A mid-winter escape from frigid Michigan to drive a trio of new BMW and Mini products? It'd be a busy couple of days, but you can't argue with Southern California in February. The temperatures in LA, where we drove the Mini Cooper S Convertible, hovered in the mid-80s, and it was solidly in the 70s further north, at Monterey, where we drove the M2 and X4 M40i.

The highlight of the trip was Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, which is a rewarding track to drive in a street car. The M2 was a blast there. The canyon roads above Malibu in the Mini were a close second, but even the lazy drive down the PCH to Big Sur was a blast.

More important is the California state of mind we were in when driving all three of these cars. I've spent a lot of time in this state, and it has a complicated relationship with the car – and there's also a huge difference in attitude between the greater Bay Area and Southern California. Ample sun and twisty roads clash with image-consciousness, eco-consciousness, and brutal urban gridlock, and each BMW dealt with that paradox admirably, in its own way.

Take a quick jaunt to California with me and check out the locations and experiences that helped form our impressions of these vehicles: the 2016 BMW M2 First Drive, the 2016 Mini Cooper S Convertible First Drive, and the 2016 BMW X4 M40i Quick Spin.


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