Driving impression: 2016 BMW X1
BMW SA has launched the second generation of its smallest SUV, the X1.
When it was first launched in 2009, the X1 was in a class of one, but things are tougher this time round, with the Audi Q3 and Mercedes-Benz GLA also fighting for a slice of the premium compact crossover pie.
So, who is the X1 intended for? BMW says it is aimed at young, modern and sporty people with an active lifestyle who appreciate functionality. A decent helping of “X-ness” is also fairly important.
This “X-ness”, as far as we can tell, is something that cannot be put into words. It’s a deep-rooted quality that every BMW X car must have — the qualities that turn a great car into an exceptional one.
I have some experience of “X-ness”, having spent the last few months behind the wheel of an X6 M50d long-term vehicle. It’s an exceptional car in every respect — from the way it accelerates when you’re pushing on, to the way it floats wonderfully when you aren’t.
The X1 has the tough job of being the entry-level model to a range of cars that have been at the top of their game for more than a decade. If people like it they will keep coming back for more.
The baby X doesn’t disappoint. It’s shorter than the model it replaces, but bigger in every other direction. It’s not exactly family car size, but part of its appeal is its compact dimensions, which should make it perfect for zipping around town.
And you would be zipping, because the X1 comes with an impressive line-up of engines, and this time you can choose between front- and all-wheel drive.
Those of a green persuasion will enjoy the 18i, which is equipped with a three-cylinder turbocharged engine offering 100kW and 200Nm of torque.
Next in line is the 20i, which has a 2,0-litre turbocharged engine that delivers 140kW and 280Nm of torque. This 2,0-litre is also available as a 25i, pushing out 180kW and 350Nm.
The star of the show, however, is the 20d. This turbocharged diesel engine is a masterpiece and never fails to surprise in whatever model it is used, but the 20d/X1 combo might be the best yet.
My co-driver and I were using every single one of the 140kW and 400Nm of torque available, but it still consumed diesel at a rate of only 6,4 l/100km. This gives the X1 a real world range of more than 1000km, which is the ultimate luxury if you hate stopping for fuel.
The 25i is likely to find favour with sporty drivers, but it’s difficult to distinguish it from the 20d in terms of performance. The 25i has a few additional kW, but the 20d has the extra torque. It’s the best compromise between frugality and performance in the X1 range and will probably be the volume seller.
The optional eight-speed automatic gearbox is a must-have. I’ve praised this gearbox many times for its lightning quick and silky smooth nature, and fitting it to an X1 has made zero change to effortless manner in which it operates.
Inside, the X1 is a class act. BMW has given the customer everything he/she might desire as standard, including a nice colour display with all the necessary inputs and connections. Customers can choose between four trim lines, all with their own characteristics.
As a driving machine on tar, it’s top notch. It’s more of a hot hatch than anything else and fairly entertaining on a sweeping mountain pass. The steering is direct and the car behaves exactly like you’d expect a BMW to behave.
The suspension is fairly sporty, which means it is slightly compromised on a gravel road, though it did cope with everything we threw at it. It’s true, though, that few of these cars will ever see the kind of road we drove on, as their owners are unlikely to venture further on gravel than the entrance to a fancy hotel or eatery.
Not surprisingly, the X1 is expensive. Prices start at around R430 000, but the one you want – the 20d with a nice trim-line, automatic gearbox and all-wheel drive — will cost in the region of R600 000.
Is it worth it? Well, that is for you to decide.