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The launch of an updated BMW X1 range is a more significant event that you might realise given the historic success of BMW’s X-models in Australia.
In the last ten years BMW has sold 15,000 X-models in Australia, the bulk of those being X5s and X3s. But the BMW X1 notched up around 6000 of those sales in just two-and-a-half years. Drill down further, and X-models now account for as much as 40 per cent of total BMW volume in Australia. The X1 is an important conquest car for the brand in this market, with more than 50 per cent of all X1 customers coming across from other marques.
The BMW X1 is also credited as the first-to-market in the luxury compact SUV segment after launching in 2009 at the Frankfurt Motor Show.
These days, it’s a competitive segment, with quality X1 rivals such as the Audi Q3 and the strong-selling Range Rover Evoque all vying for market share. Mercedes-Benz has the compact GLK in Europe and is hoping to bring the new generation model to Australia in 2013, which would add yet another key competitor to the segment.
All of which are big reasons why this X1 facelift (or 'life-cycle impulse' according to BMW marketeers) is needed to keep sales strong.
The competitive environment, and the fact that the X1 has just entered the US market for the first time, is just cause for the launch of a mid-life update for the X1 range, which includes three new engine specs, the availability of a new eight-speed transmission, and styling tweaks to the exterior and interior.
Styling enhancements are minor in comparison with the three new engines for the BMW X1 range that includes one petrol and one diesel engine, each with two states of tune depending on the rear-drive (sDrive18d/20i) or all-wheel-drive (xDrive20d/28i) application. The only familiar model remaining in the updated X1 range is the xDrive20d, but even that gets more power and better efficiency than the previous iteration.
At $44,900 - just $100 more than the base Audi Q3 - the rear-wheel-drive BMW X1 s Drive18d becomes the new entry-level vehicle in the range, replacing the previous X1 sDrive18i petrol variant.
The 105kW/320Nm 2.0-litre turbo-diesel is a refined and willing engine, pulling well from low down in the rev range, particularly with the optional eight-speed automatic transmission fitted to our test vehicle. Claiming 4.9L/100km combined, it is 0.3L thriftier than the front-drive Q3 2.0-litre diesel, although the BMW is 20kW/30Nm adrift.
A six-speed manual is standard fitment across the new BMW X1 range, however according to BMW Australia more than 80 per cent of X1 buyers are expected to take up the pricey $2693 auto option.
The extra-cost eight-speed is a pearler. It's smooth, quick-shifting and intelligent, adapting to your driving style and the conditions, and always in the correct gear ratio without ever over-stressing the engine.
Moreover, the shifts themselves appear quicker than many of the dual-clutch transmissions we have tested, and are most certainly more refined. The oiler provides surprisingly good in-gear acceleration for safe overtaking on country roads.
There’s significantly more grunt on offer from the all-wheel-drive X1 xDrive20d, with its same-capacity diesel uprated to 135kW and 380Nm (the latter from 1750rpm) - although that's still 20Nm adrift of the base Evoque.
The extra torque is immediately felt with even more effortless performance on tap. The additional 30kW/60Nm output over the sDrive18d reduces the 100km/h sprint time from 9.9 to 8.1 seconds.
With either engine, there’s very little of that familiar diesel clatter to be heard.
The two petrol models (xDrive28i and sDrive20i) share the same 2.0 litre four-cylinder engine with a twin-scroll turbocharger, direct-injection and BMW’s Valvetronic and Double-Vanos camshaft control system. Unsurprisingly, it’s the range-topping xDrive28i that provides the most enthusiastic drive of the X1 range.
There’s 180kW of power and 350Nm of torque, the latter of which is delivered from just 1250rpm through to 4800rpm. That's a computer-chip away (literally) from the 135kW and 270Nm delivered by the X1 xDrive20i, and enough of a grunt increase to reduce the 100km/h time from 7.4/7.7 seconds (20i man/auto) to 6.1/6.5sec (28i man/auto). The 28i is considerably quicker than the top of the range petrol Q3 2.0 TFSI (6.9 seconds) and top-shelf Range Rover Evoque Dynamic Si4 (7.0 seconds). Despite the strong performance, the 28i auto claims 7.2L/100km combined.
The new powertrains are not only more powerful, but more efficient, too. All BMW X1 variants, manual and auto, feature brake energy regeneration and an auto start-stop function. It’s not quite seamless, though, particularly on the diesel models. Manual X1 variants also feature an optimum shift indicator.
Another fuel-saving feature across the entire BMW X1 line-up is Eco-Pro: a push-button-activated driving mode that aims to achieve the best possible fuel-economy by adjusting the throttle mapping and shift points of the automatic transmission.
As with the original, the E46 3 Series-based BMW X1 offers excellent dynamics.
It sits 33mm lower to the ground than its larger X3 sibling, so there’s less pitch and yaw to contend with during cornering. Most of the time it simply feels like you're punting a 3 Series Touring.
The BMW X1 isn’t as flat through the corners as the Evoque, but it still feels planted and composed. Large compressions are tightly controlled and loose gravel roads presented little challenge on our launch drive.
BMW has made running changes to the X1’s rear suspension, which is now softer and more compliant than earlier examples. The ride, however, is still on the firm-ish side and not as comfortable as the Audi Q3 or the Range Rover Evoque.
The electro-mechanical power steering is nice and meaty from dead centre and there’s sufficient driver feedback through the thick-rimmed steering wheel.
Inside, the driving position in the X1 is near perfect, with superb ergonomics lifted right out of the previous 3 Series. The standard seats are a tad too flat, however, and would benefit from deeper lateral bolstering. We tried the optional sports seats as part of the Sport Line package, and those provided more bolster and noticeably improved comfort levels for front passengers.
There are a few subtle styling changes that amounts to more of a nip and tuck for the exterior and the use of higher-grade materials in the cabin.
The latest BMW X1 range looks decidedly similar to the model it replaces, but the superb new petrol engines and eight-speed automatic transmission should provide a significant boost both its overall appeal and, BMW hopes, sales.
2013 BMW X1 pricing (before on-road costs)
• X1 sDrive18d - $44,900
• X1 sDrive20i - $46,900
• X1 xDrive20d - $54,900
• X1 xDrive28i - $58,200