The Official Vehicle of RATG.

A short, non-bicycle post…

Illinois had its second ‘real’ snowfall of the year last evening–ongoing as we speak.  That likely means fatbike pics tomorrow with something other than mud on the tires.  (Which is good…nothing cleans fatbike tires like riding in the snow).  It also means that my commute to work today involved driving unplowed, country roads in the dark, at 5am.  What I found on my drive this morning was typical: people driving as if they had never seen snow before, and plowed roads that were in worse shape than unplowed roads.

Unplowed roads had a consistent 4-5″ of snow, with drifts of 12-20″, in the country.  The snow was heavy and wet.  Driving in snow that deep is relatively easy, given the right tool.  The car wants to go straight, and is very predictable.  Driving on roads that have been plowed, then snowed again, then driven on…that creates ruts and tracks that are hard to drive in.  So on my way in this morning, I chose back roads (predominantly gravel) that were covered in untracked, white bliss.

I’ve always liked driving in snow, and like it even more with the current official vehicle of RATG (shown here in a previous snowstorm):

(shown here, this morning:)

That’s my diesel X5.  Previous vehicles have included a host of full-size pickups, full-size and midsize SUVs, a 1977 CJ5 on 35″ mud tires, and other 4wds.  The X5 is, hands down, the best winter vehicle I’ve ever driven, bar none.  I never thought I’d own a BMW, but when my previous car (a Toyota Highlander Hybrid) was totaled courtesy of another driver crossing into my lane of traffic, I fell into the X5, used, for a deal that was too good to pass up.

For winter driving, it rolls on a set of 255/55R18 Bridgestone Blizzak LM-60s.  You can see the tread in the first picture above.  Couple that with BMW’s incredible xDrive all-wheel-drive system, and she’s a tank on tires.  I had previously thought that part-time 4wd, coupled with aggressive all-terrain tires, was the primo setup for cruising through deep snow.  I’ve changed my opinion.  The X5 uses a brake-based traction control system and electro-mechanically controlled differentials to apportion power to all 4 wheels.  Coupled with a 6 speed automatic and the 425 lb/ft of torque that the creamy straight-six turbodiesel puts out, she’s a snow monster.  On ice, frozen snow, slush, and other crud, the Blizzaks do an amazing job of holding the road.  In deep snow, the X5 really comes into its own.

Snow over a foot deep starts hitting the bottom of the front air dam…and with really heavy snow, if it gets over 2′ deep, you risk either breaking the air dam or running out of traction. But for snow less than that deep, I’ve yet to find something that will stop the X5.  Equally as amusing, for me, is the 3 mode “Dynamic Traction Control” system that the X5 has.  The 3 modes are:

1.  Cruising/Wife Mode:  This is the standard mode, where it uses the brakes and differential control to seemingly defy the laws of physics.  Turn the wheels and dive into a corner, and it will brake the inside tires and pivot the car around the corner, seemingly regardless of the traction underfoot.  For highway cruising in the snow, and for general bombing around, it is incredibly stable.  For those times when you’re cruising along and hit an unexpected slick patch, it does an excellent job of helping keep the handling predictable.  It does put a damper on wheelspin and drifting, using the traction control (and reducing engine power) to keep the handling very conservative.

2.  DTC Activated / Fun Mode:  The second stage is the Dynamic Traction Control mode.  This allows more wheelspin and greater yaw angles/drifting.  In this mode, it’s easy to pitch the X5 into a corner and use the throttle to rotate the car around the apex.  DTC doesn’t reduce engine power, but again uses braking and the differential control to vector power around…it’s kind of like having a really experienced driver who is manually controlling the brakes and power, independently, at all 4 wheels.  DTC maintains a safety net that if things get too crazy (too great of yaw angle, too much body roll, too much slip), it will step in and pull back the power and apply brakes to keep enthusiastic drivers from putting the X5 on its panoramic sunroof.

3.  DTC Off / Ken Block Mode:  This is full-on drift mode.  No engine power reduction (ever).  Brakes and differential control solely for vehicle rotation in corners.  Unmodulated, unadulterated wheelspin.  No safety net.

On public roads and at all times in the presence of other people or vehicles, I drive in accordance with all legal requirements.  On private property when enjoying the X5 in deep snow, I typically like Mode 2 (DTC), because of the very high limits it allows, with a safety net in the event I get in over my head.  In super-deep snow and off-road, Mode 3 (Ken Block mode) is re-donk-ulous.

The X5 seats 4 adults in great comfort (or 5 with 2 in great comfort, 2 in good comfort and 1 in regular comfort).  It fits 4 bikes on my rear rack, and you could put 4 more on the roof (I’ve run with up to 4 on the back and 2 on the roof.  Note: bikes on roof adversely affect mileage).  It gets 28mpg in the summer (about 10% worse than that on winter fuel)–that means 500 miles on a tank of fuel is easy, with a 70-100 mile cushion.  It sports 425 lb/ft of stump-pulling grunt (nearly all of it available just off idle).  And it’s very, very pretty to look at.  As Ferris would say, if you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.

(And again, I wouldn’t ever think of dropping the price that they ask for, new, on a depreciating asset like a car.  But if you look, some shockingly good deals are out there on used X5s, simply because so many buyers apparently buy new, drive for a year or two (lease?) and turn the cars in.  There’s so much turnover that used deals can be found, if you’re willing to look).

So I’m probably not going to get to ride tonight…but driving the X5…that’s an acceptable consolation prize.


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