X to the highest power

BMW Destination X driving event in Bromo, Indonesia


Motoring journalists floored the accelerator of BMW’s latest X Series model in Bromo, Indonesia’s gruelling terrain.

Sport utility vehicles and so-called “crossovers” are the in thing nowadays, not just in the Philippines but around the world.

To have a decent chance in today’s ultra-competitive markets, automakers have to have at least one SUV or SUV-ish offering in their lineup. And, of course, the more the merrier.

That’s certainly one concept German luxury carmaker BMW has embraced in recent years by steadily growing its family of X series—to the point where this line of sporty and functional vehicles now rival the sales numbers of its luxury cars.

And just how sporty or functional this family is, is what the Munich-based company wanted to demonstrate when they invited a group of Filipino journalists to join their regular “BMW Destination X” driving event in Bromo, Indonesia recently.

As a brief background, Bromo—or Bromo Tengger Semeru—is a national park in the East Java province. This is about three hours’ drive from Surabaya, the second largest city in an archipelago of over 17,000 islands.

The highlight of the location is the Tengger massif, which is basically an elevated volcano complex surrounded by a sea of sand (our driving destination), and punctuated by the 2,329-meter Mount Bromo, an active volcano that vents steam 24/7, and last erupted only two years ago.

Well, at least the driving part of around 30 journalists, BMW clients, officials and support staff had fast and powerful SUVs in case the volcano suddenly decided to spew hot lava.

BMW gave us the chance to sample its all-new X3 xDrive20i luxury SUV, the X4 xDrive28i M Sport variant, and the big daddy of them all, the X5 xDrive35i xLine.

All three were new models, but the X3 stood out with its most distinguishing visual feature: the larger “kidney” grills up front, with its overall sleeker look than its previous incarnation, thus creating an optical illusion of having a lower ground clearance, an impression that was easily disabused by the obstacle courses we went through.

To be clear, this was not your usual motoring junket.

These BMW X Series vehicles demonstrate agility in challenging terrain.

For one, the participants were practically encouraged to put the vehicles through their paces, as in, to abuse them. Almost.

The three X series models went through an entire range of driving conditions, from driving through heavy traffic in the city (albeit escorted by motorcycle-mounted police escorts), to the roughest terrain in the “Sea of Sand” of Bromo.

We were told to floor the accelerator through some of the roughest terrain in the area, including some natural and some man-made obstacles.

At the outset, pardon us for not outlining all the features of the X series SUVs in this article, as we drove models specific to the Indonesian market (right-hand drive ones, at that). The exact specifications of the vehicles tend to vary from country to country.

Instead, the focus here will be on the most important feature of this SUV series that is common across all models: the xDrive system.

One can get more detailed specifications from the website of its local distributor, SMC Asia Car Distributors Corp. at www.bmw.com.ph.

What became clear during the entire experience was that people who think the X series doesn’t have real off-road capabilities are simply wrong.

The entire line isn’t just a case of BMW making vehicles that look like SUVs but without the legitimate credentials of SUVs. Other automakers have been accused of doing this just so to satisfy buyers’ shifting preferences.

The Sea of Sand experience proved that. Imagine driving an SUV on terrain similar to a Dubai desert, but on board a vehicle without special modifications.

One could literally drive any X series vehicle over the rugged Bromo terrain (sand, volcanic rock, dried out rivers), and in the next hour, pull into a shopping mall parking garage without having to adjust the inflation of the tires or push buttons or throw switches to change driving modes.

All these BMWs, most especially the M Sport variant, offered palpable differences in power and responsiveness, especially when being driven outside the city.

This BMW fords the challenging Sea of Sand.

With the BMW’s xDrive system, engine torque was automatically distributed to the wheels (or just one wheel, if necessary) for the best traction on the ground.

BMW is famous for its 60:40 distribution of engine torque, but biased toward the rear axle (if you remember your high school physics class, a push is generally more efficient than a pull when trying to move heavy objects across a surface).

There are times, though, when a push won’t do, and the car’s onboard computer transfers all the power (ok, almost all) to the front axle.

Even better, the computer can transfer almost all power to just one of the SUV’s four wheels (any one of the four, depending on which wheel is on stable footing) depending on the feedback it gets from the real-time sensors.

Various demonstrations were made where the X3, X4 and X5 tackled obstacles that left any two wheels hanging in the air or on rollers that negate traction.

In situations like these, the xDrive system simply transferred the engine power to the other one, two or three wheels that had firming footing on a stable surface, thereby allow the vehicle to move on.

In case you inadvertently drive half of your precious BMW SUV into a ditch (like one of those road diggings common in Metro Manila), where two wheels on one side are suspended in mid-air having any contact on solid ground, the onboard computer will send all the power to the front and rear wheels on the other side of the vehicle, and help extricate the vehicle to firmer ground.

While other all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive vehicles are capable of getting out of ditches, chances are, the engine power is distributed evenly among the four wheels: equal, but inefficient, because power that goes to the wheels not on the ground is simply wasted.

This is not that case with the xDrive system, which decides which wheel can make best use of the engine power.

The X series also has the ability to handle extreme terrain. It can do a maximum tilt to one side at an angle of 30 degrees.

We did 29 degrees in the able hands of BMW Indonesia’s chief driving instructor Gerry Nasution, who is also a race and drifting champion.

If you think the xDrive system is only useful for offroad situations (or for extricating yourself from a rare situation where any of your four wheels are hanging in mid air), think again.

It has some very common everyday uses like when the vehicle automatically redistributes power to to outer wheels when cornering at higher speeds, or when it sends power to the inner wheels when the computers sense the need to correct an understeer situation.

Again, these are situations one will not likely encounter while driving in daily city traffic, but it’s good to know that your car’s artificial intelligence systems have you covered — just in case you decide to floor the accelerator after enduring a particularly excruciating traffic bottleneck.

The xDrive system is available across BMW’s entire line of X series SUVs and crossovers.

If you’re a wealthy CEO with a few million pesos to burn, the powerful and stately X5 is definitely the model for you.

For an equally affluent would-be buyer who prefers a sportier ride, the more unconventional X4 may be a better choice. It handles somewhat like a sports car, but has all the all-wheel drive muscle of an SUV.

For a younger buyer who wants a SUV that can be driven to work on weekdays and out of town on weekends, the slightly more compact X3 could be a better choice.

The X3 is slightly more affordable, but is a good all-around vehicle to start one’s love affair with the iconic German brand.

And chances are, it’s a love affair that could run a long, long time.

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