BMW's X1 has joined the ranks of 2WD SUVs. Can the RWD version of the popular small SUV compete with the AWD variant?
I’ll put it out there from the start. I don’t quite ‘get’ two-wheel-drive SUVs. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that any SUV that isn’t all-wheel drive forfeits its right to be called an SUV in the first place. That said, ‘slightly jacked-up, extended five-door hatch that looks a bit like a BMW 1 Series’ doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue either…
Whatever I think about 2WD SUVs and the semantics of what they should be called, they are being sold hand over fist and just about every manufacturer is firmly aboard the bandwagon. Given so few of these so-called ‘soft roaders’ ever go anywhere near a muddy road anyway, maybe the 2WD platform makes sense after all – it certainly seems to make sense for consumers.
Jez recently spent a week behind the wheel of the X1 sDrive 20i and now I get a chance to sample the 2.0-litre diesel engine fitted into the same platform. The 2014 BMW X1 sDrive 18d SportLine is priced from $46,300. And yes, you’re right, that name is a mouthful.
Across the range, the BMW X1 now gets the exceptional eight-speed ZF automatic transmission as standard equipment and that’s no bad thing – it enhances drivability and helps fuel consumption stay low. In the case of the oiler on test here, the ADR combined figure is a scant 4.9 litres per 100km. My measured test over more than 200km returned a genuinely impressive 5.3L/100km – once again proving how close diesel engines can get to the claim in the real world.
Aside from the extensive standard equipment list, our test X1 has a few select options. The BMW Parking Package for $850 is, in my opinion, an absolute must. It adds front parking distance sensors, a reverse camera and exterior mirrors with anti-dazzle function. You could argue (with fair reason) that a reverse camera should be standard equipment at the premium end of any sector, but at $850, this option package isn't offensively priced and is non-negotiable for me.
There’s also the interior package that adds aluminium accentuated interior trim with black high-gloss accents for $346. These details are attractive and give the interior a marginally more luxurious and premium feel, but they aren’t a deal breaker.
The BMW ‘Sport Line Package’, which costs $2307 is a little more expensive, but worth considering. Opt for the Sport Line and you get attractive 18-inch alloy wheels, ambience lighting, BMW Individual roof rails, high gloss shadow line, BMW Sports Seats, door sill finishers with BMW Sport designation, exterior elements in black high-gloss, black chrome exhaust tailpipe finisher, velour floor mats with red piping, interior lighting that is switchable between orange and white, and a sport leather steering wheel with red contrast stitching. Again, this pack is not a deal breaker by any means, but its a significant factor in making our test vehicle look as stylish as it does, especially from the exterior.
The interior is also enhanced by the optional Sport Line pack, especially the seats, which are supportive and comfortable. Visibility is excellent and the seats afford extensive adjustment up/down and fore/aft. I appreciated the high riding hatch feel to the driving position, coupled with the ability to lower the seat down into the cabin. Every major control is visible too no matter where you set the seat to suit your driving position.
BMW cabins aren’t as button heavy (on the console or steering wheel) as some and there’s a familiarity throughout the range, but there’s no doubt the interior has a premium feel to it. The 6.5-inch central control screen isn’t as big as some, but it’s clear and easy to use – especially the excellent sat nav mapping. An 8.8-inch screen is optional. The BMW iDrive system gets better with every minor upgrade or tweak and connecting your MP3 music library, either via iPod or Bluetooth streaming, is easy to execute and even easier to control.
Bluetooth phone connectivity is likewise a cinch to set up and reliable once connected. I’d prefer if the USB input for the audio device was hidden in the glove box or centre console, but thats a minor complaint. Our test vehicle had the standard audio equipment – as opposed to the optional Harman Kardon system – and I was impressed by the sound quality. If you’re a real audiophile, you’ll opt for the heavy hitter, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the standard offering if you’re on a budget.
Cabin storage is adequate without being extensive. I liked (and used) the door pockets that have a clever elasticised band, which keeps notepads, paperwork or CDs from flapping about and the cup holders are large enough to hold a small bottle as well as the usual takeaway coffee cups. There’s a little hidy-hole ahead of the gearshift lever that is perfect for phones and/or a small wallet.
The BMW X1 isn’t the most spacious vehicle in this segment – not compared to others like the Mazda CX5 or Jeep Cherokee, the latter having oodles of luggage space especially. The back seats are comfortable, but a little compact for taller passengers and the luggage area is big enough for one-child families, but its going to get a little tight when baby number two arrives.
On the road, the X1 benefits from the all-round flexibility of a modern, high-tech turbo-diesel engine. Displacing 1995cc, the four-cylinder generates 105kW at 4000rpm and a chunky 320Nm between 1750-2500rpm – right where you want it for the daily grind.
There’s a little bit of diesel clatter, but I’m willing to live with that given the flexibility of the engine that seems to have been designed with daily driving chores in mind. The diesel X1 gets from 0-100km/h in 9.6-seconds. At any road speed, the eight-speed gearbox is mightily impressive, with snappy up and down shifts regardless of how heavy you’re being with your right foot.
On the open road, the X1 cruises along between 90 and 110km/h effortlessly. Runs into the country will be enjoyable, and the economy offered by the diesel means you won’t have to keep stopping to refuel if you don’t need a break to stretch your legs either.
The standard run-flat tyres aren’t the compromise they once were, with the latest generation offering the space benefits of not carrying a full-size spare, but not contributing to a too-stiff ride like they used to. The X1 is still a little on the firm side on really poor roads (as premium Euro SUVs tend to be) but it’s never uncomfortable or jarring even when ploughing through heavily potholed inner-city streets.
The payoff comes if you enjoy a spirited drive on twisty roads where the combination of rear-wheel drive and wide cross-section 18-inch tyres mean you can really punt the X1 along with gusto. The steering is impressive and gets more intuitive the faster you go, with a connected feel to what the front tyres are actually doing beneath you. It’s not a race car, but it can be a really fun drive if you feel like attacking a few corners.
Like Jez stated in his sDrive review, there are more rational choices in this sector if you take the badge emotion out of the equation. Cars are an emotional purchase though, there’s no escaping that and any vehicle wearing a BMW badge continues to appeal to the emotions of buyers.
Despite being an older member of the premium small SUV brigade, the BMW X1 still punches above its weight. Importantly, it still feels like a BMW in every way and that might just be the most important weapon in its armoury.