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Driven: BMW X1 front-drivers arrive

Front and centre: The front-wheel drive sDrive versions of BMW’s X1 crossover have arrived in Australian showrooms.

BMW’s entry-level X1 sDrive expected to bring mainstream buyers into premium fold


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1 Feb 2016

BMW Australia says it is confident that the majority of buyers for the just-released front-wheel drive sDrive versions of its X1 compact SUV will be new to the brand.

The second-generation crossover arrived in all-wheel drive xDrive guise in October last year, introducing new UKL Mini-based underpinnings, also shared with the 2 Series Active Tourer, to the range.

Despite the arrival of the entry level sDrive versions, the German car-maker says it will be able to sustain the rich model mix ratio that sees a higher percentage of buyers choosing the top-line xDrive all-wheel drive variants, compared with the old model.

Speaking with GoAuto at the launch of the sDrive18d and sDrive20i variants in Melbourne last week, BMW Australia head of product and market planning Shawn Ticehurst revealed that upwards of two-thirds of second-gen X1 customers have migrated over from other brands, with the vast majority coming from non-premium manufacturers such as Mazda.

“(With the complete range in place) the new X1 plays a key role in bringing a lot of people in who are new to BMW,” he said. “This will be their first BMW.

“And we expect the sDrive to bring in people from mainstream brands, there is no doubt about that, and it will be their first premium car. It will bring in people with younger families, who we probably missed in the past with the old X1.” With only one-in-ten purchases of the old model being made up of the xDrive (all-wheel drive) version, Mr Ticehurst said BMW has “bookended” the second-gen X1 with significantly more appeal and profitability, given the top-spec models are generally the biggest money-spinners.

“The mix should be about 60 per cent sDrive and 40 per cent xDrive and that’s a big switch compared to what we did with the old X1,” he revealed. “It was 90 per cent sDrive. It did skew a little too much towards the sDrive.

“But I still think the xDrive25i will continue to be a big player in X1. It’s become so much stronger and it’s really got the potential to be the best-seller in the range – and it might just be.” Mr Ticehurst said the new X1’s richer model mix is indicative of the premium compact-SUV segment’s acceptance of the crossover, suggesting that it is proof that BMW got it right the second time around despite going front-wheel drive.

“It shows a lot of buyer confidence in the market. People aren’t just going for an entry level car – they’re going for the right car for them,” he said.

Whether the X1’s growing popularity might come at the cost of X3 sales is unknown, although BMW hopes that the two SUVs will complement rather than compete against each other.

The X3 has doubled the X1’s run rate over the past couple of years, with 2806 X3 registrations recorded in 2015 versus 1391 X1 units.

“I can’t say we’ve seen any (sales substitution) yet, and probably won’t see a lot of it,” Mr Ticehurst said. “The X3 buyer wants that bigger car, and they possibly want that X3 badge and everything that comes with that, so we haven’t seen any cannibalisation yet. The X1 seems to be bringing in a whole new market for BMW… while the X3 gets more repeat buyers.

“They do certainly have the potential to be a lot closer than they’ve been in the past, and with the X1 being so new and off to such a strong start, there’s certainly the potential to be (the better seller). But the X5 is still our biggest selling single model, and I don’t see the X1 upsetting that spot… it’s been so strong for so long.” Despite the potentially damaging effect inflicted by the Volkswagen Group’s ongoing emissions cheating scandal, the diesel is set to continue as the more popular fuel choice, with just over 20 per cent of buyers expected to pick the base sDrive18d.

Kicking off from $49,900 plus on-road costs, the latter is now $400 more expensive than what BMW said it would be when it announced F48 prices late last year, and about $3500 over the old E84 sDrive equivalent, although the company says there is thousands of dollars of extra standard kit to compensate.

“The diesel market still seems to be strong,” Mr Ticehurst said. “In (the premium compact-SUV) market, people are still buying more diesel than petrol, though we might see a switch in the future. So the 18d will still be slightly higher volume than the 20i.” If consumer sentiment does start swinging in the petrol version’s favour, BMW may consider a cheaper X1 petrol than the sDrive20i (from $51,600 plus ORC), such as the sDrive18i sold elsewhere.

That variant is powered by a 100kW/220Nm 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo unit that is also found in the closely related 218i 2 Series Active Tourer Active Tourer and Mini Cooper, as well as the just-released 318i sedan.

“There are no plans for the X1 sDrive18i at the moment,” Mr Ticehurst said. “But models like that are available to us if it starts to feel like that might be the right strategy for the market, but not in the short term.” The advent of the three-cylinder engine family would mark another major departure for the X1, after the F48 switched from the E84’s longitudinal rear-drive architecture (based on the 2005-2011 E91 3 Series Tourer wagon) to a transverse one (BMW’s UKL platform).

The xDrive’s AWD system departs from the norm by using a constantly driven rear prop-shaft with the torque bias altered where it meets the rear differential, and not from a transfer-box at the front end, as in many similar transverse layouts.

As outlined at the F48’s launch in October, all X1s currently use a variation of a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine/eight-speed automatic drivetrain.

The sDrive18d’s diesel produces 110kW of power and 330Nm of torque, for a 9.2-second 0-100km/h sprint-time and a 4.3 litres per 100km combined consumption figure.

The 141kW/280Nm sDrive20i’s petrol unit is 1.5s faster across the line but then also drinks 1.6L/100km more on average. The latter’s auto also gains wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

The styling work of Australian designer Calvin Luk, the X1 is more aerodynamic, as well as lighter, taller, and wider than before, bringing with it a far roomier cabin (and cargo area) despite having a shorter wheelbase and overall length. It uses McPherson struts up front and a multi-link rear suspension system out back.

Among the many options is Dynamic Damper Control, which costs $897 and brings ride-soothing adaptive shock absorbers on board.

Standard features include a reversing camera, lane departure warning, forward collision and pedestrian warning with light city braking, front and rear radar with Parking Assistance, in-car emergency services communication and internet access (dubbed ConnectedDrive), satellite navigation, a 6.5-inch central screen, vinyl upholstery, a sliding rear seat, powered tailgate, LED headlights, and 18-inch alloy wheels.

2016 BMW X1 pricing*
sDrive18d (a) $49,900
sDrive20i (a) $51,600
xDrive20d (a) $56,500
xDrive25i (a) $59,900
*Excludes on-road costs

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