Published on Wednesday 19 June 2013 14:20
Ten Second Review
The BMW X1 has been given a bit more of a macho makeover with some much-needed exterior styling tweaks as well as some additions that lift the feel of the cabin quite markedly. Changes under the bonnet help efficiency, while a bruising 218bhp diesel and some additional trim levels also spell more choice for customers.
If there's one thing we've learned about BMW sports utility vehicles, it's that while they're not always perfect at initial launch, it doesn't take long for them to come good. Take the original X5 for instance. BMW devoted so much resource to getting the all-wheel drive system right, it took its eye off the ball in terms of packaging and the provision of a diesel engine. That was subsequently rectified. The X3 was neither glitzy nor grunty enough when it first appeared, but it's now unchallenged as the best mid-sized offering for keen drivers. The X1 probably had the toughest time at the hands of reviewers. Criticised for looking a bit puny and with no fireworks available under the bonnet, it has come in for some remedial attention too. While some may take the stance that at this price point, it's reasonable to expect things to be right first time, I prefer to take solace in the fact that a company as big as BMW isn't above listening to the people who matter most - its customers.
Although the styling is the first thing most will notice, there have been some significant changes under the bonnet of the X1 too. As you'd expect from BMW, the company has tweaked the efficiency and economy of its powerplants, but there have also been some more fundamental changes. The engine line up now consists of three diesel powerplants, all based around the same 1995cc all aluminium block. The sDrive (front-wheel drive) and xDrive (four-wheel drive) designations allow customers of the 143bhp 18d and 184bhp 20d models to make a choice as to whether they want or need drive going to all corners. These two engines are joined by the xDrive 25d with 218bhp, offering some real punch to the model range.
Even the entry level sDrive18d is by no means slow, getting to 60mph in 9.3 seconds on the way to 125mph. Many will be tempted into the 20d though, which is barely any thirstier yet manages to carve that sprint to 60 down to just 7.5 seconds and, for what it's worth, edge the top speed out to 136mph. The twin-turbocharged xDrive25d is properly rapid, its 450Nm of torque and great traction contributing to it only taking 6.5 seconds to cover the benchmark sprint. All BMW X1 models feature as standard a six-speed manual gearbox, but an eight-speed automatic transmission with Steptronic is now available on every variant apart from the economy-focused sDrive20d EfficientDynamics model.
Design and Build
I'll put my cards on the table here and state that I was never a fan of the original X1's styling. It always looked under-wheeled, a bit plain and a little gawky in its proportioning, especially from the rear. While the latest changes haven't done anything about the car's basic silhouette, a lot of work has gone into making it look a good deal beefier and, yes, more expensive looking. The front end now benefits from more painted surfaces, with bigger headlights which can also be specified with optional Xenon lights with white LED corona rings and a white LED active eyebrow element to give a more distinctive frontal appearance. The flanks get smaller plastic cladding sections and indicators integrated into the door mirrors. The rear end styling has improved hugely with the addition of an eyecatching underguard to reinforce the go-anywhere look, if not the ability, of the X1. A revised colour palette and alloy wheel designs are also now offered.
The interior has also come in for some budget too. The driver's side of the angled centre console is now shallower, and covered with a higher quality material, while the panel for the sound system and climate control is now finished in high gloss black to match the air vent surrounds. The X1 features a storage compartment in the instrument panel as standard, but when the vehicle is specified with satellite navigation, this becomes the operational screen for the iDrive system - highlighted with chrome accents. Elsewhere, splashes of chrome and better quality switches and fixings help the cabin justify its price point a good deal more convincingly than before. There are five seats but the rear bench still hasn't got the most generous legroom. The luggage bay can be extended up to a useful 1,350 litres with the 40/20/40 reclining rear seats folded, which then delivers a virtually flat cargo floor.
Market and Model
We've become used to BMWs being offered in SE and M Sport specifications, but with the X1, the Munich company has managed to lever a couple more trim levels between these two old favourites. The entry-level SE trim gets the sort of gear you'd expect, such as 17-inch alloy wheels, two-zone automatic air conditioning and a multi-function sport leather steering wheel, Bluetooth, a USB audio interface and some roof rails.
Go for the Sport specification and you'll also get a dark chrome exhaust pipe finish, while the kidney grille slats, bumper trims and side sills, along with the roof rails are finished in a high gloss black. Inside, there are sports seats up front with revised trims, while the surrounding cabin trim in high gloss black is lit by switchable ambient lighting. A sports leather steering wheel, gearshift gaiter with red stitching and floor mats with red piping are also included as standard.
The other addition is the xLine specification, designed to offer a little more of a luxury ambience. This gets 18-inch alloys, chrome tail pipes and kidney grille slats. The exterior trim sections, side sill and roof rails all feature an aluminium finish, while Nevada leather seats have an 'X' embossed onto the head restraints, contrasting with a Dark Copper interior trim. As before, the M Sport trim line represents the range-topping choice, with a body kit, 18-inch M alloy wheels and exterior bits finished in high gloss Shadowline trim. Inside, all M Sport models get the Nevada leather treatment and the trademark anthracite head lining. Dark brushed aluminium trim is a definite winner, while the M leather multifunction steering wheel is another very slick touch. The X1 now feels as if it justifies its price tag a good deal more convincingly than before, which is crucial given that rivals include cars as talented as the Audi Q3, Ford Kuga and entry-level Range Rover Evoques.
Cost of Ownership
One area where there is absolutely zero debate about the X1 is economy and emissions. It's simply astonishing in this regard. Even the most powerful model in the range, the all-wheel drive xDrive25d, can achieve up to 51.4mpg on the combined cycle and emit just 145g/km. That's about what we expected for a supermini not so very long ago, yet this is a car with the power to keep a Porsche Boxster on its mettle in a straight line. The real star in the line up is the sDrive20d EfficientDynamics. While this may feature possibly the clumsiest name of any car on general release, it is nevertheless a very simple proposition. It means 62.8mpg on the combined cycle and emissions of just 119g/km. Remember, this is for an SUV that generates 163bhp. To put that figure into perspective, it's better on both economy and emissions than an entry level 1.2-litre Vauxhall Corsa.
All versions come equipped with Brake Energy Regeneration and Auto Start Stop, now available with both manual and automatic gearboxes. Manual models also feature an Optimum Shift Indicator, while the sDrive20d EfficientDynamics gets on-demand operation of ancillary units, a climate control compressor that can be disengaged and tyres with reduced rolling resistance.
Residual values for the early X1 were actually better than many industry watchers expected, making it a decent contract hire choice. This much-improved facelift model will doubtless bolster residuals still further while an excellent safety and security provision spells reasonable insurance premiums.
You may not have been bowled over by the BMW X1 when it first appeared. I'll admit to being wholly underwhelmed by its original look and feel, but it was hard to argue with some of its engineering. The latest generation model improves on the efficiency of the oily bits but gives the car some much-needed polish and presence. There's no longer that nagging feeling that you've overpaid for the badge, the exterior looking a good deal more assured and the cabin significantly more premium. Spend a little time assessing what has actually changed in terms of feel and it might appear that these changes are mere window dressing, but that last few degrees of presentation was what the X1 so sorely lacked in a market sector where some rivals are quite beautifully turned out.
The 218bhp xDrive25d range topper is the perfect riposte to anybody who hasn't moved with the times when it comes to X1 opinion, while the sDrive20d EfficientDynamics would be the sort of company car that's certain to prove popular. It's taken a while, but I reckon the X1 might have finally hit its mark.