£24,230 - £35,105 Price range
36 - 62 MPG
The BMW X1 suffers from something of an identity crisis.
It’s part hatchback, part crossover and part estate car, so critics aren’t wholly sure what to think – the common impression is that BMW has invented and then filled a niche in the car market. It should probably be considered as a premium small crossover SUV to compete with the likes of Audi’s Q3 and the Mercedes GLA.
It still drives like a BMW, is built like a BMW and has a range of well-regarded BMW family engines, so regardless of the slightly goofy looks and vague focus, it’s a car worth considering. Let’s take a closer look at this curiosity…
The original X1 was a little hit and miss, with lots of robust bits from its BMW siblings but also some questionable material choices. The update has improved overall quality but if you go digging about in usually out of sight spots you might find some brittle-feeling plastics still. Build quality is typically BMW – falling between Mercedes and Volkswagen.
The passenger space is merely adequate, but the driving position is fine – not so elevated as the X3 but certainly a bit higher than a regular road car – even if the chunk pillars make rear visibility a touch restricted. The boot is a good size, though it loses out to the Q3 on that front.
The X1 isn’t that tall by the standards of bigger SUVs and the critics praise the handling as a result – unsurprising given its estate car origins. There’s plenty of grip from the 2WD “sDrive” models and even more from the 4WD “xDrive” and there’s very little body roll in a typically BMW performance from the dynamics.
The steering is a little on the heavy side, making it somewhat of a chore to drive around town. The ride is fine on regular suspension with sensible wheels and normal tyres, but it can wander away to over firm and over squishy simultaneously if you start specifying changes – runflat tyres especially.
There’s one petrol and one diesel engine available here, the latter of which comes in five different states of tune as denoted by the increasing numbers in the name.
The petrol, dubbed 20i, offers 187hp and up to 39.8mpg depending on configuration. The diesels are available as the 16d (118hp), 18d (145hp), 20d EfficientDynamics (165hp), 20d (187hp) and 25d (218hp). This last engine is the rocketship of the X1, propelling it to 60mph in under 7 seconds thanks to the 4WD system, at up to 51.4mpg combined. It’s the EfficientDynamics cars that provide the best of both worlds with up to 63mpg combined (VED band C) and around 8 seconds elapsed in the 60mph dash.
It’ll be no surprise to learn that testers love the X1’s engines – after all, they’re top of the class in most other BMWs, whether diesel or petrol. Some testers criticise the diesel units’ refinement a little, speculating that BMW might have skimped on sound deadening to reduce weight.
There’s only one review of the sDrive 18d so far, and it doesn’t look good for the BMW, which loses to the Land Rover Freelander and Kia Sportage in a head-to-head test.
However, that isn’t the fault of the sDrive 18d’s engine (which is a de-tuned version of the 2.0-litre turbo diesel found in dozens of other BMWs). With 143bhp it’s powerful enough to reach 60mph in under 10 seconds and hit 124mph, while still delivering 54.3mpg and sitting in group E tax of £115 per year for the 2-wheel drive versions. xDrive buyers will pay £130 a year in tax.
Unlike the more powerful 20d, the 18d isn’t available with automatic transmission. The manual ‘box is typically BMW-slick, though long gear ratios blunt the engine’s responses a little.
Buyers of the sDrive 20d shouldn’t lose anything on economy to the 18d models, but they’ll gain in performance, with this unit taking just over 8 seconds to reach 60mph. The engine is described by testers as willing, lively and with 177bhp available under your right foot, should be more than powerful enough for most buyers.
As with the less powerful 18d the long gear ratios can blunt performance a little, but they’re good for economy, at 53.3mpg. Four-wheel drive xDrive versions manage 48.7mpg, which is still suitable for buyers prepared to sacrifice a little economy for extra grip in winter driving. Automatic transmission drops economy down to 47.9 and annual road tax rises to £165, which makes the manual a better choice.
The xDrive 20d can be considered largely the same as the sDrive 20d, but offers the benefit of all-wheel drive for extra traction in poor weather or on loose surfaces. xDrive models average around 5mpg fewer than rear-drive sDrive models, and the six-speed steptronic automatic reduces this to 45.6mpg.
This may be worth it for some drivers though, as the manual gearbox has a heavy clutch, according to reviewers. Shift quality itself is praised. The engine isn’t as smooth as it is in some of BMW’s other models and can be a little noisy owing to reduced sound deadening, but reviewers point out that the car is significantly cheaper than a 3-Series Touring with the same engine, which makes the xDrive 20d good value.
Another variation on BMW’s ubiquitous 2.0-litre turbo diesel, the xDrive 23d uses an extra turbocharger and puts out 204bhp, with the option of six speed manual or automatic transmissions. The 23d engine is only available with the xDrive four-wheel drive system.
Critics are full of praise for the strong performance, with 60mph coming up in a little over 7 seconds. Top speed is 124mph, yet the xDrive 23d still manages 47.1mpg combined when fitted with a manual gearbox, meaning £165 a year road tax.
The manual ‘box is considered more responsive and gives you more control in slippery conditions, but the auto is at least an easy and smooth way to travel.
When tested before the facelift in 2012, the BMW X1 scored top marks, with roughly equal child and adult occupant protection at 87% and 86% respectively – which is pretty much all you could really want from a crash test.
It also scored well for safety assists, only marked down by a lack of rear seatbelt reminders and a driver set speed governor and, though the bonnet leading edge was a bit marginal, it netted a reasonably pedestrian-friendly 64% in that category.
Rolling in at £24,230, the X1 is relatively expensive. It’s broadly on par with some rivals from premium brands, but it’s nowhere near competitive with some other SUV segment cars. It tops out at a pretty eye-watering £35,105 though at most price points it’s cheaper than the equivalent 3-Series Touring. Unfortunately it feels it too.
Options can make things more expensive – considerably more expensive. We managed to specify an X1 up to an obscene £44,000, though it’s unlikely anyone will go that tick-crazy. Running costs are good, particularly on the EfficientDynamics models, and depreciation shouldn’t be too bad at around 48 percent retained value after three years.
It’s representative of BMW’s general high standards that even one of its less impressive models still gets reasonably good reviews. It doesn’t quite hit the bases for cabin quality or driving composure, but it still offers a fair and comfortable space for four adults and their luggage.
The take it or leave it looks will probably be the major factor in whether people buy it or not – BMW sold 300,000 of them before the facelift and that’s not likely to slow down. The X1 doesn’t shine as brightly as some of BMW’s other cars, but reviews are still generally positive and for many, the blue and white propeller on the bonnet will be enough to clinch the sale.
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