An all-new generation BMW X1 has arrived, and it is better in every way compared to the old model.
BMW’s original entry-level X1 missed the mark when it was introduced in 2009, unable to tick the box of being either a proper SUV or a style-focused crossover. Six years later, many of the sharper corners were knocked off by the second generation, and now the third generation offers yet another heavy redo – but this time with more noticeable improvement than before.
It’s a little bigger again in both length and wheelbase, and it sits on the same UKL2 platform as the old car (and the likes of the 1 Series and 2 Series Active Tourer). This time, though, BMW is making use of the architecture’s adaptability and slotting a pure-electric variant, the BMW iX1, into the line-up, alongside a full range of combustion-engined models.
The entry point is the sDrive 18i, featuring a 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol with 115kW and 230Nm, and the more pwoerful xDrive 20iwith a 2.0L four-cylinder turbo petrol with 150kW and 300Nm. Both use a seven-speed automatic transmission. For those buyers who want to go electric, there is the iX1 which uses a 64.7kWh battery and two electric motors for a meaty 230kW of power and 494Nm of torque.
Pricing puts a gap of around $15k between the models – the sDrive 18i starts at $53,900, the xDrive 20i is from $68,900, and the iX1 electric starts at $82,900 before on-road costs.
The iX1 hasn’t landed yet in Australia while both 18i and 20i are on sale. There isn’t a huge amount of performance difference between the two motors, but sure enough, the 20i shows it has a little extra zip off the line and when overtaking at higher speeds. But how it delivers that performance is rather less satisfying. The motor produces its best work within a relatively narrow power band – and although the seven-speed automatic transmission generally does a decent job of keeping it in that comfort zone, when you do put in a request for additional performance, the set-up can be found wanting – not in ultimate delivery, but in the manner of it. The dual-clutch isn’t as smooth-shifting or as intelligent as BMW’s eight-speed automatics, so there’s the occasional hesitation to move in traffic if you’ve been stopped.
But the way the new X1 moves on the road is a standout. The chassis isn’t about to challenge BMW’s iconic rear-wheel-drive models for involvement, but the X1’s dynamics still feel like a distinct offering in the class. There’s balance, poise and composure here at levels that the Audi Q3 could only dream of – and acceptable comfort to boot.
While the steering isn’t overly informative, the response is crisp and there’s a pleasing amount of heft as you load the system up. BMW’s engineers have done a good job of dialling out transference of road imperfections, too. The overall experience remains rather anodyne – a digital car for a digital age, perhaps – but at least it also helps to deliver solid refinement which is particularly noticeable on longer drives, where road noise, vibrations and any harshness are very well damped out. The engine and transmission are much happier with life once you’re up to speed too, so they fade away, and you’re well isolated from tyre roar beneath you.
These dynamic traits are all evolutions of what’s gone before, in truth – as you might expect, given the continuity in the X1’s underpinnings. The real revolution comes in the cabin, where there’s an all-new fascia, improved materials, greater tech and even a little more space.
Ahead of the driver are a pair of screens, similar in their curved layout to those of the recently updated 3 Series and the flagship iX SUV, but smaller to reflect the X1’s more compact dimensions. Even so, the 10.25-inch digital instrument panel and the 10.7-inch infotainment screen feel bang up to date – helped by the latest BMW Operating System 8 software. The smaller cabin has persuaded BMW that you can easily reach the touchscreen, removing the need for the rotary iDrive controller; we’re less sure, but at least the screen’s responses are snappy, and the centre console does have a lovely design.
The materials all feel solid, and there’s a satisfying mix of brushed-chrome surfaces and double stitching to help break up the padded plastics. As before, the overall impression is of a crossover rather than a full-blown SUV, so while the seating position is elevated, it’s only by a few centimetres overall.
The storage up front includes a shallow tray in the armrest and then a large free area beneath it. The smartphone wireless charging pad at the base of the dashboard, with a clip to secure the handset, is an interesting and useful feature.
The latest growth spurt hasn’t gone to waste in the rear of the X1’s cabin, either. True, there’s a bit of a transmission tunnel hump that could annoy anyone sitting in the middle seat, but even with the panoramic roof, there’s decent headroom for six-footers, to accompany generous amounts of leg and kneeroom. The rear seats can slide fore and aft (except in the iX1), allowing you to prioritise cabin space or boot capacity.
The load bay itself is a decent shape, with multiple bag hooks on both sides, and there’s a variable-height floor so you can adjust for a flat load lip or maximum capacity. The rear seats fold in a 40:20:40 split, too, and if you drop them all, the boot size grows from 540 to 1600 litres.
The X1 isn’t an involving driver’s BMW – something of a growing line when you look at BMW M – but the third-generation X1 is a strong evolution in becoming a well-rounded, premium small SUV that’s still big enough to act as an everyday family car.