For many SUV buyers, style and practicality are the two most important factors that govern their path to purchase.
The 2016 BMW X1 xDrive 20d should be high on a lot of shopping lists then, because if this was its brief, it hits the nail square on the head.
The core SUV traits are all there — high-riding stance, black wheel arch trims and a persona that serves up a constant reminder that you are at least thinking of maybe heading out of the city, one day.
Our test car, finished in Glacier Silver (one of 13 colours available - metallics are $1482 extra) looks the part of premium adventurer. BMW’s signature LED halo driving lights and 18-inch wheels are standard equipment, ensuring a high quality statement is made every drive.
The new X1 is 38mm shorter but 53mm taller and 23mm wider than the old car. Those extra dimensions translate directly into interior space.
The standard power tailgate conceals a 505-litre boot (up 85 litres on the old car). There is an under-floor compartment (no spare tyre though) and a couple of storage nooks as well as remote releases for the 40:20:40 split rear row.
Fold these down and you have 1550 litres of cargo space, up a whopping 200 litres on the old car. But to maintain practical reference to the X1’s ‘small SUV’ nature, I had trouble fitting a mountain bike in there, even with everything folded flat.
With 11-angles of backrest adjustment, the rear seat is surprisingly roomy. The bench is split on a 60:40 rail, allowing you to move them back and forth to help manage loads, or reduce (but most likely increase) the distance to pint-sized passengers.
Adults sitting two-up have good knee, toe and head room… but sitting three-abreast would be a tall order. The rear includes a pair of Isofix mounting points, middle arm-rest with cup holders, and storage, and there are air vents and a 12-volt charge point on the rear of the centre console.
As a whole, when considering the small footprint of the car, the boot and rear passenger space and flexibility is tremendously impressive.
Up front, much of the switchgear and arrangement will feel instantly familiar to existing BMW drivers. The ergonomics are top-notch and the feel of the majority of buttons and trim components is suitably premium.
There’s great storage in the doors, glovebox and centre console both fore-and-aft of the transmission lever. The powered boot can be operated – both opened and closed – from a switch on the driver’s door, meaning school drop-offs can easily be a pyjama pants and ugg-boots affair as you never need leave the car again.
The seats are supportive and comfortable, and the driving position offers excellent visibility all around. And lets not forget the SYNC button on the climate control, a little thing but it ticks my OCD box nicely.
But like the positive build-up of a Hollywood rom-com, it’s time to throw a bit of a curveball at our plucky little hero.
Unlike the E84 X1 which used the rear-drive 3-Series platform, the F48 X1 is based on the same BMW front-drive architecture as the 2-Series Active Tourer. This means the stylish transmission ‘wand’ that is found in other X-Range models is replaced by a rather ordinary looking gear shifter.
It doesn’t sound like much, but it is the start of a list of items that don’t quite support the feeling of premium ‘BMW-ness’ from the X1.
It’s not all bad though, you do get BMW’s Driving Assistant function which includes lane departure, forward collision and pedestrian detection systems. Plus there’s automatic parking, a reverse-view camera, and the BMW ConnectedDrive suite of concierge and live-data services – and as we’ve said before, that traffic map is just brilliant.
But, as standard, the $56,500 (plus on-road costs) xDrive 20d doesn’t come equipped with electric or heated seats, keyless entry or a heads-up display. It has the smaller 6.5-inch iDrive infotainment screen, and is needs options ticked for DAB+ radio and advanced driver assist technology. When mainstream brands are bundling all of this, and more, into their top-specification cars, matching specification in the X1 can see the price head perilously close to the $70k mark – a lot for a compact SUV.
Read our more detailed BMW X1 range pricing and specifications story here.
Lucky it drives like a BMW, right?
The 140kW/400Nm 2.0-litre turbo diesel is certainly smooth and returned impressive economy of 5.4 litres per 100km (against a claim of 4.9) on our combined cycle. We even saw it dip below the magic 5L/100km mark on highway touring sections.
It’s punchy off the line and there is more than enough power for the everyday commuter grind and occasional country tour.
Fair to note too, that there is something curious going on with the headlights. The ‘top’ of the beam fades into an ultra-violet glow, which lights up distant street signs with a strange purple glow. It looks to be part of the headlamp pattern, but is not something we’ve seen anywhere else – and we’re not sure we like it.
With the front-bias xDrive AWD system working silently and diligently away, there is never a hint of front-drive scrabble or push understeer that is present in some other front-first AWD SUVs.
We’ll put the front-only sDrive X1 models to the test soon enough.
BMW’s eight-speed automatic is smooth and changing gears could even be described as ‘fun’, especially when you use the steering-wheel mounted paddles. You’ll occasionally feel the car hesitate when off boost, but for the most part – the drivetrain is as good as the blue and white roundel would suggest.
But while the engine itself isn’t noisy – the car is. We measured 73dB at 80km/h, well above what we’ve seen in other cars of this ilk. Part of that is tyre noise, part is wind noise, but part is a bit of a drone that emits from low in the firewall.
In isolation it’s a small thing, and you do only notice it at highway speeds with the radio off… but it’s there, and we’d rather it wasn’t.
When driving, the X1 turns in well, and feels direct and sporty particularly while urban running. The ride though, is pretty firm.
On smooth roads, and at shopping speeds, it simply feels ‘tight. There is a solidness to it, no crashing, just a confident thump that lets you know the road surface has changed.
Pick up speed or move off the billiard table, and that solid thump turns into a definite bump.
While some of the blame can go to the run-flat tyres, the X1 lets you know of every line, every crack, every imperfection in the road – all translated through the steering wheel and in terms of bigger bumps, into the cabin.
Find some sharper man-made edges, like expansion joints or a railway crossing, and the X1 really lets you know.
Now much of this can be addressed by optioning the Dynamic Damper Control suspension for just $690. It doesn’t change the X1’s sporty feel but just ‘softens’ things a bit, particularly around town.
It may seem like we have been overly harsh on the X1 for the way it rides, and to be honest we have. Because we expect better from BMW.
This is the little brother to the class-leading X5 and excellent X3. We know BMW can make a great SUV and while the finer points of suspension tuning aren’t always the first thing on buyers’ minds, its something that needs to be called out as it should be better.
There, we’ve said it. Again.
Bottom line, the X1 is a really good little car for most buyers. It has a great interior and ticks those style and practicality boxes with a big, fat, permanent marker. It’s a worthy member of the X-Family and most of the time it’s a really nice place to be as it does everything it is supposed to do pretty darn well.
If you are in the market for a small but premium SUV, the 2016 BMW X1 is definitely worth a closer look. The few areas where we feel the X1 is a let down are not, and should not, be deal breakers, but they do stop the X1 from being the complete premium package we think it deserves to be.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by James Ward and Tom Fraser.