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TEST: BMW X1 xDrive25i

4 October 2016

Our initial impression of BMW’s trendy X1 wasn’t exactly favourable. But we spent some time with the X1 xDrive25i recently and, well… The Times They Are A-Changin’.

So you’ve ended up in a comfortable position and you made yourself a nice medium-sized pile of cash. You own a nifty three-bedroom house and a VW Golf GTI is parked in the garage. But then your wife breaks the news: an extra person will be joining your small clan in nine months. Soon, mamma corners you and informs you that you need something safe with  a high-riding position and a big boot. Performance and handling don’t even make it onto the top-10 list of requirements. What to do then?

We’ve always had a ready answer: trade in the GTI for a Subaru Forester with a turbocharged WRX engine. But this option is now a thing of the past. Subaru still does a turbo Forester, but you can only have it with a CVT gearbox and a fast but less-involving-than-before drive, which puts a slight damper on spirited driving. What’s a man to do when he needs a family SUV that will also provide some thrills when the family is safe at home and a beautiful pass presents itself? The answer to your debacle is BMW’s new X1 in xDrive25i guise.

Still ugly?
No, actually. The previous model was slightly awkward compared to BMW’s other SUVs. The new X1 is based on the BMW 2-Series Active Tourer platform, and is wider but shorter than the previous model. We reckon it’s also more handsome than the older model. It’s an SUV with a high-riding position and everything that goes with that, but there are some nice sporty touches to keep an ex-GTI driver happy. These include dual exhaust pipes, an aggressive kidney grille and a set of muscular alloys that fill those arches rather nicely.

Can it baby?
Beneath that sporty exterior, the X1 has quite a few space and safety tricks up its sleeve, which is good considering those are the two main factors when buying a new vehicle in which you want to fit a baby. Space up front is a bit tight, but in the back there’s room aplenty for  a baby or two.  The rear seats can also be moved forwards and backwards to increase legroom, but the result is a smaller boot. With the rear seats moved as far forward as possible, you get a useful 505 litres of space, which is enough for all of the baby paraphernalia and two overnight bags for the adults.

With regard to safety, it’s all good news. The X1 comes standard with all the latest active systems and a host of passive features to protect the driver and passengers should the worst happen. It scored the full five stars from Euro NCAP and received stellar marks for both adult and child occupants.

Does it thrill?
Yes, is the short answer, but it depends entirely on what model you go for. The entry-level three-cylinder models should provide a grimace every now and then, while the diesel should bump that up to at least a smile.  If it’s a laugh you’re after, it’s going to have to be the 25i, which has a 2.0-litre twin-scroll turbocharged petrol powertrain under the bonnet. It’s coupled to what is likely the best eight-speed automatic in the business, which allows for a 0-100km/h acceleration time of 6.5 seconds. The torque delivery of this engine is notable: 350Nm of twist is available from just 1 250r/min. So the four-cylinder petrol engine delivers its maximum torque at lower revs than just about any modern turbodiesel engine, indicating how recent turbo-petrol technology has evolved. Compared to that VW GTI, there is some sacrifice in terms of handling, but you’d struggle to tell the difference. The reason for this is the platform the X1 rides on, which is basically a modified version of the unit found underneath the Mini hatch.

Lesser X1s come standard with front-wheel drive, but this 170kW engine transfers its power to BMW’s intelligent xDrive all-wheel-drive system. It’s a fairly advanced unit that uses information provided by the Dynamic Stability Control sensor to distribute power between the front and rear axle. This system is obviously useful on the odd occasions you’ll need extra traction, but it also fares pretty well when the family is back home and you feel like pushing on a bit. Thanks to torque vectoring, the X1 turns in to a corner eagerly and accelerates out if it without any drama. We’ve seen a few international publications complain about some understeer on turn in, but we reckon you’d really have to be driving like an absolute loon for that to happen.

Any gravel travel?
At the X1’s media launch, a few lashings of rain had reduced an already tricky gravel pass to a nasty, rutted piece of road more suited to the likes of a Toyota Fortuner. As a result, the BMW felt bumpy and, frankly, out of its element. This time we stuck to the kind of road owners would usually use, in other words, a properly kept gravel road that led to a luxury lodge.  On the inside, all was good. Leisure Wheels’ resident toddler slept through the entire journey, which means as far as soft-roaders go, the X1 adequately does the job it was designed for.

How much moolah?
Bad news, we’re afraid. This particular model, which is the one you want if driving pleasure is your thing, costs R630 000. You can justify it somewhat considering that it’s a premium product, but it all falls a bit flat once you start looking at other similarly powerful and enjoyable products. The cheapest way to get an SUV with that amount of power is the 177kW/340Nm 2.0-litre turbo-charged Kuga, which retails for around R500 000. It also happens to be bigger than the X1, as is the 172kW/350Nm Lexus NX 200t in luxurious EX trim. It retails for  R10 000 less than the X1, but is equipped with a lot of kit that you’ll find only on the BMW’s options list.  Its closest rival, in terms of size and power, is Mercedes’ GLA 250 4-Matic, which musters only 155kW/350Nm. In our opinion, the BMW is definitely the superior product in this rivalry. The BMW X1 is a great little SUV… if you can stomach the price tag.

Engine Four-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Power 170kW @ 5 000r/min
Torque 350Nm @ 1 250r/min
Gearbox Eight-speed automatic
4×4 drivetrain  xDrive electronic 4×4 system
Driving aids DSC
Ground clearance (claimed) 183mm
Average fuel consumption 7.5 litres/100km
Range (61-litre tank) 813km
Maintenance plan Five-year/100 000km
Price R633 306
Price as tested R813 306
Hire purchase per month (standard price) R13 320

  • teofli

    Am not sure that many people would seek that power in way is supposed to be a family car. I woud mostly seek comfortable cruising speed, soe composure on gravel road and fuel efficiency. In that regard there is the Tiguan, lesser priced Hyndai Tucson, Jeep Renegade and more if there is tie to shop around.