First drive: the new BMW X1

Posted on: June 29th, 2012

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The BMW X1 is a car we barely notice. It doesn’t know what it is. It’s higher than an estate, but not by much. Certainly not high or robust enough to be an SUV. Why would anyone want it, we asked?

But, not for the first time, we called it badly wrong. And BMW surprised even themselves, because it has actually been a huge seller. Some 300,000 have been sold in two and a half years. They now build them in China too, and for the first time it’s going to the USA. To celebrate, here’s a facelift.

Didn’t notice? Can’t blame you. There’s a slight re-profiling of the front and rear bumpers, including a bit more body-coloured paint and a little more prominence to those fake plastic under-riders. The headlights are marginally glitzier now.

Inside, the centre console is angled more to the driver, and extra splashes of gloss black and aluminium-painted accents. Unless you own an old one, you won’t realise.

The main news is the engines. BMW UK doesn’t sell it as a petrol, so we get a range of four revised 2.0-litre diesels, labelled 18d, 20d, 20d EfficientDynamics and 25d. The first two can be RWD (badged sDrive) or 4WD (xDrive). The EfficientDynamics one is RWD and manual gearbox only, making it decently quick but cutting under 120g/km, which is brilliantly thrifty.

Finally the 25d comes only as an xDrive. That’s what I’m driving today. It’s got twin turbos and a healthy 218bhp. It also now has an eight-speed auto ‘box instead of six. And there’s an optional trim package called xLine. Price is £31,860 (RM159,300).

So it’s the X1 25d xDrive xLine. Enough Xs for you?

The engine is muscular and you’ve got strong pace especially with the transmission in sport mode. But the noise is surprisingly grumbly. Even at a 120km/h cruise, the lumpen diesel sound reaches your ears. Disappointing.

Still, the X1 steers very nicely, and is composed in corners. Here again there’s a but: the ride is turbulent. And high-speed wind noise is more annoying than usual for a car from the land of the Autobahn. So even though the seats are good and there’s a fair bit of room, this is a pretty poor long-distance car for a BMW.

Come to think of it, what is the X1 for? Certainly not for off-roading (the suspension is simply old-gen 3-series bits, with a bit more ground clearance but no strengthening). You don’t even get the high eyepoint of most SUVs. And the majority of buyers will get the RWD versions, so they’ll be looking pretty silly in the snow, when they get stuck in their ‘SUVs’ and Fiestas drive around them.

I suppose it’s simply that people can’t bear to drive an estate because they think it makes them look like office-equipment salesmen. But they’re losing out. The new generation 3-series Touring will be here in September. Between that and an X1 it’s a no-brainer.


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