BMW’s latest version of its smallest SUV, the X1, shows it has been heading in the right direction since it first entered this ever growing market segment with the X5 in 1999.
While other makers saw buyers of their SUVs as being adventurous families wanting an off-road vehicle to explore the Australian bush, BMW realised from the start that buyers were only looking for a station wagon with a bit of tough style. One that would perhaps be used to transport the families taking part in various sporting events, serious or otherwise.
BMW likes to refer to its models as SAVs (Sports Activity Vehicles), not SUVs (Sports Utility Vehicles), but are not sure the public is particularly interested in the fine distinction. But you have to give the German marque points for sticking to its guns.
Over the years most other makers of SUVs have backed away from the original off-road SUV theme by reducing ground clearance and installing two-wheel-drive systems in vehicles that look like four-wheel-drives. Interestingly, the driven wheels on the 2WDs are almost invariably those at the front of the car.
BMW has a big advantage over the others in using rear-wheel-drive in its 2WD models in keeping with its aim of providing what it calls sheer driving pleasure. This fact immediately became obvious when we began our review of the facelifted BMW X1 at the press launch out of the Gold Coast and interesting mountainous regions of northern NSW.
The complete BMW X1 range is sDrive 18d 2.0-litre turbo-diesel five-door wagon, $44,500 (automatic) sDrive 20i 2.0-litre twin-turbo petrol five-door wagon, $46,500 (automatic) xDrive 20d 2.0-litre turbo-diesel five-door wagon, $54,500 (automatic) and xDrive 28i twin-turbo petrol $57,800 (automatic).
We had the pleasure of not only driving a RWD BMW X1, but also in enjoying the lighter weight of a petrol engine. We tried other combinations of 2WD/4WD and petrol/diesel X1s during a full days driving, but our hearts always drew us back to the nimble handling and responsive feel of that first lightest, nimblest 1.
The added throttle control of RWD combined with precise steering and the strong engine torque brought smiles to our faces on more than one occasion.
The petrol engine we loved so much was the lower powered of the two new-design 2.0-litre turbocharged units on offer. With 135 kW of power and 270 Nm of torque the 20i BMW powerplant doesn’t have the sporting kick of its big brother the 28i (180 kW / 350 Nm) but in the real world most drivers will be more than satisfied with the smaller engine – and with significantly lower price.
There are also turbo-diesel engines on offer, again with a capacity of 2.0 litres. They come in two states of tune: the 1.8d produces up to 105 kilowatts and 320 newton metres, the 2.0d has 135 kW and a hefty 380 Nm. Note that in BMW speak, sDrive indicates two-wheel drive, while the all-wheel-drives get the tag of xDrive.
All models have an eight-speed automatic transmission to give a good combination of acceleration and minimal fuel consumption in all driving conditions.
Styling of the facelifted BMW X1 is interesting because it too gets away from the SUV look and is unashamedly family station wagon. Thus there are more painted areas and fewer tough-looking black-plastic panels in the newly shaped front and rear ends.
While BMW’s X1 suffers the usual fate of any sporty looking wagon rear end – that is the luggage versatility lost by the sleek slope to the rear glass – the designers have come up with some clever cargo features. The rear seat backrest can be set at different angles, with the most upright one compensating for the roof’s rake to some extent.
Cleverly, the rear seats have a 40/20/40 per cent split rather than the more common 60/40 in many other SUVs. This gives you more options of juggling passengers and luggage. The interior has taken the high-gloss look in some models and there’s the option of the sort of ambient lighting we have admired in the bigger BMW sedans.
Many families looking for a sporting station wagon around $50,000 in their automotive budget will find the latest BMW X1 fills just about all of their needs.
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