After driving a Honda CR-V for the last eight years, my other (and arguably prettier) half was keen to upgrade the family truckster. In our pre-child days she had always driven small, zippy cars and was missing the feeling of a fun-to-drive car that was also easy to manoeuvre within the tight spaces characteristic of the concrete jungle.
Knowing that I would spend a fair bit of time behind the wheel myself, I suggested we try a BMW 125i with the secret hope it would prove to be too lukewarm, forcing my hand to stretch to the M140i. However, giggling like an imbecile every time I pressed the loud pedal in the M140i was not meant to be, because what quickly became apparent is that the 1 Series just lacks too much practicality (lack of rear door pockets is a joke) and the missus had gotten so used to an elevated driving position over the last eight years, that a hatch simply offered nothing like the adequate visibility amongst a sea of SUVs.
Maintaining our previous criteria, but with added requirements of practicality and a high riding position, quickly narrowed our options down.
Once we sampled an X1 we knew this would be the car for us. It offers one of the best interior accommodations relative to exterior size and is a hoot to drive. However, the lower spec grades need to be optioned up to get leather and electric memory seats – a must when you alternate between 6’2” and a 5’1” tall drivers on a regular basis. We settled on a 2017 model xDrive 25i in Estoril Blue with panoramic sunroof and M Sport package.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and there is a consensus the non-M Sport models look better resolved in the F48 generation of BMWs. To counter this argument, I have long held the view that BMW produces some of the most sophisticated blue hues on the market and therefore our choice of colour necessitated the ticking of this option.
The aluminium trim with blue highlights and blue stitching on the leather really lift the interior ambience. It is also worth noting the M Sport models offer more comfortable front seats with adjustable under thigh support and a chunky three-spoked sports steering wheel that feels great in the hands.
The car certainly delivers a sporty demeanour to match its aggressive stance. The steering is well weighted and very direct, offering the kind of feel and feedback previously lacking in this segment. It devours corners with aplomb and exhibits very little in the way of body roll. It is a very confidence inspiring piece of kit on twisty roads due to the levels of grip on offer from the all wheel drive system and expertly controlled body.
The xDrive 25i also comes with adaptive dampers as standard, and the ride in Comfort mode is best described as being on the firmer side of comfortable, while in Sports mode it is firmer again without being harsh. Some of the firmness is no doubt a result of the run-flat tyres that come as standard wrapping over the 19-inch rims.
I would personally be curious to see what difference standard soft-walled tyres would make but won’t necessarily be swapping them over anytime soon as the ride is compliant enough for my liking.
The run-flat tyres mean there is no spare in the boot which frees up a handy storage compartment under the floor for various odds and ends. The added practicality of this compartment far outweighs any supposed peace of mind offered by the presence of a spare, which in my experience is something that is only required once every five years or so.
The engine is a cracker too, offering decent performance from low rpm and a strong mid-range due to the 350Nm of torque on offer over a wide band. It does run out of puff somewhat at high rpm and doesn’t sound as sweet as it could, but the rate of forward progress managed to surprise a Macan S driver who took off from the lights simultaneously and was forced to merge into the single lane behind me as I nosed ahead by half a car length to 80km/h.
In the 5000km or so that we have had the car, fuel economy has averaged 10.4 litres per 100 km in purely urban driving. I am keen to take it on a longer run beyond the city limits to see how it performs and get a real life gauge of the highway average fuel consumption.
Being an early 2017 build, the car still has the iDrive 5 system which is super intuitive but doesn’t offer the touch screen capability of its successor. The large 8.8-inch screen offers split screen functionality which is useful because it allows the map/navigation to be displayed on one side, and the radio/media information on the other.
While 2017 cars also come with analogue instruments, the head-up display projects a digital speedo readout making it easy to keep your eyes on the road without creeping over the speed limit.
The overall comfort, ease of use and ergonomics are all top notch. The BMW Connected app is also handy allowing you to remotely locate, lock, flash the headlights and ventilate the vehicle and even send destinations remotely that appear in your vehicle messages to fast track navigation entries.
There are a few minor niggles that have presented themselves during our ownership experience. Having comfort access for the doors and a boot that responds to swipes of the foot under the rear bar is a nifty feature, but when you are standing behind the car loading your groceries and the car detects movement of your feet it decides to play Hungry Hippo and tries to swallow you whole. You need to quickly press the boot button to stop it or get out of the way before it chomps down on you.
The semi-autonomous parking feature works well for reverse parallel parks on straight roads and where it can perceive upright kerbs, but bends and driveway crossovers tend to throw it off course and cause it to mount the kerb which can scrape your rims.
Other than the above niggles I would say that the standard stereo offers good sound but lacks a little oomph, and the Dakota leather is not the most supple of hides, but it does appear to be very durable. The Nappa leather in my Audi A4 is much more pleasant to the touch but one area where I think BMW beats the Audi for tactility is the one-touch indicators which offer just the right amount of resistance to make it feel like you are changing lanes in something which is a cut above your standard car.
It’s amazing that such seemingly unimportant details can add or detract from the overall experience. For future X1 generations it would be nice to see the interior materials improve in line with the recent X3 and for some updated safety tech to be available such as blind-spot monitoring and rear AEB.
Overall the vehicle has been a pleasure to own and I don’t have any regrets to date especially considering we got a great deal. The X2 was just coming out when we bought our X1 but I struggle to understand why they don’t offer the same engine and drivetrain or an even sportier 30i state of tune.
I couldn’t see any sense in paying a more than $10k premium for a front-wheel drive car that is less practical and slower. The Volvo XC40 wasn’t available yet but I would have strongly considered it if it was. The Audi Q3 is ancient and bland and the Mercedes GLA is also much less practical and just didn’t excite the senses.