, styling and sound to be a supercar. Don’t get us wrong, it’s a good car. But as we mentioned before, in this day and age, being a good car isn’t enough to make it stand out. Frankly we feel that the Lexus LC500 has more personality and feel and at $100,000 it’s more of a bargain than the NSX, so if you want a special car from Japan that may be the way to go.

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In 2nd place, only by a few points is the McLaren 750S Spyder. We seriously love this car. Compared to the 570S Coupe we thought the 570S Spyder was 10 times more superior and it was a blast to drive. McLaren pulled off a very brilliant and difficult trick: They engineered the analogue feel into a car that isn’t analogue at all. In the smurf blue it looked really good, the exhaust note was amazing and car’s handling was sublime. Our only issues with the car are the auto-up-shifting from the transmission and again, the brakes where our biggest gripe. But no lie, we did spec one out for ourselves on McLaren’s website after our drive, we loved it that much.

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In first place and still champion is the Lamborghini Huracan LP580-2 Rear-Wheel Drive Spyder (that’s a mouth full). The 570S Spyder gave it a great run for it’s money, but the Lamborghini was able to edge it out because it has the looks, sound and classic Lamborghini insanity in the feel of the car that makes it the definitive supercar. Paired with very responsive brakes and a transmission that will let you red-line the engine as much as you want all day long, the Huracan beats the other two on that front as well. The V10 is hard to beat, and with the feel of the rear-wheel drive matching the feel of the McLaren, that is what solidified the decision for us. If we could take all of these cars home we would take the McLaren and the Lamborghini, but if we could only choose one, we’d have to go with the Huracan.

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Cheers,

-JB

Monterey Car Week 2017: Pebble Beach Concourse D’elegance

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Wrapping up Monterey Car Week would not be complete without a trip to the Pebble Beach Concourse D’elegance. We could write all day about the amazing cars we saw, the awesome concept car lawn, how we got up close and personal with Horacio Pagani’s personal Zonda HP Barchetta or Ferrari’s 70th Anniversary gathering…Or we could just show you.

Since the latter sounds like a much more enjoyable option, sit back, relax, and enjoy our pictures from the event and festivities.

 

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Cheers,

-JB

Concorso Ospitalità: A Look Inside the Monterey Car Week Hospitality Experience

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For car people and gear heads, Monterey Car Week is Mecca. This year’s Car Week was the biggest and best to date, with a flurry of prestigious events, hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world and every type and shape of car one could imagine in attendance. With so much to do and so much to see, what’s the best way to take a bit of a breather? The answer is to take a little time to visit some of the VIP hospitality villas and suites hosted by your favorite manufactures, and that’s exactly what we did this year.

The first hospitality retreat we took was at the BMW Villa, which is located in a secluded villa in the heart of Pebble Bach. A literal hidden gem, the villa was dressed up in an inviting and intimate fashion. At the front steps was a test drive booth, were attendees could test drive virtually any car in the BMW range, which we seized the opportunity to take the i8 for glorious drive. Upon returning from our drive we decided to further explore the villa. Out in the front patio BMW brought their two highlighted concept vehicles for display, the 2017 8 Series and Z4 concept cars. Both looked at home out in full display, which let us know that we were in a BMW fan’s dream house. To further that theme in the first room of the house was a station setup to highlight the BMW Individual Program, in which a customer can custom spec any exterior and interior color and material combination they can think of. The rest of the villa was decked with lounge chairs, couches and refreshment stations, and we will admit having cranberry-elderflower spritzer after a test drive was the perfect way to unwind a bit.

The next stop on our hospitality tour took us to the House of Bentley, which is next to the entrance of the Pebble Beach Concourse. The quickest way to signify that we were at Bentley was the elaborate display of the current model range in front of the massive house. Inside the house, one feels at home in the intimate environment, despite the first room having been converted into a high-end accessory and watch boutique, filled with scale models, jackets and fine watches. The next room feature the Bentley Design Studio, which features a blend of old school handcraftsmanship with technology that seems to be from the year 3017. We got to sample many of the fine leathers used for the interiors of the vehicle, but perhaps the coolest thing was a special app they had on their Design Studio iPads. This app scans your face and then custom specs out a car based on your personality, and it was pretty shockingly accurate with our specs. We decided to make our way to the outside patio, but to do that we had to pass the kitchen where several gourmet chefs were busy cooking a flurry of delicious bite eats. After grabbing some wine, a few insanely good lobster rolls and wagyu beef sliders, we ventured out to the back deck which had a breathtaking view of the ocean. This was a very hard place to leave, especially with those lobster rolls coming fresh out of the kitchen consistently.

Our third stop was to check in with McLaren. We were pretty excited to be testing out the new 570S Spyder, though we were not complaining about having to spend some time at the luxurious Bernardus Spa & Resort beforehand. McLaren brought out an impressive display of significant cars from their history, from a 1967 McLaren M6A Can Am race car, to the legendary 1992 McLaren F1, to their most recent effort with a 2017 McLaren 720S. There was also a good showing of owner cars, with 4 McLaren P1’s making an appearance with an assortment of 675 LT’s, 570S, 650S, and 720S’ as well. A variety of Asian-themed h’orderves were served and we helped ourselves to some ahi tuna mini tacos while inspecting the McLaren 570S configurator.

Our last stop on the official hospitality tour was with Lamborghini, located at the Quail Lodge Club House. Elegantly situated at the entrance to the Quail Lodge grounds, the club house is the perfect venue for enjoying a refreshing coffee or latte next to the mini-lake at the lodge, before experiencing the fury and insanity of the Aventador S and the Huracan Spyder. It was a very surreal dichotomy: At the lodge, we felt a Zen-like sense of peace and calm, the perfect counter balance to the raw and primal fury of the Lamborghini’s, particularly the V12 Aventador S. It was the perfect calm before the storm, and was certainly the perfect way to end our hospitality tour as we continued the weekend with many other events.

Other noteworthy mentions in the hospitality tour go to Aston Martin, who had a wonderful display and setup at the Sunset Center Carmel; Audi’s Hospitality Paddock at Laguna Seca Raceway, which was highlighted with a speech by 9-time LeMans winner Tom Kristensen; The Rolls-Royce Villa which showcased the band new Phantom; Porsche, who’s hospitality suite at the Quail Lodge made for the perfect mid-day escape and refreshment stop, and Mercedes-Benz, who’s Pebble Beach hospitality suite gave the best views to be had of the Concourse winners as they came to the front stage. If you plan to attend car week next year, we highly encourage you to talk with your dealers and secure an invite to a hospitality suite of your favorite brand or brands, it’s the best way to get the full Car Week VIP Experience.

Cheers,

-JB

Monterey Car Week 2017: The Quail Lodge

It’s our favorite time of year again, Monterey Car Week. It’s always hard to imagine how it can possibly get better than the year before, but somehow it does. And we fully support that.

The Quail Lodge is our personal favorite event of the entire car week. For us we love the mixture of the latest and greatest with the cars of legend and classics. And the all you can eat and drink is a huge bonus.

We encourage you to enjoy or gallery of pictures from the event:

 

Cheers,

-JB

Sunset GT 6-11-2017

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With a flurry of car shows out there, how does one pick which on to go to? Well, we decided that since it was pretty conveniently located…and a new show…and that there would be a Bugatti Chiron and a Lamborghini Huracan Performante featured…we decided we’d go check out Sunset GT, which is hosted O’Gara Coach.

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We could sit her and talk about how it was a fantastic showing of cars old and new, and the atmosphere was full of fun, excitement, and car joy. Or we can show you some awesome photos and tell you to mark your calendars for the next one.

 

Cheers,

-JB

BMW ///Master Class: M2 vs M3 vs M4 vs X6 M vs i8

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We had a very exciting start to our week, as Valencia BMW, Center BMW and Pacific BMW were kind enough to host us at  BMW M drive event and dine event. The idea was to drive the new M and Alpina range and then enjoy a celebrity chef tasting afterward. We can tell that this story has wet your appetite, so let’s dive into it. For us, we wanted to see how the M cars all stacked against each other, so with Santa Anita Raceway to play around, we did just that.

The i8

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We’ve driven the i8 before, so we where very familiar with it going in. However, it was interesting to see how it compares when directly pitted against other M cars. The i8 is set up a bit differently and feels very different as well. It feels much more futuristic yet somehow still familiar. As we noted the entire car is all about gimmicks…the doors go up to be dramatic, the dash lights up red when put into sport mode, and the was the car feels in motion is a little over the top. But that’s part of the appeal and what makes this car work…it’s a bunch of things that individually seem like gimmicks, but added up they all work together to create a fun and unique driving experience.

It’s a hard trick to pull off and many other car makers fail at this, but BMW does a brilliant job of hitting the mark. Stacked against the other M cars the i8 is a different machine all together: It doesn’t really fit in. It’s more of it’s own flavor and spin on what a car is, so it’s not better or worse, it’s just different. That might be a middle of the road answer, but you’ll have to take it for what it is. If you want proper, old-school M fun, then you’ll want to stick with an M car. If you want a unique and refined driving experience on the other hand, the i8 is not a bad way to go.

The M3 Competition Package

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What can we say that hasn’t been said before? The M3 is a benchmark for performance cars and there’s a good reason for it: It does everything that well. Can you take it for a grocery store run? Check. Can you tack it for a hardcore track day? Double check. Can you comfortably transport your buddies on a night out? Triple check. The M3 is fast, powerful and feels properly dialed in like the M cars of old. With the competition package everything has a little extra boost. There’s a little bump in horsepower and torque, the steering a bit sharper and there’s some bits of extra carbonfiber goodness as well.

While some people have issues with the turbo-charged engine, we found it sublime as the performance exhaust gives a deep, burbling roar as we pushed the car through its paces. There was no turbo lag and the car feels balanced and direct: You point it one way and the car goes that way. Admittedly, we’re not the biggest fans of the dual-clutch transmission paired with paddles. We think that with a manual, the M3 would feel truly special, but we will admit that the DSG is light-years ahead of the old SMG transmission. All in all the M3 is a proper M car and great modern successor in a legendary lineage of M cars.

The M4 Competition Package

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You know everything we said about the M3? Well repeat that except for now it’s on an M3 that looks a little sexier and sleeker with two doors. We love the M4, and with the competition package we love it even more. One of the things we’ve heard is that BMW M has lost it’s edge as other cars in the category are giving them legitimate runs for their money. What we see is that M cars are actually still M cars, they are dialed in racing machines you can use every day on the street, but when they first came on the scene no one else was doing anything near their level. However, as time has progressed and we’ve reached the modern era, everyone has stepped  their game so the field is now more packed than before. So this doesn’t means that M cars have somehow gotten worse, it means that everyone else has gotten better and reached the near M level, so the real question is how do the M cars manage to stand higher than the rest of field despite the fierce competition? We think it’s a mix of utilizing the same DNA as their predecessors and good old fashioned BMW witchcraft.

Getting back o the M4, it’s everything the M3 is minus two doors, so if you like the sleek look of a coupe, this is the car for you. We’ll state it again for the record, we think that with a manual transmission the M4 would feel even more special, but we’re not going to complain about powering around with the DSG. All in all the M4 is the same winning formula as the M3 just in a slightly sexier package.

The M2

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The M2 is a car we’ve been waiting to drive for a while now because we’re intrigued by the idea…a smaller, lighter version of the current M3 & M4 would make for a really fun car. We’re a bit annoyed by the marketing, as the folks at BMW are trying to convince us that this is the “real” M car, much like when they had the 1 Series M launched against the E92 M3. But we got to examine and drive the M2 and we must say, we were a bit perplexed.

The M2 is sold as the “smaller and lighter” car but looking at it right next to an M4, the M2 is not that much smaller and it only weighs roughly 80 pounds less (with no options) so it’s not that much lighter either. The dimensions are a little odd on the car too, and one thing we take issue with is that the signature M engine outlets on the side fender that started with the E46 M3 or the M2 are actually fake and non-functional. This upsets us since the mantra of M cars has been form is function, so an M car with non-functional bits is a violation of that philosophy. Driving the M2 was a disappointment because the car still feels soft and not as hard-dailed in as the M3 and M4. It really feels like a slightly more powerful version of the M235i. And that’s what disappoints us: When you drive a regular 3 or 4 series and then you drive and M3 or and M4, the M car feels very different and very maximized. When you drive a 2 Series, then an M235i and then the M2, they all feel too closely similar. On it’s own the M2 is a fun and a bit playful, but when stacked directly against it’s bigger brothers the M3 and M4, it becomes clear that the M2 is a training car to get you ready for the properly dialed in ones. the M2 is a car that we’re told is one thing when in reality it’s something else: It’s not a hardcore, dialed in M car of old. It’s a soft, playful modern car that speaks to a different segment of drivers.

The X6M

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The X6M can be summed up in one word: Why? Why does this car exist? The answer: Why not? Why does this car have 580 horsepower and enough torque to rip the skin off your face? Why shouldn’t it? The X6M is the sleeper hit of the day, because it is literally a stupid amount of fun. When we were driving it we could not help but smile and laugh, because the car sits so high up, it’s cozy and comfortable, yet it drives like a bull at full charge and shockingly handles like a dialed in sports car. The whole experience is so absurd because your brain knows this shouldn’t be, and yet it is.

The X6M offers a master class in ridiculousness because it’s a usable sport activity vehicle (whatever that means), but it’s also a hardcore driving machine. The M3 and M4 are much more serious cars for serious drivers, the i8 in it’s own eco-future dimension and the M2 is a soft trainer car, but the X6M is just a barrel of jolly monkeys strapped to  rocket. There’s no way to fully describe the X6M with words, it’s just something you have to drive and experience for yourself. Well done BMW, the joke is on us this time and we love you for it.

 

 

 

After the drives we enjoyed a some refreshments and three-course tasting menus provided by a few celerity chefs. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon, and we want to again thank Center BMW, Valencia BMW, and Pacific BMW for hosting us.

Final Verdicts

i8 – It’s gimmicky, but all the gimmicks work which makes it cool. It’s fun to drive and looks really awesome, so it’s a winner in our book.

M3 – A legend with 4 doors, nuff said. It’s properly dialed in a with extra doors so you can claim it’s “family friendly.”

M4 – If we could only take one home today, it’s be this one. It’s an a proper M3 it but sleeker and sexier with the 2 doors.

M2 – A huge disappointment for us. It still feels too soft like the 2 series and not properly dialed in. On it’s own it’s a great car, but compared head to head wit the M3 and M4 you realize it’s a good training car but not a proper M.

X6M – Literally a stupid amount of fun. It should not exist, and yet it does, which makes us giddy. A sleeper hit, and a hard hit at that.

Cheers,

-JB