The driver of the Dacia coming the other way flashed his lights with such vigor that I wondered if I somehow had managed to insult his grandmother. The car in front of me halved his speed in such a well-mannered and exact way that it obviously wasn’t the first time doing so. It truly seemed as if they had practiced for that exact scenario time and time again. The same instant in which he passed the radar-gunning police car he accelerated back up to his cruising speed of twice the speed limit. It’s occurrences such as these that are typical when road-tripping in Romania; a country where traffic is anarchic, where the roads are the definition of contrasts and where horse-drawn carriage is an every-day mode of transport. The idea was to visit the Transfagarasan Highway while finding out how well the car we picked suited a country where it, to some extent at least, fits in. It was a BMW X6 M50d which we had decided to truly put to the test. A car which in Sweden is utterly out of place but which in Romania, a country where the car is the biggest status symbol, has more of a functional role. Let us find out how it went by setting of in High Velocity through Romania in a BMW X6 M50d.
On day one the plan was to go straight to the Transfagarasan Highway (why save the best for last?) which is located circa 150 miles from the capital, Bucharest. After having landed just after lunch and gotten the keys to the X6 we were caught up in queues within minutes. I am not talking about the kind of queues which can be seen in any major city across the globe during rush hour, I am talking about the kind of queues which are caused when evacuating all of Los Angeles. Therefore, we changed our plans since driving up the Transfagarasan in the dark didn’t seem like such an attractive alternative. Instead we pointed the compass towards Brasov, the home of Dracula. When the traffic ceased and we rolled onto the Romanian highway we put the pedal to the metal although we quite quickly reached a long stretch of road works. If there’s something you notice rather hastily, it’s that all signs, lines and traffic lights merely are recommendations. Recommendations similar in nature to those you would get if you would ask a scout for hotel recommendations – one changes one’s mind the very second in which the recommendation is uttered. After numerous traffic encounters, which would fit perfectly in a Russian dash cam video we finally reached our hotel.
On day two we finally were going to drive on the famous Transfagarasan Highway. From Brasov we headed towards the northern passage. The first stretch of road was a back road which belonged in a war zone – the road was peppered with pot holes of the same magnitude as the Vredefort crater in South Africa. After a while we reached a larger road where the quality suddenly made the Swedish highway system look like the road between Mosul and Baghdad. It didn’t take long from the moment we started climbing till encountered the first snow. Four-wheel drive, winter tires and a great deal of ground clearance ensured that the BMW X6 would be able to tackle pretty much anything. Or so w we thought… The road was only partially open – up to a height of roughly 4500 feet where a hotel was located.
There was a sign there which stated that the Transfagarasan Highway was closed and that access was forbidden. The biggest reason for us going to Romania was to drive up the Transfagarasan, in other words it was a total catastrophe.
After having mulled over things for a few minutes we decided to do the obvious, to drive to the top despite the road being closed. At first we could follow the tracks of other cars and it was about as dramatic an elementary school play. After a couple of miles, we reached a plateau located just before the serpentine road where all other vehicles had turned around. The road ahead of us was covered in several inches of undisturbed snow. Since everyone in the HV office feels strongly about testing cars properly we decided to continue. It should be noted that we could (kind of) see the road but ultimately, we had to rely on barriers to make our way to the top while the amount of snow increased exponentially.
During our drive towards the top there were several thoughts bouncing around in our minds. What would happen if we’d get stuck? How far away was help? Do we have signal on our phones? As previously mentioned the X6’s ground clearance made our progress that much easier and the car seemed at rest with the fact that it illegally was climbing up snow-covered Romanian mountain road. I had been told by Alex, the PR Manager of BMW Romania that the tunnel at the top was completely shut off. As a result, that was our goal, 6500 feet above sea level. At 5200 feet the snow started to fight back and things weren’t made better by the fact that we had an audience in the shape of a gondola taking people to the top: all of whom, probably, were wondering what on earth we were up to.
When we reached 5800 feet we decided to stop for a discussion. With roughly 700 altitude feet left till the top we were close. However, with the ever-increasing amount of snow there was more than the distance we had to take into consideration. Before us there was a large pile of the white stuff which I figured the X6 would conquer without much ado but which my co-driver figured was way too ambitious. I figured that since we’d come this far it would be a missed opportunity if we at least didn’t try. I charged the pile of snow and utilized every single one of the 381 horsepower and 546 pound feet of torque but to no avail. Alas, the BMW X6 had become a permanent part of the Carpathian mountain range. The amount of swear words I used to counter my frustration would have led to me having to declare bankruptcy had there been a swear jar present. We tried to do the exact same thing in reverse which just caused the traction control to think it was broken. Without a shovel or anything we could use to assist us we certainly had found ourselves in trouble. We started digging with the same frequency as a hummingbird’s wings and after having felt like scientist on the north pole it was time to save the car from the grasp of the mountain.
When we finally managed to get the car out and after I apologized for my devastating miscalculation it was time to head back down. I comforted myself with the fact that we certainly had tried and truly put the X6 as close to the limit as possible. Driving downhill was done with utmost caution since “understeer off a cliff” isn’t on my bucket list. The X6 looked as if it has been parked in a glacier for the past million years once we finally reached the hotel again.
After the Transfagarasan our trip consisted of exploring Romania and what we quickly came to realize is that it’s the country of contrasts. There are roads which one second are dystopian but in the next they are utopian. There is, as stated, plenty of horse-drawn carriages but in Bucharest I saw a Canadian-registered Dodge Viper. Usually one sits in queues surrounded by Dacia’s but on our last day driving towards Bucharest we got to drive on the completely new highway which ranks among the top three best highways I’ve driven on. That’s coming from someone who driven in almost 30 countries. We went from having an average speed of walking pace to being able to test the BMW’s top speed in a matter of minutes. An indicated 160 miles per hour in case you’re wondering.
In most countries, it’s easy to completely dismiss a car such as the X6 since it’s classed as unnecessary and vulgar. In Romania on the other hand there are roads which require something robust and functional. Had we made the trip in a BMW M3 for example we’d still be waiting for a tow truck. The X6 is more sharply calibrated compared to an X5 and if you don’t require the extra luggage space the X6 is a brilliant road trip companion if you can live with the kitsch connotation. It’s safe, fast, dynamic and most importantly – it’s genuinely comfortable. BMW X6 M50d in Romania – a contrasting car in a contrasting country.