Sun, 13 Apr 2003

Comfy BMW X5 takes you wherever you want

Novan Iman Santosa, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

It was about 9 a.m. on a calm Tuesday morning when I hopped into the new BMW X5 3.0i sports utility vehicle (SUV). Traffic was getting heavy as the city's workers converged on their offices.

I, however, was not thinking about office hours as I prepared to test drive this beautiful car on the slopes of the twin Gede and Pangrango mountains in West Java, with planned stops in Puncak, Cianjur and Sukabumi.

As I slid into the vehicle, I could not miss the comfort one expects from a BMW. My eyes were glued to the switches on both the dashboard and the steering wheel. There was also an LCD monitor on the dashboard. I wondered if I would really need all of these gadgets.

The instructor from PT BMW Indonesia, Arthur, was in charge of getting us out of Jakarta. He drove the car onto the toll road heading south.

Sitting next to Arthur, I couldn't help barraging him with questions about all those switches and what they did.

We all now what air bags and antilock braking systems (ABS) are, but what about the HDC or the PDC? Have you heard of a DBC or a DSC?

Well, HDC stands for hill descent control, which regulates the speed of the vehicle while descending, allowing the driver to take his or her foot off the brake pedal. PDC stands for park distance control, which offers additional surveillance around blind corners.

"The PDC senses any obstructions within a 100-meter range when we are driving less than 30 kilometers per hour.

"Don't worry about all of these switches. They're just here to make for easier driving. You'll learn them one at a time," he said.

I took over the wheel after we filled up the tank and took us onto the Jagorawi toll road, feeling the car's power.

I had to be very careful in navigating this Rp 847.5 million (US$95,220) car around all the buses and trucks that drove like they owned the road.

When I complained that the engine was not responsive enough to overtake an overloaded truck or a stubborn bus, Arthur told me to move the gearshift to the left into the "S" mode.

I did what he suggested and lo and behold, I had the power to beat those road monsters. All I needed now was to reinforce my nerves.

This machine can run as fast as 202 kilometers per hour, thanks to a 2,979-cubic-centimeter, six-cylinder, four-valve Double Vanos engine.

"If you move the shift further to the left you will be driving the car in a manual mode, but with a different arrangement compared to other cars," said Arthur.

Since the BMW X5 is equipped with an automatic Steptronic transmission, I had to move the lever in a linear movement instead of the clutched pattern in a car equipped with a real manual transmission.

Being happy with "S" mode, I decided to leave the linear manual transmission alone and just stepped on the accelerator.

It was such a relief when we reached our first checkpoint at the Puncak Pass restaurant at about 11 a.m.

My colleague from The Jakarta Post, photographer R. Berto Wedhatama, was staring at the entrance of the Gunung Sindur telecommunications tower just across the street, saying it would be a perfect site to test the X5's abilities, as well as a good spot for some pictures.

The track's surface was rough asphalt flanked with beautiful columns of pine trees, but it was not rough enough to test the X5's real ability.

We continued our journey after lunch, heading toward Cianjur, hoping to find another place to push the X5 to the limit.

Unfortunately, we couldn't find a suitable place in this lovely town famous for its delicious rice, as well as the tembang Cianjuran traditional Sundanese music.

Then we headed westward toward Sukabumi's rugged terrain, hoping to get out of the traffic along the Puncak-Cianjur route.

I've been told that there is a waterfall inside a tea plantation in Selabintana, just outside the town of Sukabumi. But when we reached the Goal Para tea plantation, it turned out that the waterfall could only be reached on foot, so we just hit the tracks crisscrossing the tea plantation.

The tracks were narrow and it was impossible for two cars to pass freely. So it was crucial to remember the wide spot passing was possible.

The narrow tracks were also on the hilly side of the plantation, so one wrong move could send the car into the valley below.

You may argue that such conditions were not challenging enough for a test drive, but then the X5 was not designed for extreme driving. Indeed, BMW has its own concept of the SUV. It provides its famous sedan-class comfort with a permanently engaged four- wheel drive system instead of the other way around.

Satisfied with the test drive, we decided to get home early as there were dark clouds hanging in the sky.

But the journey home was not so easy because of all the traffic jams, especially when we passed the small town markets along the way. This, however, demonstrated that driving the BMW X5 in chaotic conditions is no ordeal at all.

On the last part of our trip, Mother Nature showered us with pelting rain on the Jagorawi toll road, giving us the chance to test the braking system in truly trying conditions. Needless to say, it passed with flying colors.