The car hurtles across the black volcanic sand, leaving a trail of dust in its wake. Moving with the rugged, nimble deftness of an off-roader or all-terrain vehicle, it tackles the sharp inclines and steep embankments carved into the landscape without losing its stride. The car also weaves its way through some foliage, coming out the other side as neat as a showroom-fresh model.
The car in question is none other than the highly anticipated 2014 BMW X5, which was launched for the Indonesian market in April.
The X5 comes with a choice of two gasoline engines with TwinPower Turbo — a 3.0-liter straight-six powerplant churning out 227 kilowatts, or a 4.4-liter V8 behemoth producing 335 kW.
With this much power under the hood, BMW is out to prove that there’s more to the new X5 than the clean lines and plush, comfy interior that make it a luxury sports activity vehicle. So to make its point, the luxury carmaker invited local motoring journalists out to the “Sea of Sands” — the volcanic flats at the foot of East Java’s Mount Bromo, an active volcano.Trying times
Set against the verdant backdrop of the Bromo-Semeru-Tengger mountain range, the area has long been one of the favorite playgrounds for off-road enthusiasts in Indonesia.
The engine of choice on the day was the 3.0-liter, dressed up as the rather clunkily named X5 xDrive35i M Sport. The name aside, the engine delivered from the get-go, as we started out on a drive to Seruni Point in the wee hours to catch the sunrise.
The car shot through the mountain roads without missing a beat, effortlessly weaving through hairpin bends and sharp turns on its way up.
The drive down toward the sandy plains was also an impressive experience. The car’s Hill Descent Control driver assist system did wonders on the descent, stabilizing the car by limiting it to speeds of between 10 and 20 kilometers an hour and enabling the driver to concentrate on steering.
The new X5 also featured improved situational awareness by providing real-time information about the car’s roll and pitch in the dashboard display.
The full-time, intelligent all-wheel-drive system that makes up the X5’s xDrive transmission actively manages the power split between the front and rear wheels at all times, providing top-class traction and stability for all road and weather conditions.
The car can also offers improved cornering dynamics, allowing it to suppress oversteer and understeer, and the Dynamic Performance Control takes the handling and stability to new levels.
“The xDrive transmission, which was perfected in the new X5, is designed for the driver to get a feel the car and get on top of things, whether on urban streets or off-road,” said Jodie O’Tania, the head of corporate communications at BMW Group Indonesia.
“The chassis and engineering enable a comfortable ride for drivers and passengers alike. This is also due in no small part to the X5’s all-wheel drive and independent suspension. The increasingly efficient system also enables the new X5 to use 17 percent less fuel than the previous edition.”
Both the 3.0 and 4.4 engines are coupled to the BMW Efficient Dynamics eight-speed automatic transmission with Eco Pro mode and new functions. The former’s high internal efficiency, precision and short shifts go a long way in improving efficiency and driving enjoyment.
The Eco Pro mode manages the engine, accelerator and transmission to keep the car fuel-efficient at low RPMs.
But open the throttle, and the 3.0 races out to a top speed of 235 kilometers an hour with an average fuel consumption of 11.8 kilometers per liter. The bigger engine tops out at 250 km/h, with an average fuel consumption of 9.6 kilometers per liter.
Intelligent, to boot
The X5 made itself at home in the shifting sand, romping through dunes in a test of the iDrive intelligent drive system. It didn’t take long to see how the iDrive gave the X5 an edge over other cars of its type.
“The X5’s all-wheel drive might make the wheels roll independently of one another, but the iDrive intelligent system takes this a step further,” said BMW test driver Gary Nasution.
“If two or three of the wheels are stuck, the iDrive can seek a wheel that still has traction and distribute power to it to pull the car out. The iDrive’s traction control also enables the X5 to handle steep drops efficiently, while the toggle controls can control its speed at such inclines. In short, the X5 makes off-roading more accessible for everyone, even for those with no off-road experience, with less effort and more thrills.”
Gary wasn’t kidding. The X5’s off-road capabilities, especially with the traction control off, gave it the bumpy feel of four-wheel drives, ATVs and other off-road vehicles. However, its inherent stability and comfort set the X5 in a class by itself, as did its balance of rugged handling and sports car-like transmission.
Aside from its smooth handling and efficient dynamics, passenger amenities are also high on the list. The leather seats and ergonomic use of elbow, leg and head room enable the driver and passengers to get through the bumpy ride or long trips comfortably, while the memory function on the driver’s seat can remember custom settings for different drivers.
Passengers in the back won’t feel left out, as the back seats feature a comfort seating that comes with upholstery and backrest adjustments. The 4.4 takes this level of comfort further, as the comfort seats also extend to the third row.
All this is wrapped up in a more aerodynamic, streamlined package, featuring slimmer rear lights and a new double-kidney grille.
The X5 has long been one of BMW’s best-selling cars, its previous iterations selling more than 1.3 million units worldwide. So whether you’re going to work, the grocery store, or roughing it out off-road, the new X5 is worth checking out.
Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on June 19, 2014