Although the X Series models are used mostly, if not always, on paved roads rather than be taken off road to check out one’s plantation or construction site, these Bimmers would hold their own when coming across muddy patches or tackling off-road slopes.
Corporate Affairs Director of BMW Group Asia Sethipong Anatarasoti says that while the BMW X Series might not be designed to tackle serious off-road terrain, its all-wheel drive platform should take one through general off-road conditions with relative ease.
“We have observed that our X Series customers generally do not take their cars off paved roads but they should find it relatively easy to drive through mildly flooded stretches during incidents of flash floods,” he notes.
To provide the regional media an idea of the versatile quality of the X Series range, he organised a two-day drive in Chiangrai, Thailand, that is considered the ‘perfect venue to showcase the BMW X cars with its challenging mountain roads and B-roads’.
This event covered almost all the models in the X Series family, save for the X1, the latest version of which was recently launched and had yet to be introduced in our region.
The other exception was the X5 that was an sDrive25d (rear-wheel drive) as BMW Bangkok didn’t have an xDrive model at the time.
That gave us an opportunity to make a comparison between an all-wheel drive and a rear-wheel drive through the paved road course, except for the challenging off-road sector on the first day.
The xDrive models were two X3 xDrive20d, an X4 xDrive20d and one X6 xDrive30d; yup, they were all diesel powered SAVs (Sports Activity Vehicles) that were probably deemed best suited for the twisty roads to the west of Chiangrai on day one and mostly highways on day two to the east.
Another common feature was the eight-speed Steptronic automatic transmission, with Sport mode and paddle shifters; the X3 and X5 had similar transmission ratios with different final drives while the X6 had taller gearing.
The 2.0-litre diesel four-cylinder engines powering the X3 and X4 were TwinPower Turbo with variable inlet geometry and common rail direct injection, and outputs of 190hp and 400Nm torque from a low 1,750rpm to 2,500rpm.
Both the X3 and X4 (which is an M Sport model) have the same kerb weight of 1,730kg (DIN) and that means the power-to-weight ratio was the same between them.
The 2.5-litre diesel of the X5 has two turbochargers with the smaller one having variable geometry, and outputs of 218hp and 450Nm of torque from 1,500rpm; it tips the scales at 1,995kg (DIN).
Boasting the biggest engine is the X6 with its 3.0-litre with variable geometry turbocharger, boosting outputs to 258hp and 560Nm coming in at 1,500rpm.
It is also the heaviest of the lot at 2,065kg (DIN) but the high torque output that develops early made the X6 a charger through the winding sections.
The family image is consistent with the ‘six-eye’ look, a reference to the six headlights, two of them being the smaller foglights, with different apron styling for the vents to cool the engine and front brakes.
This family touch is closer at the rear as the design of the taillights are fashioned on similar outlines with the distinct touches in the door lines and lower aprons to accommodate the exhaust pipes.
Likewise, stepping into the respective X models, one can’t help but identify them as a BMW from the standard dashboard layout, with a large info display in a central area.
They smell similar due to the common use of chemicals to cure the wood and leather, the adhesives to keep items in place and paints, among others.
Our first SAV was the X5 sDrive25d and there was no shortage of grunt with the 450Nm coming in early to move briskly from the traffic lights as we headed towards Doi Mae Salong that borders Myanmar to the north.
We also used this strong torque to push the X5 quickly through corners, and the electric power steering that is standard in all the models gave us good directional input to steer the dimensionally large X5 without too much drama.
The drive was conducted in a convoy format with experienced instructors but the pace was reasonably quick for us to enjoy the respective X Bimmers.
The few times that we tried to throw the X5’s rear in an oversteer through a few tight corners proved futile although on day two, another media team had the car drifting sideways before the SAV’s active dynamic systems restored its poise from the accidental spin.
We drove to a height of about 3,000 metres and a fair bit of the road that wound up and down had gradients of eight degrees or less; that was how steep the gradient was in some places.
After lunch, we headed to a tea plantation (which used to grow poppy as the area was part of the Golden Triangle) where we had the off-road experience.
Under the guidance of the instructors and using the Hill Descent Control (with which we could increase or decrease road speed using the cruise control function on the steering wheel), the X3, X4 and X6 SAVs proved their mettle going up and down the steep and muddy roads, thanks to rain the day before.
Our next Beemer was the X6 xDrive30d and the 560Nm torque made it a ‘point-and-shoot’ experience; just aim, step on the accelerator pedal and scoot away.
Being an all-wheel drive, it also felt more planted on the road as the engine torque and power could be transferred to the respective wheel as per the demand for road traction.
Like the X5, the body lean was well controlled and we could carry a lot of speed through the winding stretches, tyres squealing and all.
By comparison, the X3 and X4 with the lower torque output, and slightly poorer power-to-weight ratio against the X5 and X6 felt tamer but were no less slow; we just had to work the accelerator a bit more to get going at the same pace.
There was also less body mass to move through the corners and we didn’t feel the shifting load as we took the final winding stretch down from our final stop for tea at the Doi Tung Royal Villa.
Day two was mostly highways and secondary roads, taking us to the Hall of Opium on the eastern side of Chiangrai where we ‘flowed’ along with the Mekong River for a few kilometres, looking across to Myanmar on the left and Laos on the right.
We did have a spot of muddy off-roading just before lunch at a ‘longan’ plantation in PB Valley.
The mud holes were big and deep enough to plough through and splash mud all over the vehicles, including the X5 sDrive25d, as we slithered along.
The final exercise was a slalom run on an old airfield where we pitted our skills against our co-driver, a fellow Malaysian journo, in the two X3 xDrive 20d.
The slalom drive reaffirmed our conviction in the high dynamic performance of these Bimmers.
Despite being SAVs, the strong and short stopping distance on hitting the brakes hard at the end of it demonstrated a positive aspect.
We came away convinced from the Chiangrai drive that the X Series range was every bit a BMW in the strong driving road performance while being just as impressive taking to muddy terrain up and down steep inclines as a display of its versatility.