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BMW X1 sDrive 18d and sDrive 20i 2016 review

Richard Berry road tests and reviews the BMW X1 with specs, fuel consumption and verdict at its Australian launch.

There’s a scene in an episode of Futurama where God says to Bender: “When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.” Well, the same applies to carmakers, too. These words sprang to mind at the Australian launch of the new front-drive X1 “sDrive” where some differences to the exisiting all-wheel drive “xDrive” were almost unnoticeable.

The X1 is BMW’s smallest SUV and the all-wheel drive versions of the new second generation have been around since September last year. Now the sDrives have landed, the line-up is complete.

The front-drive models’ arrival drops the entry fee into the X1 range by $7000 to $49,500 for the diesel powered sDrive18d. Joining it is the petrol sDrive20i for $51,600. Both sit below the all-wheel drive $56,500 xDrive 20d and $59,900 xDrive25i.

The sDrive 18d gets a less powerful version of the 140kW/400Nm 2.0-litre four cylinder turbodiesel found in the all-wheel drive version but still has a decent output of 110kW and 330Nm and 5kW more than in last generation. Same story for the sDrive 20i, its 2.0-litre four cylinder turbo-petrol engine makes 141kW and 280Nm compared to the 170kW and 350Nm made by the xDrive25i and 6kW more power than the previous model.

BMW decks out its Australian-spec cars with a mountain of standard features - even base models like the sDrive 18d and sDrive20i.

The major change is that while previous sDrives were two-wheel drive, they were rear-wheel drive – these new generation sDrive cars are front-wheel drive. That’s something new for BMW which prided itself on its rear wheel drive machines until 2014 and the arrival of the front-wheel drive 2 Series Active Tourer.

BMW decks out its Australian-spec cars with a mountain of standard features - even base models like the sDrive 18d and sDrive20i. Coming standard on both is a 6.5-inch display with satnav, reversing camera, automatic parking, auto tailgate and 18-inch alloys.

The sDrive 20i also gets shift paddles and dual exhaust outlets.

The X1 has a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating and both sDrives come standard with lane departure and forward collision warning, pedestrian alert and emergency call function.

On the road

We’d only just tested the all-wheel drive xDrive20d so it was still fresh in our minds as we ducked into the sDrive18d at the Australian launch. We’d become fans of the 20d and even took it off road a bit where it impressed us with its hill descent control down a track that would scare the daylights out of a sedan. But most of the time we stayed firmly on the bitumen of city streets and country roads.

Country roads just like the one we took the sDrive18d and, honestly, within a few minutes in the pilot’s seat I’d totally forgotten I was in its front-wheel drive sibling. Yup, I couldn’t really spot the difference between this car and the all-wheel drive. Sure there is a smidge less grunt, but that turbodiesel four is plenty strong. Pushing it into corners showed the car to be stable, with great steering, while easing off the gusto as we cruised though town centres revealed a decent ride and serenely quiet cabin.

We swapped out of the 18d and into its petrol sDrive 20i brother and headed for the hills – no seriously, we went hunting for higher ground searching for gravel or dirt, or something to test the two-wheel drive’s reaction to loose ground.

Traction control swooped in instantly to take over and restore order again.

Following a gravel road uphill that would test any front-wheel drive car, the 20i would indeed spin a wheel for a split second if the accelerator is mashed. Traction control swooped in instantly to take over and restore order again.

The rest of the gravel adventure saw us passing through a bit of rougher stuff, with branches and some decent rocks that proved that you didn’t need all-wheel drive to climb over these things but you do need the X1’s ride height, which at 183mm is more than enough to clear what we encountered.

We pulled over, opened all the doors, sat in every seat, and the 20i’s interior is in every way identical to its all-wheel drive siblings. The cabin is spacious – this new generation X1 has even more headroom than the bigger X3 SUV - and rear legroom is so good that not even my knees touch the back of the front seats (I’m 6ft 3 and resigned to the fact that I will live most of my life hunched up on transport).

Like all X1s the standard seats are flat and hard – a situation likely resolved with the optional Sports Seats.

Heading back onto the bitumen, we blasted through some bush roads. The 20i was responsive, the grip was smile-inducing and that eight-speed auto is magnificent. The engine-transmission combination is impressively efficient too, with BMW claiming it’ll only drink 5.9L/100km in combined driving.

We’d forgotten again – you know, the front-wheel drive thing. And that’s the point, unless you go looking for trouble and try to provoke the 18d or 20i on a gravel or wet road, you’d never know this car was front-wheel drive. And with its ride height, you’ll still be able to head down tracks that you’d think twice about doing in a regular car.

All-wheel drive can be an excellent piece of safety equipment in the wet, it will monitor the wheels to ensure all of them have optimum traction. But with BMW’s sophisticated traction and stability control front-wheel drive is also superbly safe.

BMW has done such a good job of giving the front-wheel drive X1s good handling balance which makes it a pleasing car to drive in the twists and turns. 


What the German carmaker has created here is the car people actually want – a roomy, fun BMW with good clearance and a driving position that puts you a tad higher than most cars without the fuel bill that goes with powering all four wheels.

Would you be tempted by a front-wheel drive BMW SUV? Let us know in the comments below.

Click here for more 2016 BMW X1 sDrive 18d price and spec info

Click here for more 2016 BMW X1 sDrive 20i price and spec info

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Richard Berry
Senior Journalist


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