I’VE just returned from a stint on the East Coast of the USA where I thought we had done quite well with snow. The thing is, it’s no surprise when it arrives over there. “Snow days” tend to close schools, but people are out shovelling immediately, protecting themselves from any litigious opportunists.
Snowploughs are put into action to clear the highways and byways, and trains continue to run on schedule. There’s little excuse there for not showing up for work.
I return to a whiter-than-white UK, sun shining, with Gatwick shut and more snow forecast. Friends had tried to persuade me to stay stateside by sending me images of them stuck on the A3 posted on Facebook. “It’s a nightmare here, stay away,” they chirped. But I relish these wintry conditions; you just need the right clothing and the right car.
Getting in a new M trim version of the surefooted X5, little did I know I’d be negotiating my way through drifts of up to 6ft of snow. Exiting Heathrow, I watched amused as an M3 slithered away down a slip road. The X5 ran straight down, no problem.
As I ventured south on the A3 and then off towards Goodwood, the snow got deeper and deeper and I passed God knows how many cars stranded, on their sides, roofs and every which way along the route home. But I reached home without any issues, the X5 is just as good as it always was in these conditions.
Of course, being in something like the X5 helps with snow driving. The driver sits high off the ground, giving great visibility, but it also has all-wheel-drive and systems that jump to the rescue if one of the wheels loses traction, and energy is then transferred to the wheels and momentum continues.
The twin-turbo diesel engine develops a seriously mighty 286bhp in this 3.5D (which is actually a 3.0 engine). Just to confuse matters more, BMW have created another issue, the xDrive X5 – x denoting four-wheel-drive. The s drive is the two-wheel-drive version.
SMOOTH AND REFINED
It is an extremely refined drive with the smoothest gear change you could wish for in conditions like this. Torque delivery starts early on and there’s plenty on offer. Overtaking and steep inclines are not a problem in this car.
The overall package is very polished. Finding a good driving position is almost immediate. Build quality is panel-to-panel plush and there’s bags of room.
The conditions ultimately had their wicked way when I took the car up on to the Downs by the racecourse. There’s a great road that runs along the top, good for showing flaws. It was covered in snow but no different from anything else I had been driving on.
There was a long straight with a gentle corner approaching, a sign with chevrons marking it. I scrubbed off some speed, enjoying the capability and balance of the car when wham, the corner carried on to the right and I went straight on, swinging round into the chevrons and a two-foot ditch. Black ice. Wasn’t expecting that.
Out I climbed to assess the scene. Nobody about, just me and the woodland, deep in snow. Not getting out of this any time soon, I thought. The bumper was clearly in bits and the sign I had hit had folded neatly back on itself. Time to roll up the sleeves and start digging the snow away from behind the tyres. Forty-five minutes later, in darkness, and with not another person in sight, I was pitching the car forwards and flicking it into reverse to rock it out of the jaws of defeat. It worked, I was out, but back on the ice rink.
The BMW’s strength is testament to what happened last night. When you hit ice you have little if any control. What’s important is that us humans stay whole and get home in once piece. I did.
0-62MPH: 7.0 secs
TOP SPEED: 146 mph
CO2 G/KM: 220
MPG Combined: 34.0