Car reviews - BMW - X1 - xDrive20d
Steering, handling, packaging, dash design, quality, diesel efficiency, styling, practicality
Room for improvement
Tetchy ride, hard seats, generic-BMW look and feel, expensive options
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8 Feb 2016
Price and equipment
BY ANY measure except global sales, the old BMW X1 was a patchy effort. Based on the 2005 E91 3 Series Tourer, but unveiled nearly five years later, the E84 series crossover was more ungainly wagon than SUV, and so suffered from the similar limited practicality and packaging issues of its donor vehicle.
That the Bavarians also saw fit to firm up the suspension to teeth-gritting proportions further undermined what ended up being a disappointing companion piece to the closely related X3. Not that car buyers around the world cared – they snapped up nearly three quarters of a million of them.
This time around, however, the second-gen X1 – the F48 – falls into no such traps.
Based on the UKL transverse engine/front- or all-wheel drive architecture serving the latest-gen Mini (F56 family), as well as the really quite likeable 2 Series Active Tourer, the 2016 X1 no longer looks like a 3 Series wagon viewed through a circus distortion mirror, but rather more like the baby X5 that it purports to be. If you like what you see, thank Australian-born designer Calvin Luk.
Prices for the AWD range kick off from $56,500 plus on-road costs for the xDrive20d as tested here ($400 under the previous iteration), while the FWD can be had for as little as $49,500 (sDrive18d) in diesel guise or $51,600 for the petrol-propelled sDrive20i – that’s a $3200 jump apiece.
Along with a boost in design, interior space, and practicality, value also rises, according to BMW. Backing up the latter claim are larger (from 18-inch up) alloys – a controversial move if ride comfort is a priority – as well as an electrically operated tailgate, reversing camera, parking sensors, automatic self parking, LED headlights, driver-assist tech like lane departure, forward collision and pedestrian warnings, and AEB autonomous emergency braking.
BMW’s ConnectedDrive tele-services, vinyl trim, iDrive controller for the 6.5-inch screen, sat-nav, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, and a 100-watt sound system with five speakers are also fitted.
As with all BMWs, the Leipzig, Germany-built X1 comes with a dazzling array of options as well.
If you’re familiar with the old X84 X1, the 53mm taller and 23mm wider new version is a roomy revelation the moment you open the wide doors and place yourself down on seating that is higher than it was.
With more than sufficient space for five adults (three at a squeeze out back), it’s almost impossible to believe that the newcomer’s wheelbase and overall lengths are actually 90mm and 15mm shorter respectively. An extra 66mm of knee room goes a long way.
Fat A-pillar bases aside, a commanding forward view and deep side windows make for a less hemmed-in cabin ambience, while every single item is as per every sub-7 Series rear-drive BMW – from the horizontal themed stepped shapes and layout of the driver-angled dashboard, to the quality textures and materials.
Almost all brand-defining interior characteristics are present – wide-ranging driving position adjustments, simple analogue dials, excellent all-seat ventilation (including outlets for the rear trio), totally logical placement for most switches and buttons, and a satisfying number of storage spots (including bottle holders in doors). There’s that iDrive controller too, of course, which after 15 years has been refined and evolved to the point of it being completely intuitive to operate. Front-drive or not, the latest X1 is as Bavarian as beer.
However there are some issues, starting with the starkly firm seating. Most occupants did not seem to mind, but a couple of skinnier passengers found them to be too hard despite the second row’s 130mm sliding flexibility, the rear cushions were deemed too shallow and unsupportive for the under-thigh region of taller travellers (kids, it seems, get the better deal) and the quality of plastics in the lower regions cheapen remarkably.
Just try the centre armrest’s cupholder flaps, that sound nastier than the words coming from the warden from a women’s prison laundrette.
Still, the news improves further back, thanks to a sizeable 20 per cent leap in luggage capacity (from 505 to 1550 litres with the handy 40/20/40 split rear seat backs folded). And, of course, getting there from behind this X1 is easier than ever because of the segment’s largest aperture, a low floor, and an electrically operated tailgate. BMW sure has done its packaging homework.
Engine and transmission
All X1 drivetrains remain 2.0-litre turbo-based, even ones with smaller numbers in their names the volume-selling xDrive20d delivers a sizeable 140kW of power and 400Nm of torque to all four wheels via a conventional eight-speed automatic transmission. No dual-clutch complexities here.
Officially, the 0-100km/h sprint time takes a healthy 7.6 seconds while the official fuel consumption average is 4.9L/100km – a mighty impressive feat for a blunt-nosed 1550kg-plus SUV, though those figures are mutually exclusive to each other.
Whatever, this powertrain is a peach – very little turbo lag off the mark, followed by immediate forward acceleration on demand, nearly imperceptible ratio shuffling (though very instant ones – great for when you need to your performance to rise to the next level – and aided by a well-sited set of paddle shifters), and the usual and expected levels of refinement. As with all current BMW SUVs, except during refuelling, you’d never know this engine is not a petrol.
If using less of our precious resources is your priority, the X1 driver can forgo the racy Sport and sparkling Normal modes and opt instead for Eco Pro, which takes the edges off the acceleration, air-con and other power-sapping/economy-hurting functions, to help promote better efficiency – and actually make for a calmer and even quieter drivetrain.
Punchy, parsimonious, polished – the xDrive20d is a deliciously cultivated experience. Too bad the suspension engineers missed that memo… Ride and handling
The really good news is that the standard X1 xDrive20d displays the sort of dynamic aptitude most people want and expect from a BMW.
From the moment the beautifully weighted and balanced steering is first turned into a corner, it is clear that the handling and road-holding characteristics are among the best-ever for this size and class of SUV even at speed, this is capable of cornering with satisfying feedback, composure, and control.
Additionally, being an xDrive all-wheel drive with an additional propshaft and second differential on the rear axle, torque transfer is both fast and seamless, so changes in conditions and surfaces are dealt with without any sweat in the wet, the X1’s road-holding is exemplary.
But, of course, there is a downside to all this flowering prose about the BMW’s dynamic prowess, and that’s the jittery and at times downright hard ride.
Faultless on smooth highways, around town or over bumps and ridges, the (struts up front/multi-links out back) suspension’s way of dealing with them is to basically pummel the hapless occupants inside.
Consequently, ears as well as posteriors will rue an X1 without the absolutely essential $897 optional Dynamic Damper Control, which takes the harshness out of the ride, we are told. Don’t buy one of these without DDC, unless you actually want your bum to ache.
Safety and servicing
Like all BMWs, the X1 is covered by a three-year unlimited kilometre warranty at the time of writing (December 2015), no ANCAP crash-test result was available.
There is no standard fixed-price servicing, but buyers can choose a pre-paid system that offers a number of money-saving aftersales benefits for up to five years/80,000km. Note, also, that annual subscription fees apply to BMW’s Connected Service.
From every angle, inside and out, the second-generation X1 is a monster step-up from its underwhelming E84 predecessor. So much better in every way.
Some may question the generic styling, pretty as it is, but the previous version was never a thing of beauty anyway, while the F48 possesses real appeal.
Yet all that packaging, performance, dynamics, and efficiency goodness is undermined by the punishing ride quality, acerbating the already overly firm seating in the standard spec vehicles.
Of course, that’s easily rectified with the $900 dynamic damper control option, so make sure you tick that little box, because then you will have an involving and enjoyable (if somewhat expensive – but then that hasn’t stopped customers pouring in previously) premium compact-SUV experience, and one that dispels any lingering doubts about the Mini-based provenance.
We predict another wild success for BMW.
Audi Q3 2.0 TDI quattro Sport from $56,900 plus on-road costs
Surprisingly dynamic and fun to drive considering its Audi A3/VW Tiguan underpinnings, the Q3 is a slick, smooth, and satisfying driving experience, with lots of kit at this spec level. But dynamically it’s behind the X1 and also ageing rapidly.
Mercedes-Benz GLA 200CDI 2WD from $48,300 plus on-road costs
Stylish, compact, and very nimble, the diesel-powered crossover version of the phenomenally successful A-Class hatch represents good value compared to the others, but isn’t nearly as large, or quite as practical for the family. A fun alternative.
Lexus NX 300h Luxury AWD from $59,500 plus on-road costs
Larger than its German counterparts, and with plenty more features as standard and a striking cabin, the NX is an enigmatic contender in this class, but suffers from a detached driving character and a firm ride.
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