Romania loves BMW. If you’ve never been to the country, it may surprise you just how many BMWs you see driving from point to point, and you don’t have to be in a city to see them. BMW has a long history in Romania, where there were several privately owned dealerships before the onset of World War 2.

After the global conflict ended and communism was instituted in the country, BMWs stopped being officially imported into Romania until the early 1990s, when the Bavarian automaker reestablished its presence here. Today, BMW has one of the most active PR departments of any carmaker in Romania, and it organizes some of the coolest venues, including a very unique night drive that I took part in not long ago.

Organized by BMW Romania, the event put journalists and local influencers behind the wheel of the new X2, iX2, MINI Countryman JCW and Countryman C on a tour of the fascinating city of Bucharest, the capital of the country. What made this different from other events of this type was that it was held from about 9 p.m. until close to sunrise the next morning, making it especially memorable.

The Cars

This was my first contact with the new coupe-like crossover from BMW as well as the new Countryman, so I thought I’d share a few thoughts on both. Throughout the night, I got to drive both the X2 and the iX2, which is the model’s fully electric variant. They completely abandon the old X2’s tall hatchback look in favor of a miniaturized version of the larger X4 and X6.

Driving the X2 and iX2, they feel larger than the old model, and that’s because they are, riding on a longer wheelbase. The X2 had massive 21-inch wheels, which look stunning, but in a car with no adaptive dampers, they compromised the ride slightly. The iX2 that I drove had smaller 20-inch wheels and adaptive dampers making for a far better ride. They’re both good crossovers that will get you noticed parked outside your favorite restaurant, but they aren’t as engaging to drive as I would have liked.

The same goes for the two MINI Countryman variants, which are built on a version of the same platform that underpins the X2. Driving the Countryman JCW with 300 horsepower from its 2-liter engine, its straight-line pace is unquestionable, and the steering precision is what you’d expect from a MINI, but the drive itself isn’t as engaging as in the older model. The Countryman has also grown compared to the outgoing model, which could explain the more grown-up driving dynamics, and leave room in the lineup for the new MINI entry-level crossover, the Aceman.

What I absolutely loved about my time in the MINI Countryman was its interior, infotainment and the quality of the Harman Kardon sound system, which equipped both cars that I drove. The infotainment features a 9.45-inch circular OLED display made by Samsung running the new MINI Operating System 9, which is built on the Android Open Source Project (AOPS).

The circular screen is one-of-a-kind in the automotive industry, and it looks spectacular, especially with the two projectors on either side that project colored patterns on the dashboard. This is a very unique approach to ambient lighting, and it helps the MINI Countryman’s interior feel very futuristic. My favorite of the four cars that I drove was the iX2 xDrive30, which was quick, quiet and the most fun to drive of the lot.

The City

The main highlight was driving through Bucharest at night and the itinerary put together by the hosts. I would call myself an urban explorer, and I’ve been scouring the city for years in search of architectural treasures, pieces of history and artworks of all types, so I kind of felt like I knew the city, but I was delighted to discover new things that reminded me just how big and diverse Bucharest is.

One of the best stops was right in front of what used to be one of the old BMW dealerships in pre-war Bucharest, located close to the university right in the center of the city. We were shown old photos, which we compared to what the place looked like today, and apart from there not being any BMWs inside, nothing appeared to have changed.

We also went to an old carriage factory built in 1903—Fabrica Herman I. Rieber—that over the years became a car repair shop, and there are even reports that they made a few coach-built bodies for cars there too. The building itself is stunning, and what makes it unusual for Bucharest is that it’s designed in the Gothic Revival style, which is very rare here.

We also stopped next to the city’s monument dedicated to early aviators, which is my favorite statue in the entire city and a stunning example of Art Deco design and architecture. This monument is special because it had already been erected when the Bucharest Grand Prix was held in the city in the late 1930s, and it was one of the highlights of the track. As we were being told the story, I could picture those pre-war Auto Union, BMW 328 and Duesenberg racers roaring past, and then I continued the tour in the serene iX2.

Street art was another theme integrated into this night tour, and we saw several large murals that are in busy areas of the city, but you can’t quite see them from the street—I had walked by them hundreds of times without knowing they were there. We also visited an art gallery that was hosting two collections by Romanian visual artist Saddo called FANBOY and FANBOY 2, which were fascinating incursions into the world of hip-hop and the significance of brands in pop culture. Some of his artworks are stylized, caricatured interpretations of how we perceive certain cars, including BMWs.

BMW had several excellent photographers to take photos during the tour, whose vibe they managed to masterfully capture, showcasing the design of the new MINI and BMW crossovers as well as the unique visual charm of the city. You can experience it for yourself via the photos in the gallery, and maybe consider picking Bucharest as your next city break destination and going for a night drive through the city.

[Photos: BMW Romania]