Each autumn, BMW stages a Fall Media Test Event at Monticello Motorsports Park to give automotive journalists an opportunity to drive the latest models on the track and on public roads.
The fleet this fall featured the 20201 M2 CS, M5 Competition, 430i, M8, and the Alpina XB7 SUV. Each was a new model, except for the M5, which was the latest/updated version of that vehicle.
Spoiler alert: Each vehicle I tested was engaging and fun to drive, both at the limit and in the sort of daily driving you do on the street. That statement might seem to be overly simplified, but finding a modern car that is engaging is increasingly difficult, yet here was a fleet of them. I came away impressed.
For this Driven report, we’ll start with my runaway favorite — the M5 Competition. This car blew me away with its performance, reminding me of a first generation E28 M5 even if this 2021 M5 Competition weighs in at 4,345 pounds. Despite its heft, the car can sprint to 60 mph in a staggering 3.1 seconds and has a top speed (with the limit removed) of 190 mph.
Those numbers do not tell the complete story, however, as the M5 Competition is more than just a set of performance statstics. I cannot convey how light and responsive the car feels. Somehow, with the addition of all-wheel drive, 617 horsepower and carbon-ceramic brakes, the wizards at the BMW M group have turned the M5 into a honest race car for the street.
The steering is telepathic and the handling and braking are faultless. The weight of the car is so well hidden as to be of no consequence whatsoever. The closets comparison I can draw is with a Ducati motorcycle.
A Ducati sport bike has a chassis that is so well engineered and capable that it makes an adequate rider feel as if they have been instantly transformed into Valentino Rossi. The M5 Competition does exactly the same thing. It is so forgiving that it makes you start to really push all that much harder to see if you can discover its limits. But the harder I dug, the better the car performed, never once making a misstep. (Andy also recently spent some time on BMW’s news motorcycle.)
To say that the M5 Competition is fun is a gross understatement. This car has to be the best performance-focused BMW M series sedan I have driven.
And, inside the car there are the typical M touches mixed with the best materials BMW has to offer. A visual touch I loved were the M Motorsport stripes on the seat belts. This car is M series perfection.
The next car I drove was actually not a car at all but the Alpina XB7 SUV. This is the BMW X7-based SUV after the crazies at the Alpina group get done with it.
Tom Plucinsky from BMW gave the vehicle a rave review and I was skeptical that something as large — 203.3 inches in length — and as heavy — 5,860 pounds — could offer any kind of exciting performance. How wrong I was.
I started on a city drive and went through the various suspension and performance modes and thought it was a nice and very powerful Sport
Activity Vehicle (BMW’s term for SUV) that did not feel nearly as big from behind the wheel as it looked on the outside.
On the inside, it features a crystal-like shift lever and simply gorgeous quilt-stitched leather. I came away from the street drive thinking this was a nice car but that was about it.
Then I took it on the track.
All I can say is — holy cow. I do not know how the engineers at Alpina were able to achieve it, but they took the largest BMW SAV in the company’s history and turn it into a capable track animal.
The chassis does everything that you ask of it and this huge SAV is capable to some staggering dynamics. Just how good is it? Well, riding with a professional driver while trailing another pro driver in a M8 Competition, we were able to climb all over him at every turn on the Monticello track. The M8 would show its capability on the straights, but was were back on his bumper.
We took the kink on the Monticello back straight flat out and saw speeds as fast as 146 mph before braking for Turn 13. This has to be one of the fastest vehicles of its kind, not to mention that it was nice having the seat massagers operating as we raced around the 4.1-mile facility. (The car has 612 horsepower, gets to 60 in 4 seconds flat and has a top speed of 180 mph.)
Now this is what I call a truly luxury track day experience.
The final car I drove was almost a throwback, the M2 CS. This is a rear-wheel drive M2 with the 444-horsepower engine from the M4 under the hood. The car looks and feels small and, at 3,417 pounds, was the lightest of all the cars I drove.
The minute you get behind the wheel of the M2 CS you know you are dealing with a serious car that needs to be driven quite differently than the rest. This is a automotive scalpel that will cut you if you do anything wrong at the limit.
The car needs to be approached with respect or the consequences could be bad. This was the reason I loved it. The M2 CS is a car that the die-hard BMW M fans should be ordering immediately. The car is so agile and the steering so precise that it responds to the most subtle of changes instantaneously.
This is one of those cars that if you think you can do it, you find that you already did. The car can break the wheels loose at speed in fourth and fifth gear. From behind the wheel the M2 CS feels even faster than it is. At the limit it commands that you are on your game, but if you know what you are doing behind the wheel, it rewards the driver the way that an early 930 Turbo does. You come away from a fast lap on the track feeling that you have really accomplished something.
The M2 CS demands that the driver be an active part of the experience, especially if they want to reach the limits of its performance. It is the kind of car that makes you want to improve your skills just so you can find where the absolute limits might be. It will not suffer fools, an inexperienced driver can easily be in over their head.
The interior offers an option of carbon fiber cutaway seats, lots of M Motorsports cues on the seatbelts and seats, and a control layout that is the definition of good ergonomic design.
Just to offer some states, the M2 CS moves from rest to 60 mph in 4.0 seconds flat and has a top speed of 174 mph.
If it sounds like I am biased about these cars it is only because they are so well executed. As these three very different vehicles prove in a tangible way, BMW has in no way moved away from its racing and enthusiast roots. Each member of this trio is, most definitely, an Ultimate Driving Machine.