The first time I laid eyes on this car I thought they'd got it wrong. It's not the first of their so-called X series "sport activity vehicles'' that they've had teething problems with, but BMW has persisted, continuing to refine the concept.
And the latest, the baby of the range, the X1 looks, well . . . not too bad (still not pretty mind, but at least an improvement). Either way, it doesn't appear to have bother buyers much because BMW says the X1 has been a "runaway'' success since its launch here back in 2010.
Think cheap Beemer but with the added bonus of all-wheel drive (not in all models) along with the coveted high driving position that allows the driver to see what's going on ahead. Trimmed with faux leather as standard it's likely to appeal to oldies who'll find the raised height makes getting in and out easier and to younger, `outdoorsy' types looking for something more expressive and want a bit of a knockaround car.
Prices start from $44,900 rising to a high of $58,200 for the top of the line X1 xDrive28i. That's cheaper than the equivalent 1 Series hatch and $10,000 less than the 3 Series sedan on which it happens to be based.
The entry price gets you 17 inch alloys with run-flat tyres, cruise control with braking function, rear parking sensors, auto lights and wipers, USB audio plus Bluetooth and a trip computer to name a few. It's available with bundled X Line, Sport Line or M Sport packages as well as numerous other options that quickly inflate the price.
All models come with a 6-speed manual as standard, despite the fact 80 per cent of customers tick the box for an auto. An 8-speed traditional auto is a $2700 option across the range.
Three new engine variants join the existing X1 xDrive20d for the Australian market. The range kicks off with a 2.0-litre turbo diesel in the rear drive sDrive18d that delivers 105kW and 320Nm and accelerates from 0-100 km/h in 9.6 seconds.
Power rises to 135kW and 380Nm of torque in the more powerful diesel, the all-wheel drive xDrive20d with 0-100km/h taking 8.1 seconds. Two new petrol models, the X1 sDrive20i and X1 xDrive28i, are powered by a twin scroll, turbocharged 2.0 litre direct injection four-cylinder petrol engine.
In the rear-drive sDrive20i it delivers 135kW of power and 270Nm of torque and does the dash in 7.4 seconds. Power is boosted to 180kW and 350Nm in the range-topping all-wheel drive xDrive28i, with 0-100km/h taking only 6.1 seconds.
The latter engine replaces a 3.0-litre six that produced a mere 160kW/280Nm you wouldn't think it was possible. The upgraded range benefits from smart technology like Brake Energy regeneration, Auto Stop-Start for both manual and the optional 8-speed auto, plus ECO PRO mode and an Optimum Shift point indicator for the manual models.
Like the X3 it has shed some of its unpainted, plastic cladding, or more specifically it has been disguised with silver-coloured embellishments at the front, back and sides to alleviate the effect. The side indicator lights have also been integrated into the side mirrors.
The headlights have been redesigned and when optioned with Xenon lights while LED rings and eyebrows give it a more distinctive appearance, further enhanced by the new fog lamp surrounds. The cabin has also been enhanced with the addition of new, higher quality materials covering the centre console, new centre panel trim surrounds and new chrome trim elements that combine to create a more premium atmosphere. For the first time too larger 19 inch wheels and rubber are optional.
Five stars of course. Comes with front, side and curtain airbags, plus electronic traction and stability control, along with anti-lock brakes, with brake assist and cornering brake control. A rear view camera however remains optional and needs to be paired with one of the two satnav systems ($900 plus either $2221 or $3460) making it exey. Sadly you don't get Bluetooth audio streaming without satnav either which, incidentally, does not provide speed camera warnings.
Believe it or not the diesel is the better drive. We drove the three of the four models the two diesels and top of the line petrol xDrive28i. Though the petrol car is quicker off the line, there's not much between them in the mid-range.
The striking difference is in the way the diesel feels, suprisingly tighter and more controlled, with less body roll. The techs say there's only a 5kg difference in weight and for the record both cars were fitted with the exact same wheels and rubber 225/45 18s all round.
The entry level diesel fitted with smaller 17s wasn't disappointing either. Two-wheel drive variants are fitted with more sophisticated, Servotronic steering while all-wheel drive models still have the older style, hydraulic system but this is set to change from March production. It's not a biggy but worth noting, if you're in the market.
Claimed fuel consumption ranges from 4.9 litres/100km in the entry level diesel to 7.8 litres/100km in the top of the line petrol model. Option the 8-speed auto and we're told you get even lower consumption. During the test drive on Queensland's Gold Coast we got 6.0 litres/100km from the 18d, 6.9 litres/100km from the 20d and 11.9 litres/100km from the 28i - a big difference.
Looks aside, it feels and drives just like any other BMW, composed and difficult to unsettle even on lousy back roads. The diesel is definitely the pick in terms of fuel economy and simply for the way it drives. The issues as we see them are the price of the auto which should be standard and the even greater price gouge for a reversing camera that must be teamed with satnav.
Price: from $44,900
Engine: 2.0-litre turbo diesel, 2.0-litre turbo petrol (105kW/320Nm) sDrive18d, (135kW/270Nm) sDrive20i, (180kW/350Nm) xDrive28i
Transmission: 6-speed manual or 8-speed auto
Thirst: from 4.9L/100 km to 7.8L/100 km