The all-new BMW X1 is here. Ryan Bubear hits the Garden Route to sample the BMW X1 xDrive20d and BMW X1 xDrive25i...
Let's cut to the chase. The original BMW X1 was one of the least inspiring models to come out of the Munich-based automaker in recent years.
It was a strange shape. It didn't really deserve to wear the X badge. And it generally just lacked the premium polish for which the brand had become known. An "entry-level" BMW it most certainly was.
But a staggering set of sales figures suggests the buying public cared not. Indeed, in the six years since the German manufacturer introduced the X1 — it became the first premium automaker to take the plunge into the small crossover market back in 2009 — more than 730 000 of the things were sold, with 7000-plus of those in South Africa.
Now there's a brand new one. Yes, the second-generation BMW X1 has touched down. And you know what? It's an entirely different creature.
Indeed, the Bavarian giant has effected significant changes both under the skin and to the skin itself. Where the first-generation BMW X1 came across as an awkwardly proportioned, oversized hatchback-cum-wagon, this new model looks more like a real SUV. In fact, spy it from far away enough, and you could quite possibly mistake it for an X3. Or even an X5, if you're getting on a bit.
Although the new model is actually slightly shorter in overall length than its predecessor, it's some 53mm taller, with a significantly higher seating position than before. Proportionally, then, the newcomer just works. It's quite simply far easier on the eye.
But perhaps even more important are the changes that one can't immediately see. The original X1, you see, ran on a rear-wheel drive platform pilfered from the 3 Series Touring. The new model, however, uses a version of the BMW Group's UKL modular platform, which is shared with likes of the MINI Cooper and BMW 2 Series Active Tourer.
Of course, this layout is perfect for accommodating transverse-engine, front-wheel drive setups, although all-wheel drive is still available — in "on-demand" form — in three of the derivatives in the new six-model X1 range.
Why has BMW gone the front-wheel drive route with the new X1? Well, as we pointed out in our Active Tourer driving impression at the start of the year, there are distinct benefits that come with this configuration. Lower vehicle weight, better fuel consumption, cheaper manufacturing, and more efficient packaging all immediately spring to mind.
Indeed, the clever packaging made possible by this layout means cabin space is vastly improved in the new model. Both leg- and head-room on the rear bench are now generous enough to accommodate a couple of six-footers, while the optional adjustable rear seats take interior versatility a step further.
The luggage compartment, too, grows an appreciable 85 litres to 505 litres, which easily bests that of the new X1's two closest rivals, the Audi Q3 and the Mercedes-Benz GLA. Furthermore, its utility space of 1550 litres — accessed by dropping the split-folding rear seats with the pull of a lever or two — is tough to beat.
But, if you enjoy driving more than you do packing, you may be wondering whether this new platform leaves the re-invented X1 feeling somewhat less dynamically poised than the brand's staple rear-wheel drive products. The answer, naturally, is yes — to a degree, anyway. Thing is, the X1's target market simply doesn't give two hoots. Thus, these days, a rear-wheel drive platform would make little sense in such a product.
That doesn't mean the second-generation BMW X1 is boorish through the bends. Far from it, in fact. Although we were only able to sample a pair of all-wheel drive models — the front-driven sDrive variants will arrive in SA in January 2016 — we found them rather engaging to pilot over a mountain pass or three. The steering, meanwhile, is pin-point accurate and almost perfectly weighted.
There's plenty of grip and surprisingly minimal body-roll, yet not at the expense of ride comfort (despite the fitment of optional larger wheels on the vehicles we drove). The 183mm ground clearance, meanwhile, proved useful as we tackled a number of gravel roads, although even a couple of (admittedly rental) Kia Picantos appeared to be having little trouble with the surface.
We sampled two variants: the oil-burning xDrive20d and the range-topping xDrive25i. The former employs a 1995cc turbo-diesel heart worth 140kW at 4000rpm and 400Nm from 1750rpm to 2500rpm, allowing it to hit three figures from standstill in 7.6 seconds. BMW claims a combined fuel economy of just 4.9 litres per 100km, an improvement of around ten percent over the equivalent outgoing model.
The four-cylinder mill is rather refined — and the cabin insulation excellent — with very little of the traditional diesel clatter finding its way to the occupants' ears. This, however, renders the tyre roar from the standard runflat tyres unusually invasive. Still, the powerplant is a strong one, with oodles of torque on tap from early in the rev-range. And the Aisin-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission is an absolute gem.
The xDrive25i, meanwhile, uses a 1998cc petrol unit fitted with a twin-scroll turbocharger to produce 170kW between 5000rpm and 6000rpm, and 350Nm across a usefully broad rev-range (1250rpm to 4500rpm). The obligatory sprint is thus dispatched in a Golf GTI-equalling 6.5 seconds, while claimed consumption falls to 6.6 litres per 100km.
This flagship X1 also boasts an eight-speed self-shifter, which is manipulated via a somewhat old-school mechanical gear-lever (rather than the electronic version found in most high-end BMWs). This automatic gearbox also ships standard with the sDrive20i (front-wheel drive 2.0-litre turbo-petrol with 141kW and 280Nm) and the xDrive20i (the all-wheel drive version).
The entry-level sDrive18i — which uses the 100kW/220Nm 1.5-litre turbo-triple from the MINI Cooper, 2 Series Active Tourer, and base 3 Series — features a six-speed manual (or optional six-speed auto), while the sDrive20d also comes standard with the manual cog-swapper (but can be had with an eight-speed auto, too).
The quality of the cabin is standard BMW fare, although that perhaps could not have been said about the original. This new model looks and feels as premium as it should, doing a fair job of mimicking its more expensive siblings in both layout adopted and materials used.
Pricing starts at R435 000 for the bare-bones sDrive18i and runs through to R602 500 (yes, that's more than the cheapest X3) for the xDrive25i. Of course, an extensive options list — which includes everything from styling packages, electronic damper control, and electrically adjustable front seats to camera-based driver assistance systems and a head-up display — means you could end up spending a whole wad more cash if you're not careful.
So, the second-generation X1 is a vastly improved product. It takes the range in an entirely new direction, putting more emphasis on efficiency and usability while still delivering a driving experience somewhat more engaging than one might expect from an SUV.
Ultimately, the new BMW X1 is the compact crossover that the original should have been. It's more purposeful in its proportions, more premium in its execution, and more practical and spacious inside.
And, perhaps most of all, it's more deserving of the brand's X badge. Even if its underpinnings are front-wheel drive flavoured.
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See page two for specs and pricing.