Car reviews - BMW - X1 - range
Family resemblance styling, lively chassis, rear seat comfort
Room for improvement
Fussy rough-surface ride
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21 Oct 2015
AS A concept, the BMW X1 made perfect sense in its initial generation. The smallest model in the German car-maker's SAV (SUV to everyone else) range brought typical BMW driving enjoyment, build quality and European charm to an emerging segment, but many didn't warm to its looks.
With a long bonnet to accommodate north-south engines, its proportions were never quite as sweet as its larger siblings, which had larger canvass to play with, but with the new F48 X1, things have changed.
Not only has its engine spun through 90 degrees allowing a shorter bonnet and more balanced proportions, Australian-born designer Calvin Luk has applied a distinct X-family resemblance, taking the X1 away from jacked-up hatchback and into true BMW SUV territory.
Before jumping aboard the all-new X1, we took a moment to look over the baby SUV's new look with Mr Luk.
The lifelong BMW enthusiast had flown back to his native Australia to present his latest work to local media, and pointed out the new vehicle's finer points, such as the iconic kidney grille that has been exaggerated, “inflated” bonnet, and bold off-roader features.
We particularly like the evolved take on BMW's classic Hofmeister kink, twin headlights – now LED, and improved proportions all round.
Once inside, BMW's typical high-quality interior abounds with well appointed materials including an unusual unvarnished wood trim, comfortable seating and an excellent steering wheel.
Where the Munich brand is partial to a very thick-rimmed more sporty wheel, the X1 is equipped with a skinnier version with a more ergonomic form, which sits in the hand more naturally.
Second row occupants are also very well looked after with generous headroom, legroom, and firm but supportive seats with slide adjustment. Not only do the back seats have a 40/60/40 split folding function for optimising boot space, they also slide with a 60/40 split for extra comfort adjustment.
At the very back is the cavernous boot space, which offers 85 litres more volume than the first X1 and is easily accessed with a power tailgate and hands-free opening function. We couldn't quite get the knack of the foot-gesture but a BMW expert seemed to have more luck.
Out on the road, the X1's raised driving position is easy to appreciate, offering a good view of the immediate vicinity and our stunning northern New South Wales surroundings. Rear passengers also sit higher, giving smaller occupants easier views of the outside – provided they look up from their iPad.
Out trip started in the range-topping xDrive25i which replaces the previous 28i version but adds 10kW of power from the 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder petrol engine and $12,000 of equipment, but retains the same $56,500 plus on-roads price tag.
The TwinPower petrol has good low-rpm torque characteristics but is also happy to rev when more spirited performance is required. As the performance-pick of the range, the xDrive25i has adequate grunt with a satisfying soundtrack.
Out on the open road, the X1 efficiently ate up kilometers and was relaxing and easy to pilot but when the NSW blacktop turned twisty, the little SUV had pleasantly surprising handling not unlike the 2 Series Active Tourer, with which it shares much of the underpinnings.
Steering turn in was light and sharp with relatively communicative feel from the electric power steering. For most vehicles, the playful chassis and high levels of grip would be commendable, but this is a jacked-up SUV.
We are confident most owners won’t drive their X1 as enthusiastically as we did but for those occasions when there is time to take the long way home, the package of tight chassis and pointy steering will be a pleasant reminder that the X1 is still a BMW.
Nineteen-inch wheels with run-flat tyres are standard on the flagship, which look great and ride well on well-maintained surfaces but are unforgiving when the road deteriorates.
The chassis transmits some jarring through to the cabin, while the suspension and wheel combination is noisy when confronted with less than perfect conditions. Both coarse-chip roads and potholes announced themselves obviously to occupants.
After an initial tarmac stretch, our route turned into a section of Australia's typical unsealed gravel trail to test the X1's all-wheel drive.
Under normal circumstances, power is sent to the front wheels but with loose surfaces including snow, rain and, in our case, dust and stones, the torque is split between axles.
In many all-paw systems the sharing of power is undetectable, but the BMW system can be felt with the steering changing weight as the conditions vary.
The experience is enjoyable and made us feel just that little more adventurous.
When the way ahead turned back into asphalt, we swapped in to diesel powered $56,500 X1 xDrive20d, which uses a four-pot 2.0-litre engine to produce 140kW and a substantial 400Nm of torque.
We were surprised at the whisper-quiet running of the compression ignition donk, which BMW says can return an almost teetotal fuel consumption of 4.9 litres per 100km. While the petrol has a purposeful note, we like the diesel's turbo hiss just as much.
The decent dollop of torque was very useful for tackling hills or pushing on when more progress was required, and when a bit more pace was necessary, we were impressed with the X1's resistance to body roll, even when pushed hard.
Our diesel was also fitted with 18-inch wheels which might not have the bling or presence of the larger sporty rims, but were noticeably more forgiving on rough roads with no discernible compromise to grip.
We thoroughly enjoyed piloting the top-spec xDrive25i but its diesel sibling has a degree more practicality and comfort, which makes it our pick of the pair.
Until the more affordable sDrive versions arrive we will withhold final judgment on the entire X1 range, but the initial xDrive pair set a very high standard in the fierce premium small-SUV segment.
With two strong engines on offer, confidence-boosting four-wheel drive traction and a playful character, the X1 is a good evolution of the compact end of the BMW X-family, but its new styling has given the model a vital enhancement, which is more than just Luk.
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