It might look a little unassuming but the BMW X1 was a real game changer. You see it was one of the first small SUVs to wear a premium badge and just as it had found when it had relaunched the mini brand BMW discovered that buyers were willing to pay more for big car luxury in a small car package.
The original X1 though was a bit of a flop. It was noisy, cramped inside and disappointing to drive so when the company went about making this second generation model it knew it had to up its game considerably. This X1 arrives at a time when competition in this market is especially fierce. Its key rivals include the Audi Q3, Mercedes GLA and Volkswagen Tiguan. So the big question then has BMW solved all the problems of the original X1 and in doing so created a real contender in this car, or will it turn out to be just as much of a damp squid as its predecessor?
Let’s start with how it handles on UK roads. You’ve got 4 engines to choose from in the X1 and as you might expect from an SUV 3 of them are diesels. Kicking off with the 18d with 148bhp feels perfectly powerful enough in the X1. It’s nice and responsive from low down in the rev range which makes the car ideal in and around town, in fact it’s our pick of the range. Next up is the 187bhp 20d engine and then the 228bhp 25d above that. Both feel pleasantly fast and the 25d is rapid enough to compete with the most hot hatchbacks. If you won’t be doing enough miles to justify a diesel then the 189bhp 20i option is your sole option.
You can either opt for a 6V manual gearbox or an 8 speed automatic. Go for the auto and you’ll enjoy smooth changes up and down. Most engines can be had with either front or four wheel drive and unless you are going to be climbing any mountains we’d stick with the former. The drive in the X1 is slightly stiffer than you’d find in many other SUVs but that seems in keeping with its sporting remit. You can specify adaptive dampeners which allow you to adjust the suspension at the touch of a button.
Handling is where the X1 really begins to shine. Its steering is nicely weighted which makes it easy to place on the road. It’s even fun to drive at speed in fact it’s more fun to drive it quickly than most of its rivals. The diesel engines do tend to sound a bit gruff though if they are pushed hard. What is more worrying is the amount of tyre noise you get when it is pushed at speed. At 70mph it’s enough to make you raise your voice.
The interior is exactly what you’d expect to find in a modern BMW. It’s a great space to spend time and it’s easy to find a comfortable driving position thanks to all the adjustments you get in the seats as well as the steering wheel which moves up and down as well as in and out. It’s just a shame that adjustable lumbar support is only available as an added extra so if you are planning on doing lots of motorway miles it might be worth getting. Everything else inside feels really quality and it could even give the Audi Q3 a run for its money. There are lots of materials on display and they all look and feel solid. It’s also good to have some proper chunky buttons on the dashboard rather than having everything confined to a touchscreen. Now being an SUV the X1 gives you a nice raised driving position and that makes it easy to see out of the front of the car. As usual looking out of the back can be more difficult because of its sloping roof line. Thankfully the X1 comes with reverse parking sensors as standard and you can add a reversing camera from the options list.
There is only one word to describe the infotainment package which is brilliant. It’s all based around BMW’s iDrive system which as standard you get a DAB radio, CD player, a USB socket, blue tooth connectivity and sat nav all presented on a 6.5 inch screen. The interface works really well with a rotary controller and the menus are easy to figure out. You can go for the navigational plus package if you want to upgrade with which you get an 8 inch screen and updated sat nav which will show you real time traffic information. You also get a heads up display which will show you the most critical information such as your speed and any sat nav directions directly into your line of sight. Now that means that your attention is kept on the road. Pairing your phone with the car is very easy to do and so is setting a destination in the sat nav.
Even if you are a tall adult you will still find that there is enough room to stretch out in the BMW X1. Headroom is fairly generous and even though the width is not much wider than a VW Golf there is still enough room to sit two adults side by side without rubbing shoulders. There’s also lots of space for all your odds and ends including two cup holders, cubby space, space under the centre arm rest, space in the door bins and of course you’ve also got the traditional glove box.
It’s a similar story when sitting in the rear seats. While you’ve not got as much room as say a VW Tiguan, two 6ft adults will be absolutely fine in the back even over long journeys. As is often the case though with most SUVs, if you introduce a third person into the back everyone will feel a bit cramped.
In terms of boot space you’d be able to get more into the BMW X1 than you would in the Audi Q3 or Mercedes GLA. The space is usefully square so loading bulky items such as prams or a couple of suitcases shouldn’t be a problem at all. On some models there is also an extra space under the boot floor perfect for storing smaller items. Now should you find yourself in need of more space you can easily drop the rear seats which leaves you with a space that is very flat and every X1 gets an electric tailgate as standard.
The BMW X1 is a premium car so it costs more on paper than a lot of other small SUVs. It’s also predicted to lose its value faster than other key rivals like the Audi Q3 now that all being said there are some decent deals available if you’re prepared to haggle.
In terms of spec we’d team the sDrive 18d engine with SE specifications which gets you dual zone climate control, rear parking sensors and sat nav. We’d also recommend adding emergency automatic breaking and navigation plus package as options.
If you are in the market for a premium small SUV then a new or used BMW X1 definitely deserves to be on your short list. Yes it is fairly expensive to buy and it does generate a lot of road noise but on the plus side it’s good to drive, has a high quality interior and has plenty of space.