Sunday January 20, 2013
A worthy adversary to take on the Penampang-Tambunan route
By RUBEN SARIO
The new generation BMW X series takes on tough weather and terrain with hardly a whimper.
STRETCHING some 100km, the Penampang-Tambunan trunk road traverses the Crocker Range, Sabah’s geographical backbone, and peaks at an altitude of just over 1,600m. Commonly known as Gunung Emas, it has become a favourite rest stop for weary travellers.
The road also closely follows one of the trails used by the state’s interior Kadazandusun communities who walk for days to carry their rice in exchange for salt and fish from folks living along coastal areas at venues known as tamu.
It’s a trail that is riddled with switchbacks or hairpin curves, and sharp bends as motorists negotiate slopes that seem to reach a gradient of 25 degrees or more.
Whenever I drive on this road, the maximum speed I would be pushing my trusty 2.5-litre turbo charged double cab four-wheel-drive pick up truck is a mere 60kph. And that too, on a sunny day.
When the weather deteriorates and the pouring rain makes the road surface slick, my maximum speed as the proverbial soup sets in, reduces to a sedate 40kph.
Such were my fleeting thoughts as I held the steering wheel with the wipers valiantly dispersing the sleet of rain and the speedometer showing 85km/h as the BMW X3 cleared a sharp bend.
Even at that speed the car was hugging the road, with no indication of it “fish-tailing” as it took the bend.
The 2.5-litre diesel turbo charged engine mated to an eight-speed transmission seemed effortless in achieving the speed uphill with some slope stretches going at more than 25 degrees.
“Freaking amazing” was the oft repeated phrase to myself as the engine purred away and I overtook yet another vehicle with just a slight tap on the accelerator.
The X3 is one of the siblings in BMW’s all-wheel-drive sports activity vehicle stable, the others being the X1, X5 and X6.
BMW Group Malaysia wanted to showcase the latest iterations of its X vehicles and invited a group of Malaysian journalists for a two-day test drive on some of the steepest roads leading out of Kota Kinabalu.
The X series essentially represents the all-wheel-drive sports utility vehicle (SUV) or as BMW puts it, sports activity vehicles (SAV) crossover versions of the company’s number series sedans – the X1 being the derivative of the BMW 1 series. Apart from being all-wheel-drive vehicles and sporting signature “kidney grills,” the series shares BMW’s xDrive system that allows drive torque to be variably distributed between the front and rear axles, enhancing the vehicles’ agility while ensuring higher levels of grip.
Mated to this is BMW’s dynamic stability control (DSC) and engine management with sensors on the wheels to detect and counter the slightest tendency for the vehicles to be over- or under-steered.
DSC comprises the ABS anti-lock brake function, Dynamic Brake Control, Cornering Brake Control and the Dynamic Traction Control, providing added stability to the vehicles.
Another nifty aspect of the X vehicles is the Hill Descent Control (HDC) feature. With the push of a button, the HDC takes over the job of brake control from the driver who can then focus on steering the vehicle down a tricky slope.
The HDC keeps the vehicle at a constant speed and works as the vehicle moves forward or in reverse.
I also found myself negotiating uphill on the 2.5km Jalan Bambangan-Kebuni, from Kampung Kionsom just outside of the city to the Kokol highlands at altitude of nearly 900m, behind the wheel of an X5, a slightly bigger sibling of the X3.
Like many other rural routes, the road had some stretches barely the same width as a vehicle and had slopes of 30°, as it was originally a footpath used by village folk.
And, here was the X5 effortlessly tackling that uphill slope with nary an effort, its 3.0 litre inline six-cylinder diesel engine purring away while churning out 180kW/245hp with 540Nm torque, taking it from 0 to 100kph in 6.8secs.
But speed was definitely not the game plan as BMW vehicles headed up the hill to Kokol before taking another steep downward track to Kampung Poring Poring to showcase their HDC feature.
For those not used to taking their foot off the brake pedal and the left hand on the gear stick, leaving the X5 to control its speed as it headed downhill was bit of an unnerving experience.
But the Hill Descent Control system worked. The X5 was kept crawling at a safe speed for as long as I kept it activated.
The BMW X6 was a good way to begin the 220km drive from Kota Kinabalu to the Kinabalu Park via the Penampang-Tambunan-Ranau.
The top range of the X series, the X6, is a blend of BMW Coupe and the robustness of SAV. Like its X5 sibling, a 3.0-litre engine powers the X6. Refinements include a head up display – meaning the car speed is projected on the windscreen – think fighter jets ala Top Gun.
The X5 and X6 also come equipped with a Top View system where a computer processes data from the reverse camera, park distance control sensors and cameras at each side view mirrors to create an overview image of the vehicle and any objects within its immediate proximity.
Rounding off the posse was the X1. Like its X3 sibling, the X1 was powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine capable of producing 130kw/177hp, 350Nm of torque taking it from 0 to 100kph in 8.6 seconds.
The X1 benefits from the latest BMW Efficient Dynamics encompass a variety of elements including optimised aerodynamics, intelligent lightweight construction, demand based control of ancillary components and functions, and the latest generation of common rail injection technology.
Setting off from the Magellan Sutera resort under overcast skies, the weather fully co-operated for the mission at hand with a downpour starting at the winding hilly roads of Penampang.
The wet slick roads and the hairpin turns along the Crocker Range was no hindrance in getting the convoy to maintain an average speed exceeding 80kph and even more along the straighter stretches.
Upon reaching the Kinabalu Park, the technical folks at BMW Malaysia calculated that just RM41.18 worth of fuel was consumed by the X3 during the 220km trip.
To me, knowing that a vehicle of such capability could run economically was a feather in the cap.
While most owners of BMW’s X series of vehicles will not likely be taking hairpin corners or sharp bends at 90kph, it is reassuring to know these cars are as sure footed as generations of ethnic Kadazandusun folks who travel the winding paths in the state’s interior.