Good looks, a roomy cabin and plenty of flexibility in the back end may not be enough for the new BMW X1. Photo Gallery
Paul Gover and Alison Ward road test and review the BMW X1 xDrive 20d.
Something went wrong between a good idea and the BMW X1 parked in the Carsguide driveway.
The newest member of the X-car family looks right, and the idea is right, but when you get behind the wheel it lags behind the Subaru Outback which first got the world going down the compact all-wheel drive wagon trail. It's a surprise, because BMW's X5 has been the premium SUV pace-setter since the first car arrived a decade ago, and the baby 1 Series - which provides the base for the X1 - is a pocket rocket and a Carsguide favourite.
What lets the X1 down? It's something about the packaging, something about the cabin quality against the price, and something about the dynamics of the chassis and the response of the two-litre turbodiesel engine. Don't get me wrong, the X1 is a sure-fire showroom winner in Australia, but that will be more about the badge and yummy mummies in trendy suburbs than the quality of the basic design and engineering. Is this harsh? Yes. Could I be wrong? Perhaps.
But I jumped straight from the X1 into a diesel-engined Outback and found the Subaru ticked more of the boxes, despite a body shape which is way, way behind the BMW on style and impact. The Japanese car is roomier, the engine is quieter, and the Subaru has a starting price of $37,990 against $56,800 for the German contender, at least until the rear-drive model lands from $45,700. Don't forget the X1 also needs to be rated against a classier crew led by the Volvo XC60, Audi Q5 and even the Volkswagen Tiguan.
But back to the X1 story. The car comes as BMW stretches every one of its basic models into new shapes and customer groups, moving the 1 Series customer success story on with a high-riding wagon that taps into the worldwide demand for compact cars that tick all the boxes.
It has all-wheel drive to boost excellent basic safety, a higher roof and bigger tail for more cabin and luggage space, and a Steve Irwin edge to the styling intended to hint at an ability to conquer the outback.
BMW Australia has gone turbodiesel on the engine front, with 2.0 single turbo and 2.3-litre twin turbo, and the X1 comes with the usual fruit including alloy wheels, aircon, cruise control with a brake function, rear parking radar, and Bluetooth, as well as six airbags, anti-skid brakes and stability/traction/hill descent controls.
The biggest change from the 1 Series is a wheelbase that can optimise the length of the 3 Series sedan, which means plenty of space in the high-set cabin.
"The youthful, versatile and efficient BMW X1 broadens the attraction of our very successful X family and will appeal to young urban customers with an active and varied lifestyle," says the boss of BMW Australia, Stavros Yallouridis.
DRIVING Paul Gover
The X1 will be a winner and nothing I say or write will change that. It's the same as the X6, which I have always believed is the answer to a question no-one asked, yet continues to crank out big showroom numbers. The X1 looks great and the idea is spot-on for today, as Subaru continues to show with the Forester and Outback. But the X1 is noisy and unrefined in some areas, not particularly quick, and the cabin quality is down a bit on BMW's usual standards. As a drive, it feels wonky and wobbly. Not just compared with an X1 five-door hatch, but those Subarus and serious showroom rivals led by the XC60 and Tiguan.
But there is good stuff. The cabin feels roomy, there is plenty of flexibility in the back end, and I know the X1 will take owners with X-drive confidence to the beach or the snow or the other places Gen-X families and singles like to go. The pricing is also pretty good until you dig deeply into the list of extra equipment, but that's a BMW trap that runs right through the range.
But I cannot help criticising the 2-litre single turbodiesel engine, which is very noisy at idle and needs to be stirred to give its best. In combination with a notchy six-speed manual gearbox, this can be tough. The engine would work much better with an automatic, which is how most will be sold in Australia, but I'm not a fan yet.
It's the same with the handling. The car has a smooth ride and is quiet for the class, but push it into a corner - even at speeds well below 1-Series pace - and it feels wonky, unresponsive and lacking grip. But I know BMW can do it because the X5 and X6 are class leaders.
So I'm stepping away from the X1 with questions and doubts. Perhaps more time and an automatic gearbox, or the punchier but costlier 23d TwinPower turbodiesel or the rear-drive petrol X1 in June, can win me over. Right now, though, it's not a car I will recommend.
SHE SAYS Alison Ward
When I saw the BMW X1 on display at the local shopping centre, I couldn't wait to drive it. I've owned Beemas in the past and love the brand, but this car lacks the Beemaliciousness I expect. It's a disappointing car and falls short, for me, in many ways. I feel this new model wasn't an upgrade or a new design - like seeing a comedy show twice, when you laugh the first time but the jokes run thin on the second viewing.
The exterior promises a sporty, fun and roomy car, but the engine rattles like Flo - the tractor of my childhood - and unlike the bigger X cars lacks agility and steering response. I really like the fuel saving stop-start system, which is a great feature and works really well. The interior is standard BMW stuff and a bit too plastic in some places. I also question the value.
Practically, the X1 is ok. It can fit a pram. It can fit (just) my giant baby bag, the dogs, the kid and my mum. But what the X1 cannot fit is my expectation for a car that promises so much - but then fails to deliver.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Where did the love go in the X-car family?
BMW X1 2.0d
PRICE: $52,700 ($68,104 as tested)
ENGINE: 2.0-litre turbo-diesel four cylinder
POWER: 130kW at 4000 revs
TORQUE: 350Nm from 1750 revs
TRANSMISSION: Six-speed manual
BODY: Five-door wagon
DIMENSIONS: Length 4454mm, width 1798mm, height 1545mm
WHEELBASE: 2760mm, tracks front/rear 1500mm/1529mm
STEERING: Power-assisted rack and pinion power steering
SUSPENSION: Double-joint thrust bar axle front; independent multi-link rear
FUEL TANK: 61 litres
FUEL TYPE: Diesel
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 5.8l/100km combined
BRAKES: Anti-skid all-round discs
WHEELS: 17-inch alloys
TYRES: 225/50 R17
SPARE TYRE: Run-flat tyres
SAFETY: Airbags, stability, traction and hill descent control, anti-skid brakes, seatbelt pretensioners
CO2 EMISSIONS: 153g/km
FEATURES: Air-con/climate control, cruise control, alloy wheels, parking sensors, automatic wipers
MISSING: Leather seats, heated seats
Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0 TDI: 82/100 (from $36,690)
Audi Q5 2.0 TDI: 80/100 (from $60,500)
Volvo XC60 D5: 84/100 (from $58,950)
Skoda Octavia Scout 2.0 TDI: 77/100 (from $39,490)