The past year and a half has been an epic adventure. Outside of launching the Rebelle Rally, working to promote it, raise awareness, build the format and checkpoint concepts, researching the best support technology, map planning, and assembling a large and incredible team….there was the development of the backbone of the Rebelle – the course. Sleepless nights, several hundred hours on the trails, back roads, and dunes, countless hours on Google Earth until my eyeballs bled, weeks upon weeks of land management research and permitting work. The result? A jaw dropping beautiful route, that was true to the mission – long, diverse, challenging at key times, and fun to drive.
The Rebelle is all about stock, capable 4×4 and all-wheel drive vehicles. Not race cars. Street legal. Attainable. Affordable. Armed with a goal to make them shine, yet show off the durability of an OEM platform, I needed access to vehicles that I could drive and test the course with. While some manufacturers definitely were interested in the Rebelle, some kept a slightly skeptical standoffish “wait and see” demeanor. But BMW jumped in with both feet, knowing their X Series vehicles were up for the challenge I presented them. And while a BMW didn’t compete in the Rebelle, the one I drove went much farther, covering the course multiple times, with 12,000 miles put on the odo in under 4 months. Knowing we would have a Crossover Class, it was key for me to “feel” the course from the driver’s seat. While the course had numerous washouts, clearance challenges and variable terrain, I still knew this was a magnificent opportunity to showcase a CUV. Driveways, parking lots, and carpool lanes just don’t provide much of a proving ground.
My trusted course official CUV was the BMW X5 50i. While the conservative exterior makes it look more at home at a PTA meeting, or the Saturday morning soccer game, the powertrain is worthy of Laguna Seca. The 4.4-liter TwinPower Turbo V8 has a thunderous, rumbling voice and 445 horses. It forced me to go easy on the throttle to keep a nice even pace, because it literally wants to leap out of its own skin.
Many people looked at me sideways when I would drive off the pavement and roost it in dunes. The Dynamic Traction Control system combined with the manual shifting option allowed for excellent traction and control in the “soft stuff.” While Sport Mode was an option, I found Comfort Mode was just the ticket in terms of power and ride quality. And while I am a tire freak, I kept on the OEM Pirellis to continue with the “bone stock” test. While it would have benefitted from more biting edges and beefy tread blocks, they got the job done – even when a nail in the middle of nowhere allowed for a sampling of the run-flat technology.
While I normally don’t need luxurious comfort, I now have a serious appreciation for the effect – LESS FATIGUE. The rich, soft chocolate brown seats reminded me of my favorite childhood Rawlings baseball glove that fitted my hand like a second skin. The Time Speed Distance team and Operations team all benefitted from the cushy ride despite the forced-march, unrelenting pre-run schedule. I slept in it, piled it high with gear, and pushed it continually. The result? It still runs perfectly, never failed, and I only have one driving light that talked back. And while I have always admired BMW’s engineering prowess and commitment to performance, I am now a forever committed fan from this insane and punishing field test.
For 2017, I challenge BMW owners to step up, join the Rebelle, and put your X Series to the test. Drive smart, trust your third teammate, and you might just wind up on the podium.
–By Emily Miller