MONTEREY, California — Seventeen Mile Drive along the California coast is paved with testosterone.
The route is not only one of the most beautiful stretches of road in America, it’s also home to Pebble Beach Golf Links and high-priced homes with big garages and spectacular views of the Pacific. Cool cars and trucks come out to strut their stuff along the route despite the low 25 mph speed limit and $20 toll.
My ride? A green 503-horsepower 2022 BMW M4 convertible coupe. The sun is out and it’s time to go topless.
BMW’s M-performance hellions are the first to sport the brand’s huge, hood-to-chin twin kidneys. You can see them from space and they are the new BMW status symbol.
A white M3 (the sedan version of the two-door M4) looms in my mirror, its huge nostrils sniffing at the earth like an enraged bull. It’s intimidating even at 25 mph. I pull over at a beach overlook, and the M3 cruises by with a toot of the horn and a hearty “Like your car!” from its passengers. Further along the route an another topless M4 convertible — my mirror-image save for its blue paint scheme — rounds a bend. Thumbs-up exchanged. Members of the German tribe way out here on West Coast, USA.
BMW is at home as much here in California as it is in Deutschland, a testament to years of consistent brand management. Its status as top-luxe dog is under attack, however, from home-grown (now Texas ex-pat) electric-automaker Tesla. Muscular, expensive examples of the Model Y/ Model 3/Model S/Model X are everywhere along 17 Mile.
Tesla doesn’t make convertibles, though. And they don’t growl, either.
When 17 Mile ends, Route 1 begins — the coast’s legendary, twisted two-lane where sports cars come to play. It was a cool 50 degrees in the Bay area, but I cranked up the heat in the BMW’s cockpit and kept the convertible top down to hear the twin-turbocharged inline-6 howl.
No one mixes a smooth, inline-6 cocktail better than Bimmer. I first enjoyed it in the spine-tingling 8,000-rpm E46 M3 that once graced my car stable. To keep upping the power — and satisfy government regulators at the same time — BMW strapped on turbochargers in subsequent models. They have taken the edge off the beast’s howl. Caged further by sound-deadening materials, the engine can feel remote in the M3 sedan — a reason to get the droptop despite its greater weight. And lesser trunk. Beware suitcase travelers: stowing the roof takes up half your boot.
Like entering hyperspace, the BMW cockpit must be prepared for maximum performance.