Car reviews - BMW - X1 - 5-dr wagon range
Strong engines, eight-speed auto, steering accuracy and feel, ride/handling balance, versatility
Room for improvement
Disappointing interior, heavy low-speed steering, costly options, wind noise
22 Nov 2012
SITTING in the facelifted BMW X1 for the first time, we were instantly disappointed by the over-bearing blackness of the cabin, some flimsy, creaky plastics and a cheap-feeling cover for the storage space that would otherwise be occupied by the pricey optional sat-nav system.
The cynic might suggest BMW made the base interior deliberately dour in order to up-sell the new Lines customisation packages, which add splashes of colour along with unique exterior trim and alloy wheel designs.
On the whole, though, the better-integrated centre stack and replacement of matte trim finishes with gloss are an improvement.
Fire up the engine, select drive on the eight-speed automatic transmission and the $50,000-plus investment starts to justify itself far better than the interior ambience ever could.
The X1 does not drive like an SUV – being based on the outgoing E91 3 Series Touring it is more of a jacked-up wagon like the Audi A4 Allroad or Volkswagen Passat Alltrack crossovers.
As such, the X1 is great to drive in almost any situation fun on twisty mountain roads, smooth and refined for urban and suburban commuting and a comfortable, refined cruiser on the freeway – the latter only marred by a bit too much wind noise at speed.
We have said before, and we are sure to say it again, BMW’s four-cylinder engines – petrol and diesel – are among the best out there.
While many lament the loss of the sonorous straight six, BMW’s smooth-as-silk N20 petrol four brings driveability and environmental benefits that cannot be ignored, even if its note under acceleration is a bit gravelly and uninspiring.
No matter what engine is fitted, the X1 now has plenty of muscular performance on tap for a quick getaway at the lights, confident overtaking or negotiating hills.
The eight-speed transmission makes the most of this, ensuring the engines are in their sweet spot at all times and, mostly, shifting seamlessly so the driver can forget about what the transmission is doing – even on challenging mountain roads.
None of the cars on test had the standard six-speed manual – BMW expects more than 80 per cent of buyers to go auto – and we found the eight-speed unit particularly well matched and at its smoothest with the rear-drive sDrive 18d (diesel) and 20i (petrol) entry models.
It seemed to hang on to a higher ratio for longer on the gruntier but heavier all-wheel-drive xDrive 20d diesel, which would result in it being momentarily in the wrong gear for powering through tight bends.
We found both diesels to be smooth and quiet once up to speed, miraculously almost as rev-happy as a good petrol engine, relatively quiet and vibration-free at idle and the sound under acceleration is sufficiently suppressed.
There was not enough time for us to sample the petrol-powered xDrive 28i flagship, so we will deliver a verdict on this variant in a full road-test later – but rest assured all the other engines delivered all the performance required for most purposes.
Fuel efficiency during our test of the 18d was 6.0 litres per 100 kilometres, up on the official combined figure of 4.9L/100km but acceptable given the mountainous, twisty roads we were negotiating.
The all-wheel-drive 20d used 6.9L/100km, again up on its official figure, which stands at 5.5L/100km.
The biggest departure from the official fuel figure was the rear-drive 20i, consuming 10.5L/100km compared with the official 6.9L/100km.
BMW has fitted Servotronic adaptive power steering to the revised X1 but the effort required to manoeuvre the car round town is still significant and we are not fans of the synthetic trim on the narrow steering wheel fitted to rear-drive variants.
All-wheel-drive variants and those fitted with a Lines pack get chunkier and more comfortable leather-wrapped steering wheels.
On the move, the steering feels reassuringly weighty and secure with impressive accuracy and directness, but we did encounter rack-rattle on a couple of corrugated corners.
The driver can feel the whole car communicating the levels of grip available when pushing hard on corners before gently breaking into controllable understeer, making the X1 even more fun than the dynamically gifted Range Rover Evoque.
Ride comfort is impressive and not too firm, although the X1 has a tendency to slam across sharper-edged obstacles, which can come as a shock to occupants.
A short run on gravel in the rear-drive 20i did not show up any significant ride comfort flaws, but the electronic safety systems would often cut power due to the low-grip surface.
Once we had grappled with the odd seat height adjustment, we found it easy to find a perfect driving position and there is plenty of space up front and we liked the elastic straps for securing items in the door bins.
A tall rear passenger behind a tall driver struggles for knee-room but shoulder-room and headroom are plentiful.
All-round visibility is good, which is just as well given the $692 reversing camera option can only be ordered along with one of the $2000+ sat-nav packages and the $550 front parking sensors – although rear parking sensors are standard across the range.
The load area is well thought-out, with elastic straps on the floor to secure items, a netted area for small objects like the first-aid kit and another recess with a securing strap and the 40:20:40 split-and-recline rear bench offers countless combinations for cargo carrying.
As compact SUVs go, the X1 provides a unique blend of driving pleasure and practicality, backed by impressive drivetrains – and we especially like how its low-slung wagon shape sets it apart from the tall, boxy generic SUV silhouette.
And in just a day of driving, we got used to the interior, which has its plus points for space, comfort and ease-of-use.
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