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First Drive: BMW X1 car review


LOOK past the genuinely brand new cars from BMW in recent months and you’ll see a picture of gradual, continual improvement from the German car maker. Yes, the 1, 3 and 6 Series models are all very nice, but the really impressive act is being able to maintain the performance of an existing model in the middle of its lifecycle.

The X1 is such a car. It’s not an old car but in the face of growing opposition from all manner of alternatives, BMW’s compact lifestyle model has been refreshed. Visually the changes border on the ‘blink and you miss it’. Although subtle, the exterior refresh aligns the X1 closer to the 1 and 3 Series models in the way of the BMW family look.

This refresh adds more body coloured surfaces below the bumper line fore and aft, which results in a clever optical illusion that the X1 is more expensive-looking in the eye of the beholder than it really is.

Moving the X1 upmarket, visually at least, isn’t restricted to the car’s exterior. Inside the X1 the ambience is one that wouldn’t be out of place in a 5 Series or, and said without a hint of exaggeration, an X5. It’s a long way from the disappointingly plastic interior of a first generation X3, and is proof that BMW now better understands the demands and desires of its buyers. In short, this X1 might be the first rung on the SUV ladder for some but they’re not made to feel like it is.

And as an alternative to conventional ‘affordable’ premium cars, the X1’s cabin is as roomy and practical as the best of them. With its elevated driving position, it’s easy to see the attraction of the X1 over, say, BMW’s own 3 Series Touring. Judging by the numbers on the road, so do many owners.

Rounding off the owner-friendly features, BMW has bestowed its refreshed X1 with some new and more upmarket trim levels plus the option of extra safety kit such as lane departure warning. And, just like the ‘old’ X1 this model can be had with a choice of rear or four-wheel drive – the latter offering an extra level of security in adverse weather conditions and for those who tow.

BMW’s policy of continual improvement is most obvious in the engine department. The all-diesel X1 range will be familiar to fans of the compact SUV, although there’s a new motor at the top of the range as the outgoing 23d variant makes way for an uprated 25d model. Power is up to 215 horsepower, plus economy is a respectable 51.4mpg on the combined cycle. Furthermore, CO2 is a creditable 145g/km for the all-wheel drive model tested here with BMW’s optional eight-sped auto gearbox.

Forget the fancy naming convention, as under the bonnet is a 2.0-litre lump. Coupled with the self-shifting ‘box progress is surprisingly rapid in a world now full of hi-tech multi-turbo engines, and it’s rare you’ll be left wanting even when overtaking slower traffic on country roads. You’ll make significantly quicker progress than all those reps in their 318d saloons though, while the auto transmission is happiest when left to its own devices despite the inclusion of paddle shifters for the keen drivers to play with.

The engine’s snarling signature might prove enjoyable when pressing on but, thankfully, that’ll be a distant memory once you’re travelling at more sensible urban speeds. In town the xDrive25d is pretty refined for a diesel, and it’s only when you step outside when the engine is running do you fully appreciate the work that’s gone into making the car’s cabin as quiet as it is. This X1 might be the baby of the family but it lacks nothing in terms of big car feel.

Potent, albeit impressive, flagship diesel variant aside, the ownership experience of this revised X1 bodes well regardless of what’s under the bonnet. As a slightly higher rise 3 Series Touring or downsized X3, it’s easy to see its appeal. The progress made in all the important areas – performance, economy, cabin ambience, refinement – should be sufficient to maintain the X1’s elevated position in what’s becoming a fiercely competitive market.

FACTS AT A GLANCE Model: BMW X1 xDrive25d xLine, from £31,860 on the road with standard six-speed manual gearbox.

Engine: 2.0-litre diesel unit developing 215bhp.

Transmission: 8-speed automatic transmission (optional), driving all four wheels through 4x4 system with variable torque split.

Performance: Maximum speed 143mph, 0-62mph 6.8 seconds.

Economy: 51.4mpg.

CO2 Rating: 145g/km.

  • Enginesdiesel
  • Power4 (higher than average performance)
  • 0-60 mph
  • Economy4 (better than average fuel economy)
  • CO2g/km
  • Insurance groups3 (average costs)
  • Airbags
  • Seats5 value verdict:    stars

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