Each year, BMW invites journalists to a test facility in Spartanburg, South Carolina, to put the latest and greatest machines through their paces on the street and around the automaker’s purpose-built test track. The roster of the annual “Test Fest East” event includes not only BMW’s newest hardware, but Mini Cooper and Rolls Royce as well, as those brands are also part of the larger BMW Group.
This year’s program showcased a particularly wide array of vehicles, several of which made their U.S. debut at the event. Here’s a look at the most notable hardware that we spent some time with.
2020 BMW M8 Competition Coupe and Convertible
Our stint in BMW’s new top-spec 8-Series two-door was comprised of lapping sessions on the test track in the coupe and street driving in the drop-top, illustrating the split personality that the automaker has strived to achieve with this new performance-focused grand tourer.
Like most big coupes with tons of power on tap, the M8 Competition expects a lot from its driver.
It’s underpinned by BMW’s modular CLAR platform, which the 8-Series shares with the 5-Series, along with a number of other rear and all-wheel drive models in the company’s current lineup. As the top performance model in the 8 roster, the M8 Competition is motivated by a twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter DOHC V8 that dishes out 617 horsepower and 553 pound-feet of torque, an engine it shares with the current M5.
Gear changes are dispatched by an eight-speed automatic and sent to all four corners through BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive system, while an electronically controlled differential manages the power distribution between the wheels. A 2WD mode is also part of the deal, which sends all the power to the rear wheels for those looking to do their own impression of Ken Block.
If this sounds a lot like the overall design of the F90 M5, that’s because it is. Accordingly, it should come as little surprise that the experience at speed is quite similar, though the M8’s shorter wheelbase and more aggressive overall aesthetic is backed by similarly sharpened performance. On track, the theme is big – big power, big (brake-by-wire) brakes, and big dimensions. Think Bavarian Challenger Hellcat and you’re on the right track. But where the Dodge struggles to put its power down effectively, even in Widebody guise, the M8’s all-wheel drive system does a much better job of translating torque into forward motion rather than tire smoke.
Even in 4WD modes, the system is still decidedly rear-wheel biased – just ask the driver who managed to spin one coming out of a slow corner right in front of us. Like most big coupes with tons of power on tap, the M8 Competition expects a lot from its driver when pushed hard on a road course, but those willing to put in the work are rewarded by a car that’s surprisingly agile given its 4,300-pound curb weight.
But our time on the street with the convertible makes it clear that the M8 is truly in its element when asked to swallow up straight miles at high speed. Comfortable and loaded with BMW’s class-leading tech (including wireless Apple CarPlay), blistering performance is always just a stab of the throttle away. The standard, 591hp M8 coupe starts at $133,000 ($142,500 for the convertible), while the 617hp Competition model will set you back $146,000 in coupe form or $155,500 as a drop top.
The all-new, third generation X6 makes its debut for the 2020 model year. Produced at the Spartanburg plant – BMW’s largest manufacturing facility anywhere in the world – the X6 grows one inch in overall length, 1.6 inches in wheelbase, and 0.6 inches in width versus the outgoing sport-utility, while height has been reduced by 0.7 of an inch to improve aerodynamics and overall agility.
The look is an evolution of its predecessor’s aesthetic, with larger intakes and sharper body lines invoking a more aggressive look overall. 20-inch wheels are standard, but 21 and 22-inch rollers are on the options sheet, the latter of which were outfitted to our X6 M50i test car. Serving as the top performer until the 2021 X6 M lands in showrooms next year, the M50i is motivated by the same 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 found in the M8 and elsewhere in the BMW lineup, here tuned to dish out 523 horsepower and 553 pound-feet of torque – gains of 78 hp and 74 lb-ft over the previous model.
Despite the X6 M50i’s sizable dimensions and 5100+ pound curb weight, this mid-sized SUV can move with serious haste. It’ll hit 60 mph in 4.1 seconds, a half-second improvement over the X6 it replaces, and it won’t stop pulling until an electronically-limited top speed of 155 mph.
Various driver assistance features are on offer, including the Top View, Panorama View, and 3D View cameras that are part of the Parking Assistant Plus package, which create a 360-degree image of the vehicle and its surroundings. A next-generation heads up display is on offer as well, boasting larger and sharper graphics along with additional real-time information about both the vehicle and the road you’re driving on.
Prices (with destination) start at $65,295 for the X6 sDrive40i, while the M50i will set you back $86,645.
Mini John Cooper Works Clubman
With a 105.1-inch wheelbase, poundage similar to a BMW 4-Series, and a starting price near forty grand, it’s clear from the outset that the new Mini John Cooper Works Clubman is not your grandpa’s Mini. It’s a sword that cuts both ways, though: With standard all-wheel drive and a turbocharged 2.0-liter four cylinder BMW mill under the hood making 301 horsepower and 331 pound-feet of torque (up 73 ponies and a similar amount of torque versus the previous John Cooper Works model), this pocket rocket can sprint from 0-60 mph in 4.9 seconds and dispatch the quarter mile in 13.5 seconds on the way to an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph. That’s legitimately quick.
It’s clear from the outset that the new Mini John Cooper Works Clubman is not your grandpa’s Mini.
To scrub off speed when needed, Mini has outfitted the JCW Clubman with four-piston calipers that clamp down on 14.2-inch rotors, while with additional structural bracing and a sport-tuned suspension are on hand to enhance the handling. Electronically adjustable dampers are optional.
Three-pedal advocates will mourn the loss of the manual gearbox here – an eight-speed automatic is the sole transmission available, but we found it to be generally agreeable whether we were tooling around town or hustling it around the test course. Although there’s little to connect the Mini with its heritage at this point, the JCW Clubman delivers a unique, accessible hot hatch experience. Pricing for the JCW Clubman starts at $39,400.
If you were to look back at Alpina’s history of modifying BMW vehicles for motorsport, you might expect the new sixth-generation B7 – an Alpina-tuned version of the BMW 750Li – to be an uncompromising sports sedan.
It’s certainly got the performance hardware: It’ll hit 60 mph in a mere 3.5 seconds on its way to a 205 mph top speed by way of a modified version of BMW’s 4.4-liter twin turbo V8, here tuned to 600 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque. The sport-tuned air suspension also sits 0.6 inches lower in its more aggressive setting, the steering system has been sport-tuned, and rear-axle steering is on hand as well.
Yet the Alpina B7 isn’t really a hard-edged bruiser. Instead, it’s more like a fast 7-Series from an alternate dimension, one where ride comfort and luxury appointments are just as crucial to the mission as the performance prowess – if not more so. At speed, road noise is ostensibly nonexistent, and whether you’re in the front or back, each occupant in the B7 has their own first-class ticket on this road-going private jet. Rear passengers get Executive Lounge Seating, which includes four-zone automatic climate control as well as massaging chairs, while those up front score ultra-posh goodies like Lavalina leather and ceramic-coated switchgear.
While the standard 7-Series isn’t exactly a sluggish torture chamber, the Alpina B7 takes both the capability and opulence of BMW’s big sedan to a new level while adding some additional character to the mix. Pricing for the B7 starts at $142,695.
Rolls Royce Wraith Black Badge
The Wraith has been around for a while now, originally debuting at the 2013 Geneva Motor Show, but Rolls Royce has continued to refine and improve the imposing two-door in order to keep it fresh and relevant in a changing automotive landscape.
The Black Badge models are a reaction to Rolls Royce’s evolving customer base, one which is increasingly younger and hipper than Rolls buyers of yore.
The latest evidence of their efforts comes in this Black Badge iteration. Touted as a “dark, edgy lifestyle statement,” the Black Badge models are a reaction to Rolls Royce’s evolving customer base, one which is increasingly younger and hipper than Rolls buyers of yore. Accordingly, the Wraith is outfitted with a darkened metal Pantheon Grille and Spirit of Ecstasy, along with 22-inch wheels, carbon fiber accents, and other subtle tweaks aimed at this new audience.
It’s not all cosmetic, though. The Wraith’s twin-turbocharged and direct injected 603 horsepower V12 engine has been reworked to deliver an additional 40 pound-feet of torque for a new total of 620 lb-ft. And to improve braking performance, new brake discs with a one-inch-larger diameter have been installed up front. The air suspension sees some revision as well, along with the transmission, both of which benefit from a more performance-oriented tune.
It all adds up to a Rolls Royce that encourages you to be a driver rather than a passenger – provided you can pony up the coin to meet the Wraith Black Badge’s $380,000 asking price.