Car reviews - BMW - X1 - sDrive range
Design, cabin layout, sharp steering, peppy engines, response transmission, affordability
Room for improvement
Firm ride on 18s without optional adaptive dampers, some road noise, vinyl rather than cloth as default choice
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29 Jan 2016
TO TRADITIONALISTS, the thought of a Mini-based front-drive BMW SUV sounds about as on-brand as Donald Trump at a Black Panthers rally. But then who’d have thought Apple would have made mobile phones just a decade ago?The point is, the world is constantly changing, and adaptation is the best chance for survival, even if you are the popular and profitable BMW juggernaut.
Though a resounding success globally and probably truest to the company’s rear-drive driver-focussed philosophy by dint of its 3 Series ingredients, the previous (E84) X1 was limited in the eyes of general premium crossover buyers for being too heavy to drive, too tight to sit inside, and too polarising to behold. A tall, light, and easy SUV is what this market really wants. Bavaria gave us a leather bondage suit when the demographic long for Roseanne’s leisure suit.
To that considerable end, BMW has delivered with breathtaking ambition, creating a transverse engine/front-drive architecture that not only accommodates the smallest Mini but also underpins at least a dozen other new or future cross-marque products that are as disparate as car variants can get.
That the new F48 X1 in base sDrive18d (diesel) and sDrive20i (petrol) guises can still look and feel like every ‘proper/regular/normal/traditional’ BMW is a masterful engineering feat worthy of huge praise.
We drove both over a brief run through and beyond the Dandenong ranges just outside of Melbourne, and found that, in almost every conceivable way, this is a better BMW compact SUV than the preceding X1 – which, let’s face it, was a hard-riding oddball wagonoid that critics and aesthetes alike did not love.
As regular readers might already know from when the F48 was launched last October, the styling is easy on the eye, the cabin a cinch to access, and the amount of available space more than just sufficient – especially out back, and that’s something you couldn’t say about the confined preceding version. That the driver-focussed layout could be out of any larger/more expensive X series SUV, with its clear instruments, chunky wheel, iDrive controller, and firm but supportive front seats, speaks volumes about how keen the company is to not alienate brand loyalists.
Better still, and aided by a superb eight-speed auto transmission, both base engines are strong yet refined performers, offering eager acceleration and smooth progress across the board (and promisingly fuel efficiency to boot).
Eager, reactive steering defines both variants’ dynamic character, as we’d hope it would. The slightly lighter 20i petrol feels a bit more agile through tight corners, while the 18d diesel’s effortless torque delivery allows for a greater level of throttle adjustability.
On a hot summer’s day, the level of grip and roadholding seemed on a par with the xDrive all-wheel drive versions sampled late last year, which means unflappable.
On the flipside, all that crisp steering goodness encourages spirited driving, and it is during fast cornering that the BMW’s standard comfort-orientated suspension setting reveals a propensity for lean and occasionally sloppy understeer certainly it’s within acceptable SUV limits, but that BMW badge does come with an expectation of superior dynamic prowess – especially when the ride quality errs on the too-firm side.
As with all X1s (and Minis and 2 Series Active Tourers on the same UKL architecture), never order one of these vehicles without the circa-$900 optional adaptive dampers, lest you want your posterior pummelled. They soften the at-times hard edges of the suspension, making for a far more palatable occupant experience.
So the base X1s really are proper BMW SUVs then, even if the engine is turned sideways and the front wheels are doing the pulling. In some ways, both come across as the sweetest of the range, even if the clammy standard vinyl trim makes you wish for the days of velour or soft cloth (if you’re a vegan and adverse to the optional leather).
Whatever, they’re both far truer to the brand than anyone might have hoped for, and so totally deserve a look-in – something we couldn’t have s
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