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Car reviews - BMW - X1 - xDrive20d

Our Opinion

We like
BMW charisma, trademark BMW handling, great looks, stylish interior
Room for improvement
Electric steering too light, tricky ergonomics, poor vision, strictly limited off-road ability

25 Feb 2011

THIS week we’ve tested the xDrive20d variant of BMW’s new X1 compact SUV range, which means all-wheel drive and a 2.0-litre diesel engine. Although the list of standard equipment is long, the X1 follows BMW tradition by providing a long list of options, some of which are very expensive.

The starting price for the xDrive20d is $52,700 with the standard six-speed manual transmission ($54,900 with an automatic, which will doubtless be the more popular configuration). Dual-zone climate-control, electronic stability control, cruise control with braking, anti-lock braking with corner braking control, ‘dynamic’ brake lights with flashing function to indicate extreme deceleration, smart 17-inch alloys, a multitude of airbags (including head bags, front and rear), roof racks and a trip computer are present and correct.

It is a generous list of equipment for a BMW in this price range, but you do pay extra for the test car’s handsome woodgrain trim and leather seats, as part of what is brazenly called the Design Cool Elegance package ($2340).

The test machine also came with the $3000 panoramic glass sunroof. You pay an extra $1700 for metallic paint and $1000 for bi-Xenon headlights. Satellite-navigation was fitted to the test car, adding $3463. Choose 18-inch wheels instead of the standard 17s and you’ll be digging deeper to the tune of $1115. More than 20 per cent of the test car’s total cost comprised options – a sobering $15,404!

Standard across the X1 range is a start/stop button and the xDrive20d manual also has an idle-stop function, which switches off the engine when the vehicle is stationary and is a very useful fuel-saving feature which can be switched off if it irritates you (it will certainly surprise you the first few times!).

As with all modern common-rail turbo-diesels, it is torque which drives the performance. This 2.0-litre BMW engine has a substantial 350Nm of Sir Isaac’s finest on offer right through from just 1750rpm through to 3000rpm. The useful 130kW of maximum power arrives at 4000, so there is a linear feel to the performance. On test GoAuto averaged just 5.4 litres per 100 kilometres, although a lot of our driving was on the highway.

BMW’s xDrive system distributes power individually to whichever wheels have the better traction, so it will work well in snow or on ice and, presumably, on beaches. The limiting factors to this all-wheel drive vehicle’s off-road ability are sedan-like ground clearance and the lack of any form of low range gearing, all of which makes the hill descent control seem academic because you might not be able to ascend a hill where its use on the return trip would be handy.

In theory, because of its torque converter, the automatic variant would tackle very steep hills better, while a manual car needs dual-range when the going gets worryingly vertical. You would not, for example, take an X1 to Fraser Island because it lacks the necessary ground clearance and low range, but you could venture forth confidently in the higher-riding X5 with its torque converter transmission.

Austere BMW interiors are a distant memory. Here is a key BMW selling point, a cabin that feels driver-focused and yet is welcoming to all occupants. The quality is palpable. It is probable that many customers will buy one of these before they take a test drive after all, it is a BMW!

‘Our’ X1 was enlivened by the plush (if gauchly named) Design Cool Elegance package. Particularly impressive are the well bolstered front seats. There is quite reasonable space in the rear and the seat split-folds in three sections for optimum persons/load carrying capacity.

Even with the seat backs in their upright position you can tote a fair load. Rearward vision is only average for this type of vehicle and the driver is always conscious of the thick A-pillars and the complementary blind spots provided by the oversize exterior mirrors.

Not so many years ago BMW located the cruise control buttons on the steering wheel where they should be. But this idea was ditched and the presence of an additional, if shorter, stalk very close to the indicator stalk can cause brief confusion and is less than ergonomically ideal.

So, too, is the iDrive system – better than it used to be, thanks to simple menu buttons, but still fiddlier and more time-consuming than it need be, as well as (sometimes) counter-intuitive. Some testers believe iDrive should be dubbed youDrive (because I don’t care to!).

Stylish is an overworked adjective but it applies particularly in the case of the X1, which is as elegant as the 2004 X3 was gawky. Here is a BMW from the latest design school. It bears a fitting family resemblance to the current X5.

BMW built its reputation on the ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’ theme. The X1 handles better than anything else in its class, in terms of grip and cornering composure, and has that solid BMW feel about it. But the steering is way too light and lacking in the communicativeness one expects of a BMW. Ride comfort is very good. It cruises with great ease and with very low levels of noise, vibration and harshness (NVH).

In summary, the X1 xdrive20d is an appealing and classy new compact SUV which delivers indelible BMW brand values at a fair price. Just beware of that options list.

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