On The Road Again
“I can’t drive 55.”
One of the things that many of us stopped doing over the past three years was the long road trip, me included. But this year the stars aligned for us to take two weeks of vacation time, coupled with acquiring a proper “Road Trip” vehicle with lots of room, which meant we could drive, versus fly, to visit family and friends in the Midwest and eastward using the I-90 path (for the most part). It was good to be on the road again (cue the Willie Nelson song).
First, a bit about the vehicle we used. For the half-dozen of you who read my previous article on our travails in trying to purchase an X5d (https://bmw-club-psr.org/zundfolge/2022/02/x5d-interrupted/), you know we were in the market. We finally found our unicorn in a 2018 M-Sport model with a lot of bells and whistles and only 42K miles. Tammy finally had her car she had been wanting for years (the X5d is her version of “Gonzo,” my beloved M3… https://bmw-club-psr.org/zundfolge/2022/07/the-reason-we-drive/).
We wanted this particular SUV for various reasons. Diesels can be super reliable and long-lived if taken care of; they have great fuel economy; they have reasonable towing capacity; and the F15 X5 is roomy and a great driver, city or highway. Now, don’t get me wrong, my E93 M3 is also a great road trip car, but in a different context. The X5 is mainly about comfort and capacity (and all-weather, if I’m honest), the M3 is more about having fun driving whilst travelling. A driver's car. So, after driving the X5 for about 5K to it’s second oil change with us (I changed the oil immediately after buying it to reset the counter), we were comfortable using it to travel eastward from Washington to visit friends and family.
The first thing we noticed was how easily the X5 ate up the miles. We have made this trip before in our F250 Super Duty so had a point of comparison, and while the F250 has the Lariat package and is nice, I still find it a bit fatiguing, and definitely bumpier. In the first day we easily covered over 850 miles in the X5.
The scenery going across the I-90 corridor is varied and beautiful, from the Cascades to the Palouse, to the curvy mountain passes of Idaho and the plains of Montana. It truly is Big Sky country and a nice trip, even from the freeway. Having good weather helped as well. I was a bit chagrined to admit the X5 seats are definitely more comfortable than my M3 seats. We experienced almost no fatigue from the seats at all despite spending hours in them. So, get the sport seats in your X5 if you can. The X5 was also better in the curves than expected, although, to be fair, we anticipated this as we did a Club Wine Tour to the Tri-Cities area earlier this year and enjoyed a bit of spirited driving.
Something we did notice when the speed limits got to 80 mph (gotta love Montana!), was that the steering became a little twitchy and the suspension felt a bit soft on the winter-weathered highway while at higher speeds. I am less of a fan of the electric power steering on this car, mainly because I am a curmudgeon, but objectively, it does feel a bit “disconnected” compared to hydraulic, and I am not alone in this opinion. But in this case, it became a blessing, because I decided to shift the car to Sport Mode to see if it would help and it instantly made the steering tighter and the suspension planted (we have the adaptive suspension option). It’s times like these I realize appreciate Hans and Fritz (my pet names for BMW’s design engineers). Gotta give credit where credit is due. I definitely had to use the cruise control because you could end up at 100 mph without realizing it otherwise. Not that that ever happened.
Speaking of Montana, the joy of seeing the 80 mph speed limit signs was quickly dampened by the regular (I counted 11) slowdowns to single lane and 45 mph for bridge underpass work across the whole state. But I suppose if we have to spend tax dollars on something, this kind of work is something I can support. And in a majority of those zones in Montana, there were people actually working. Unlike some other states I could mention. So, if you are making a similar trip, expect delays. All states had road work zones. Some actually had workers doing work in them.
Side note: while I am not going to regale you on everything we did, this is, after all, mostly about the car, I will mention that, on the first day, on the way east, we left early (so as to avoid Seattle slowdowns) and stopped in Ellensburg for breakfast at a great little place called the Red Horse Diner. I don’t normally do shameless plugs but the food and service was great, and since it is somewhat local, I figured I’d mention it. So stop by if you get a chance. We actually stopped again for breakfast on our last day on the way back, too.
One of the things I thought was worthy to note was the display screen this car has. While this is our second car to have a screen rather than analog dials (the i3 is all screen), the X5 one was interesting in that the façade incorporates analog type features with the digital screen underneath it. So a hybrid of sorts (see pics). I found the layout very good and the changes between sport and comfort were useful and fun as well (See pics – and no, I wasn’t holding the camera, my wife took the pics, and no, of course I wasn’t speeding, that’s just an optical illusion). This car is also our first with a Head-Up display, which I realize is old news at this point, but it really is useful and dare-I-say safer (not sure if Mi Ae Lipe is reading), and at max brightness was actually just visible with polarized sunglasses (one of the limitations of most HUDs). So, if you get an older X5, look for one with the digital display.
The second day we made it to my sister's in South Dakota. Another easy jaunt. Then over the next several days we traipsed across Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, and Nebraska, seeing sights and visiting friends. Most of the roads were good and we had only a little bit of rain. And the X5 just quietly delivered. And I mean quiet. Road noise in this car is very controlled. Except for one type of asphalt in Illinois that the tires just loved to whine with, it was remarkable how quite the ride was. I blame Illinois, not the X5.
On the way back we got even more aggressive and did Avon, SD to Coeur d'Alene, ID in one day (over 1200 miles). On this leg we got to experience some 30 mph+ crosswinds in South Dakota and the X5 handled it well. The weight helps I am sure, but I never felt surprised by the car when a gust of wind came up. You felt the big ones, but it didn't unsettle the vehcile. The final trip stats were pretty amazing: 5,041 miles, 65.7 mph average speed, and an incredible 29.8 mpg.
We also had fewer stops for fill-ups as you get over 600 miles to a 22.5 gallon tank in this vehicle. Overall we did over 78 hours of driving, and still didn’t feel worn out or feel the need for another vacation to recover from our vacation. And I’ll give a lot of credit to the X5 for this. This is definitely a driver’s car, just for a different type of driving than we sports car folks normally think of when we use that term. Can't wait for the next trip.