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.