Car reviews - BMW - X1 - sDrive20i
Superb drivetrain, excellent packaging and storage space, nicely balanced ride quality, improved value
Room for improvement
Cedes dynamic advantage of previous generation, dead yet twitchy steering on-centre, flat seats
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20 Jul 2016
Price and equipment
GERMAN brands are slowly starting to remove items from the options tab and add them to the standard equipment list. The X1 sDrive20i, priced from $51,600 plus on-road costs, rises $3300 over its predecessor but gains extra kit.
New highlights include LED headlights with automatic high-beam, a power tailgate, and automatic park assist with front/rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera.
Foglights, 18-inch alloy wheels, ‘man made’ leather trim, satellite navigation, dual-zone climate control with rear air vents, automatic headlights/wipers and an auto-dim rearview mirror are also standard, and as with the new highlights align with the cheaper $49,900 X1 sDrive18d.
Two optional packages are available for $2700 extra apiece. The Innovations Package includes active cruise control, digital radio tuner, head-up display and an upscale from a 6.5- to 8.8-inch infotainment screen. The Comfort Package features keyless auto-entry, electrically adjustable front seats with heating and auto-dimming side mirrors. Meanwhile full leather trim adds $1690 extra.
Arguably, kit such as power front seats and a decent infotainment screen should already be included for almost $52K before on-road costs, so some work remains on the X1 value equation.
The original X1 cabin is but a distant memory after spending time in this second-generation model. With the excepted continuation of drab grey plastics, the changes inside are dramatic.
Gone is the low beltline and small glasshouse that created slight claustrophobia for occupants, replaced by a tall driving position with an airy feel and superb forward visibility thanks to an expansive windscreen.
Further rearward and the intrusive centre tunnel of the old X1 has been trimmed, thanks to the switch to front-drive, and the previously too-low rear bench has been raised. Indeed the new X1 offers legroom and particularly toe space to challenge larger SUV models.
There is a six-tier adjustable rear backrest – though the seat does not slide fore and aft – and plenty of storage within this intelligent interior.
In terms of exterior body length the new BMW compact SUV is actually 38mm shorter than before, but it is 23mm wider and 53mm taller, the latter of which explains the engineers’ ability to both raise the seating hip point and create an airier glasshouse.
A 505-litre boot volume is among the largest in the segment, too, and thanks to the use of run-flat tyres negating the need for a spare tyre underfloor, there is a handy (and sizeable) wet storage area underneath.
The biggest gripes with the new X1’s cabin centre around its extremely flat front seats and the standard trim materials and infotainment screen size. It ultimately requires buyers to delve into the options list in order to significantly boost the cabin ambience beyond that of more affordable yet better equipped rivals, such as Mazda’s CX-5 Akari.
Engine and transmission
BMW’s 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine made its debut in the Mini Cooper S hot-hatch and then, by contrast, the 2 Series Active Tourer MPV. On paper it appears curiously undernourished, with only 141kW of power and 280Nm of torque.
Rarely do numbers matter less, however, because this X1 delivers superb response and excellent refinement in all conditions. Selecting the front-wheel-drive sDrive20i over the all-wheel-drive xDrive25i saves 55kg overall and leaves $8300 in your wallet, although the latter is marginally more powerful (170kW/350Nm) and slightly better equipped.
The 1485kg X1 sDrive20i claims 0-100km/h in 7.7 seconds, but in reality it feels punchier than that and it teams brilliantly with a snappy eight-speed automatic complete with standard paddle shifters. BMW claims the X1 xDrive25i is 1.2s faster.
Official combined cycle fuel consumption of 5.9 litres per 100 kilometres is difficult to achieve even in normal driving, however. The trip computer was fixed to 9.8L/100km around town, and lowered to 7.5L/100km beyond the suburbs.
Ride and handling
Where the original X1 was basically a 3 Series Touring masquerading as a compact SUV, the new model is very different.
Elevated rear-wheel-drive dynamics have been replaced by solid rather than stellar handling. Where a CX-5 can feel like a supersized hatchback, the X1 feels less playful and light on its feet, requiring a delicate touch to keep things tidy when driving enthusiastically. It prioritises grip and bodyroll reduction, offering some sharpness but without the same agility and balance as before.
Exiting a corner can elicit some steering tug, but if anything that enlivens a merely moderately fun chassis. A greater concern is the steering’s dead on-centre response that gives way to sticky resistance on initial turn-in, a trait particularly noticeable at low speed and on the freeway when changing lanes. Thankfully, the steering is imbued with sharpness and consistent weight as lock is wound on through tighter corners.
BMW has also clearly prioritised family-friendly suspension behaviour in the new X1 to match its newfound domestic focus inside, because even on 18-inch wheels with low profile tyres this small SUV rides demonstrably better than before.
A firm touch to bumps remains, but there is now a slight softness and occasional float that helps quell bigger hits. Overall, the sDrive20i manages to balance comfort and control quite well.
Safety and servicing
In addition to six airbags (including dual front, front-side and full-length curtain protection) and traction and stability control, the X1 sDrive20i also includes lane departure warning and forward collision warning with low-speed autonomous emergency braking (AEB).
BMW’s Service Inclusive Basic package covers scheduled servicing over five years or 80,000km, at a cost of $1340 plus GST.
Against the small Audi Q3 and very small Mercedes-Benz GLA, the BMW X1 now feels a whole class larger. Its genuinely roomy and clever interior stands out, as do the petrol/automatic drivetrain and standard suspension of this sDrive20i.
The second generation takes a backwards step in terms of steering and handling, each being good but not great, and permitting valid comparison with the CX-5 in these respects. That the cabin materials and equipment for the money remain slightly adrift of what may be expected of a $51,600 model grade also means that Japanese contender could be seen as better value.
What can be in no doubt is that although BMW has watered down its ‘ultimate driving machine’ philosophy with this X1, it has dramatically improved its space, comfort and refinement levels. That should, ultimately, resonate with families to a greater degree than the more dynamic but cramped original model.
Audi Q3 from $42,900 plus on-road costs
Base petrol far more affordable than X1, but also more crampedMercedes-Benz GLA from $42,900 plus on-road costs
More pumped hatchback than proper SUV, but a decent drive
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