2021 BMW Group Test Fest in the Californian Desert


Experienced by Kimatni D. Rawlins

Imagine the opportunity to grab the keys to any new BMW, MINI, or Motorrad bike of your liking and hitting the desert roads outside of Palm Springs. So, to all enthusiasts of German elite machines, welcome to the 2021 BMW Group Test Fest at the BMW Performance Center West in Thermal, CA for a few exciting days with a squadron of the BMW Group’s finest. Accordingly, we chose wisely!


For the automotive journalists in attendance the occasion was akin to kids at Disney World where you become overwhelmed with exhilaration. On-site, we were able to evaluate a vast majority of Ultimate Driving Machines, including the immaculate 2022 ALPINA B8 Gran Coupe, the all-new 2 Series Coupe, M5 CS, 2022 R 18 B and R 18 Transcontinental motorcycles, the M4 Competition Convertible with xDrive, the 2022 X4 M, and a variety of MINIs from the 2022 JCW Hardtop and Convertible to the 2022 Clubman. I also participated in the competitive MINI autocross course with a MINI Cooper Electric SE to showcase the little guy’s acceleration, agility, and stopping power. Moreover, the interiors are spacious and engaging with a spice of futuristic touches. My 6’8” drive partner, Brian Armstead, had no qualms fitting in comfortably. Lastly, media guests were treated to hot laps in 3 generations of racing M3s piloted by BMW’s own Tom Plucinsky.


At the BMW Performance Center West, customers witness their dream rides’ performance and handling capabilities in various conditions and driving scenarios. For example, there are a dozen BMW and MINI course options for the 11,000 guests attending the facility every year. From teen driving schools to car control basics to M track drives, BMW enthusiasts have the opportunity to experience it all. You can even go off-roading with X utilities like the highly proficient, go-anywhere X5 Sports Activity Vehicle. Albeit, track performance on the South Palm Circuit is where the action takes place. When done, don’t forget to pick up a few pieces of fresh gear from the gift shop.

With too many vehicles to attribute specific descriptions, here are a few models that we held dear to our hearts, created dynamic and nostalgic euphoria, and enjoyed on the streets of the Coachella Valley area.


2022 BMW ALPINA B8 Gran Coupe

Presented in ALPINA Blue Metallic, the 2022 BMW ALPINA B8 Gran Coupe was my first choice after the M5 CS. As I discovered at Test Fest, the German touring sedan properly showcased its formula of sporty elegance, enhanced innovation, and elevated performance. Its potent 4.4-liter BMW Alpina Bi-Turbo V8 pairs with their latest 8-speed sport automatic transmission with ALPINA SWITCH-TRONIC software for ultra-fast and efficient shifting. ALPINA says there is absolutely no interruption from upshifts during acceleration. However, I’m not a fan of the push-button steering wheel shifters. An ALPINA sport suspension and all-wheel xDrive kept the vehicle planted and stable at higher speeds around bends. High-performance rubber encases 20” M light-alloy wheels and M sport brakes with blue calipers that halt the car immediately from high rates of speed. Adding to the allure of this latest generation B8 Gran Coupe is the hand-finished ALPINA LAVALINA sports steering wheel, Integral Active Steering with rear-axle steering, quad exhaust tips, Glass Controls, and a Bowers & Wilkins sound system. Expect a $140,000 price tag.


MINI Cooper JCW Knights Edition

To understand the current state of a brand, you need to familiarize yourself with its past. For this reason, a few Classic MINIs were on set to take out for a spin, including a 1999 MINI Knightsbridge Edition. Yes, I was able to fit and roll around the property as giddy as a kid while the fun lasted. It’s based on the same production MINI of 1959 and features four manual gears, small Michelin tires, upgraded leather, robust fender flares, and a canvass rollback sunroof.


From there, I headed to the autocross in the MINI Cooper Electric SE Hardtop 2 Door to energize myself from the vehicle’s electric torque. With a low center of gravity, standard LED headlights, Union Jack taillights, air curtains, 181-horsepower, and a 114-mile range, the vehicle is a perfect intro into the world of carbon-free driving. However, it’s sold out for a year and a half, so the 80% of new customers to MINI will have to be a bit patient. But once available, a total $7,500 federal tax credit is available after your $29,900 purchase. So until then, enjoy in the summer of 2022 and forge your own path!


BMW Motorrad Motorcycles

BMW Motorrad is on tour with its new fleet of cruiser and luxury touring bikes in an attempt to take sales away from Harley. The new 2022 BMW R 18 B (Bagger), R 18 Transcontinental, and R 18 were all available for riding around the curated Thermal roads. I’m especially fond of the R 18 First Edition with a base MSRP of $17,495, which we have back in Maryland for a few bike event presentations. Automotive Rhythms’ R 18 came in a Metallic Black Storm hue with dual white pinstriping tastefully accented with chrome flowing from the powerful 91-horsepower 1800 cc Big Boxer engine to the heritage-inspired fishtail exhaust.


The R 18 is equipped with standard safety features such as Dynamic Brake Control, Automatic Stability Control, Integral ABS, as well as three riding modes: Rain, Rock, and Roll, all of which can be easily accessed via the trip computer on your left-hand grip. In Rain mode, throttle response is gentler, allowing improved control on wet and slippery surfaces. In Road mode, the engine offers optimum throttle response. Finally, in Rock mode, throttle response is instantaneous, allowing you to rock out with the R 18’s full power. In addition, you can bless your bike with a few extra goodies such as Hill Start Control, Heated Grips, Cruise Control, Reverse Assist, and an Adaptive Headlight. If you’re not familiar with the Big Boxer engine, the styling is truly unique. But let me assure you that this characteristic speaks directly to BMW Motorrad’s heritage as it turns heads and stands out in a crowd for all the right reasons.


As you can see, I highly enjoyed my days in the heat at the 2021 BMW Group Test Fest. Of course, I could have used a few more days for evaluations, but the event’s premise has been personified with the selected shining examples. Now please deliver us a few of these rides to the office, especially the M4 Competition in Toronto Red Metallic with carbon fiber interior inlays, Tartufo Full Merino leather interior, the Red M1 and M2 buttons, and its $104,000 worth of nasty acceleration!


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