LAUNCHED IN 2015, THE 2016 BMW X1 RANGE HAS NOW BEEN ROUNDED OUT WITH A PAIR OF TWO-WHEEL-DRIVE MODELS AS THE ENTRY POINT TO THE RANGE. Compact, sharply-styled, and with the usual dollop of BMW dynamism, is this the perfect meeting point between a small SUV and smart city hatch?
In this instance, the $49,500 X1 sDrive18d is the cheapest X1 you can buy - perhaps not exactly a budget buy, but well equipped and cleverly engineered all the same.
Vehicle Style: Compact luxury SUV
Price: $49,500 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 110kW/330Nm 2.0 4cyl turbo diesel | 8spd automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 4.3 l/100km | tested: 5.8 l/100km
As a premium contender, the BMW X1 needs something to give it clear space against top-spec versions of SUVs like the Kia Sportage or Ford Kuga. The X1 is a touch smaller than both, yet costs more than the most expensive variants of either.
So, what does the X1 sDrive18d have that run-of-the-mill SUVs don’t? Certainly it comes well equipped, with standard features including a powered tailgate, dual-zone climate control, and satellite navigation.
There’s also that old chestnut of ‘brand cachet’ - why buy a BMW when you could have a Hyundai for less? Because you can.
For some buyers, the lure of the blue and white propeller will be enough, but look deeper into the X1, and there’s a very decent vehicle underneath
- Standard equipment: Sensatec man-made leather upholstery, cruise control with speed limiter, rear view camera, front and rear park sensors, LED headlights with highbeam assist, auto dimming rear view mirror, dual zone climate control, 18-inch alloy wheels, xLine exterior package
- Infotainment: 6.5-inch display, iDrive controller, satellite navigation, five-speaker audio, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, USB input, CD/AM/FM/MP3 playback
- Options fitted: Metallic paint ($1140), Panoramic glass roof ($1690), DAB+ digital radio ($385)
- Cargo volume: 505 litres minimum, 1550 litres maximum
Owners of the first generation X1 will appreciate the more space-efficient approach of this new model. There’s more room for people, and their bits and bobs, plus more flexibility to boot.
At the same time, Mercedes-Benz GLA owners will look on enviously; the X1 feels like a ballroom compared to the broom closet-like intimacy of the Benz.
The finish inside the sDrive18d is no different to other members of the X1 range. There’s still Sensatec ‘man-made’ leather (yes it’s a terrible marketing term, but is nicer than plain old vinyl), gloss-black trim and a choice of optional finishes, and a wealth of soft-touch surfaces.
Build quality is as good as you’ll find: tight panel gaps, firmly assembled fittings, and an interior that’s tight and rattle free.
Standard equipment is almost identical to the sDrive20i and xDrive20d with dual-zone climate control, adjustable rear bench seat, 6.5-inch colour display including satellite navigation, ambient interior lighting, auto lights and wipers, and keyless-entry and start all standard.
The tailgate is electrically operated and reveals 505 litres of boot space, opening up to 1550 litres with the 40:20:40 rear seat folded.
Comfort both front and rear is taken care of thanks to the X1’s airy cabin, however, on a longer-haul trip we found the front seats a little lacking in thigh support thanks to the rather compact seat cushions.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 110kW/330Nm 2.0 litre four-cylinder turbo diesel
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, front-wheel-drive
- Suspension: Single-joint strut front suspension, multi-link rear suspension
- Brakes: Four-wheel ventilated disc brakes
- Steering: Electrically assisted Servotronic power steering, turning circle: 11.4m
A 2.0 litre four-cylinder turbo diesel resides under the bonnet, generating 110kW of power at 4000rpm and 330Nm of torque from 1750rpm. The engine itself is the same as that found in the xDrive20d model, but detuned by 30kW and 70Nm.
With a little less urgency under the bonnet, and only front-wheel-drive instead of the xDrive all-wheel-drive system, the sDrive18d feels a little different at the wheel, but, really, only in very minor ways.
As expected, acceleration is a little more relaxed - still able to keep its nose with fast moving traffic, but not as punchy as the high-output diesel.
That said, it does still generate some very serious torque which you will feel when accelerating. With only the two front wheels converting that force into momentum, you can experience some light tugging through the steering wheel if attempting to move off briskly.
Likewise, in the wet, where the all-wheel-drive models simply grip and go, the sDrive will stutter a front wheel in slippery conditions at low speed. It isn’t lacking for grip or balance, but the sudden arrival of all that torque can surprise the front end at times.
Aside from that the eight-speed automatic is a pearler - it isn’t quite as sharp as the eight-speed unit in BMW’s larger rear-drive models, but for small SUV-duty it’s programmed just right.
Unlike all other models in the range, the X1 sDrive18d does without steering wheel paddles, and I seriously doubt anyone would miss them. The transmission is so condition-aware that it simply doesn’t find itself in the wrong gear at the wrong time.
Ride quality is somewhat firm, and while the X1 rides on standard 18-inch wheels, it’s wrapped in chubby tyres with firmer run-flat sidewalls.
While it might feed some smaller lumps and bumps through the suspension, it has no trouble riding out bigger suspension hits and is a very stable and settled long-legged cruiser.
It also isn’t too bad when shown a set of corners. There’s less body-roll than you might expect from an SUV, with tidy steering and agile handling (which is, after all, no less than we expect from that BMW badge).
ANCAP rating: The X1 range has yet to be tested by ANCAP
Safety features: Six airbags (dual side, dual front side, and full length curtain), Dynamic stability control including ABS brakes, cornering brake control, brake assist, and dynamic traction control, three point seat belts and adjustable head restraints on all seats, plus force-limiting seatbelt pretensioners for front seats.
Driver aids include lane departure warning, forward collision warning, pedestrian warning, and light city braking function (to reduce speed until the driver can take over brake control).
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Premium-brand rivals for the X1 include the Audi Q3, Mercedes-Benz GLA, and Lexus NX, however entry to a diesel Q3 includes all-wheel-drive, while Lexus doesn’t offer a diesel at all, with a choice of turbo petrol, or petrol-electric hybrid drivetrains.
To throw a curveball or two, the Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage are both fairly fresh, and in top spec both come close to the X1 in price, however neither has the premium-brand feel though their pricing and long feature-lists suggest otherwise.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
So, why would you pick this car over, say, a Kia Sportage? There are degrees of difference, but not a yawning chasm.
The X1, on technical specification, offers a transmission with more speeds, a more fuel-efficient engine, but less power and torque, and less driven-wheels.
Handling is sharper, and ride quality is firmer in the X1 sDrive - the Kia perhaps more comfortable on broken tarmac. You also get a few more safety features in the Kia, like blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic assist, while the BMW counters with a speed limiter and ConnectedDrive internet-based services as part of the iDrive system.
But there is an x-factor in this X1 that is more than its premium feel, solid build and appealing style - and that's 'desirability'.
With less than a $5000 price difference between an X1 sDrive18d and the Kia Sportage Platinum diesel, it provides some serious food for thought if you had previously been thinking of the latter.
Add the experience of a premium dealer network and the prestige of the BMW badge, and, for some, there's a lure there that can be hard to escape.