FIVE BMW owners and their partners recently got the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to participate in one of the biggest BMW events of the year – the BMW Destination X – Bromo Driving Experience 2018.
The event – the fourth edition since it began in 2014 – gave the participants the chance to experience driving three of BMW’s X Series models, the all-new X3, X4 and X5, and put the lineup’s xDrive all-wheel drive system to the ultimate test on the mountainous and sandy terrain surrounding Mount Bromo. (The only year when the event was skipped was in 2016, due to the volcano erupting in late 2015.)
A representative from QAF Auto Sdn Bhd and I were lucky enough to be handed the chance to join the quintet on an amazing three-day adventure which started off from Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city and capital of East Java province, where Mount Bromo was located.
In total, there were 12 representatives from Brunei Darussalam and five from the Philippines. We were divided into five groups, with each group being assigned two driving partners.
On our first day in Surabaya, we were briefed on our journey itinerary including the drive from Ciputra World Hotel Surabaya - the place we were staying at – to Jiwa Jawa Resort in Probolinggo, a city on the north coast of East Java province, road and traffic conditions, as well as safe driving procedures.
The traffic during our drive from Surabaya to Bromo was congested, heavy with motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians, particularly on major roads.
I soon began to understand why one of the BMW Destination X team members advised the rest of us to exercise extra caution while driving.
We set off for the resort at 2pm. I took the wheels of the BMW X5 and made my way down from the hotel to Gazebo Restaurant at Bangil – our first pit stops. The journey, which took a good 90 minutes, could have been shorter if not for the stubborn traffic and several road tolls which we had to pass through. Using the contra-flow lane proved to be a great decision, as we thankfully reached our destination on time despite all the hassle.
After a 15 minutes coffee break, we hit the road again and drove for roughly an hour before halting at Warung Kencur for another pit stop. The journey here, all 35km of it, believe me, was one of the most challenging experiences I ever had, despite the police escort that was afforded to us.
The route, which required me to drive uphill and through curved, narrow, winding and bumpy sections, as well as single-lane country roads (when we were nearing Mount Bromo) with barely enough room for a normal car to pass let along a full-sized BMW SUV, certainly pushed my skills as a driver to the limits.
You could imagine the huge sigh of relief and gulp of fresh air I breathed in when we finally arrived at the resort at approximately 7pm, just in time for dinner.
After some much required sleep, we were awoken the next day at 3am to make our way to Seruni Point – the highest point in the area still accessible by car – so that we can catch the stunning sunrise in time. After taking photos with the fantastic Mount Bromo in the background, we headed down to the Sea of Sand, part of the Tengger massif (an active volcanic complex) which lies within the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park. It is in the middle of this vast area of sand where Mount Bromo lies.
By this time we were all wide awake and ready to get stuck into our driving adventure. Our sea of sand BMW drive experience was divided into three exercises: the X-track, X-perience and X-treme Ride.
The first exercise I went for was the X-perience, where we, driving the X5, were required to manoeuvre through several ramped obstacles such as Three Wheels Roller, Alternate Climb, Two Wheels Climb and Alternate Surface.
The Three Wheels Rollers obstacle was interesting as it stimulated loss of traction for three of the X5’s wheels (we had to drive onto a ramp and position our cars’ wheels over the rollers). The vehicle, despite only gaining grip from one wheel, demonstrated its formidable xDrive capabilities, handling and overcoming the problem with comfortable ease.
The Alternate Two-Wheel Climb on the other hand, really pushed the X5’s diagonal tyre traction and diagonal weight balance capabilities onto the fore. We did a side wheelie and it was incredible to see the vehicle staying balanced on two wheels while maintaining traction on the soft sand surface and moving forward through the obstacle. It was definitely for me the most hair-raising segment of all exercises, if nothing else.
Next up was the second exercise – the X-treme Ride. Here, we rode alongside a BMW driving instructor, Gerry Nasution, and attempted more challenging exercises across the 10,000 square-metre sand wonderland. One of these was an exciting drive through a dried out river and the Angular Climb, where we had a drive our cars up a slope with a difficult 30-degree incline.
Other included the Balance Bridge challenge where we had to climb up onto a specially constructed bridge and put the X5 under controlled suspension mode. It is here where one can truly appreciate the prowess of the xDrive system; you could feel the traction and torque being channeled to each wheel – even at low RPMs – when the car is being subjected to such extreme conditions.
The third and final exercise – the X-track – was probably my favourite. I wasn’t sure whether the sequencing of the challenges was deliberate, but placing this challenge last certainly felt right.
After a long day of careful, ninja-like traversing of mostly manmade obstacles, we finally got the chance to really put the pedal to the metal with all three X Series models and truly be at one with nature.
Copious clouds of volcanic sand were kicked up as we raced, cornered and slid our way through the wide, moonlike track – a surreal experience that made me feel like I was driving at the Dakar Rally. For the most part you wouldn’t even believe that you were sitting in luxury SUVs, which says a lot about the quality and versatility of the vehicles and BMW.
The whole Bromo experience left everyone and me with a greater appreciation of the breadth of the X Series SUVs’ powers. It’s no exaggeration to say that we won’t be encountering anywhere near the sort of driving conditions in Brunei as we did in Indonesia, but it certainly warms my heart knowing that I can always call on BMW’s xDrive whenever I need it.
Extracted from Borneo Bulletin 6 June 2018