We drive the all-new BMW X1 ahead of its Australian launch.
The all-new third-generation BMW X1 has grown a bit over its popular predecessor. Only by 53mm in length, 44mm in height and 22mm in wheelbase, but that still means the ‘baby’ BMW SUV is now 4.5m long. Which is only about 60mm shorter than the Mk1 BMW X3…
Anyway, this class of SUV is popular for car buyers, and bigger will be better in many people’s books. Underneath is the new UKL platform that we’ve seen so far in only the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer.
The X1 is available in Australia later this year with two petrol turbo engines. The range kicks off with the X1 sDrive18i (115kW) from $53,900 before on-road costs, and steps up to the xDrive20i (150kW) from $65,900.
Thankfully, the X1 does feel grown-up and plush enough to justify that price fairly easily, but we’ll come back to that in a minute. Of the two engine choices, the 20i is certainly better for power. The 2.0-litre turbocharged engine has 90 per cent new components and mates into a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission.
Give it Sport mode and a good road and the engine spools up quickly, pulling heartily. Even if you jump back on the throttle quite suddenly, you barely feel any shunt or hesitation as it re-engages, helping to make the X1 feel smooth and responsive however you’re driving it.
All of this, of course, is facilitated by a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox that does a very fine job of being in the right ratio at the tight time, or responds swiftly to a flick of the paddles if you want full control. Given all of that, it’s a shame that the engine sounds coarse at higher revs so doesn’t really encourage spirited use and the handling is similarly fit for purpose but a touch uninspiring.
With steering that’s short on texture and feedback, if predictable and well weighted, you have confidence but don’t feel terribly connected or encouraged regardless of which mode you’re in.
Body control is decent, though, and you can feel the xDrive all-wheel drive shuffling power to the rear wheels and delivering a sharper, more enjoyable turn-in than you get with most family SUV alternatives.
M Sport cars, like our test car, get adaptive dampers as standard, and on 19-inch wheels, it is comfortable most of the time, although it’s unsettled by mid-corner intrusions and can be a bit smoother over sharp-edged potholes around town.
While it’s not fantastically engaging to drive, then, this still has a bit more vim and responsiveness than most small-ish SUVs.
Arguably the biggest strength in the X1 is its cabin finish and versatility. The rear seats slide 13cm fore and aft in a 60/40 split, while the seat backs recline or fold flat in a 40/20/40 split, and there’s plenty of leg and head room for a couple of six-footers to slouch in comfort.
Hard plastic backing on the front seats is a pleasantly practical, wipe-clean feature that parents of small kids will really appreciate, too. A 500-litre boot is a good size and shape, with a fairly low load lip and a load bay that’s big enough to take a chunky double buggy if you need it to. It’s properly comfy and useful in there, and that’s what a family SUV should be about, after all.
Up front, the cabin has reached new heights of premium finish. From the frameless, curved touchscreen complete with 14.9in touchscreen and the latest Operating System 8 to the dense-feeling materials and smart, modern architecture, it’s a masterclass in executive interior design.
There’s no iDrive rotary controller for the infotainment system in the X1, but the system is still easy enough to use and the graphics are second to none. With wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto now standard across the X1 range, the raft of native features, including excellent sat-nav, split-screen function and more, are probably redundant anyway.
Overall, then, the X1 has strong competition with the likes of the Audi Q3, Mercedes-Benz GLA and Lexus NX on its back. Despite that, interior finish is about as good as it gets in this class and practicality is hard to fault. It’s perfectly nice to drive rather than being notably fun or even exceptionally comfortable, but every other aspect of the X1 is right up there.