THE battle for buyers' dollars is heating up as BMW fights back against the Japanese incursion into its markets. The X1 sDrive range swaps all-wheel drive for power just from the rear tyres. That earns them a hefty price discount and puts the Bavarian brand back on the radar of shoppers considering Subarus, Toyotas and Hondas, whose compact SUVs have started to nibble at the prestige sector.
You get what you pay for and for close to $50,000, this is a car that deserves to be shopped against mainstream compact SUV models.
The 2.0-litre petrol and diesel-powered sDrive models — the petrol is confusingly known at the sDrive 18i — are the bargains of the BMW X1 range priced at $43,500 and $49,300 respectively.
The baby X models are already a success — more than 1300 people have bought X1s this year — but BMW says some buyers prefer the raised seating height but don't necessarily want the weight of an all-wheel drive system.
``Many customers enjoy the ride-height, load space and all-round practicality of a lifestyle vehicle without necessarily wanting all-terrain capabilities,'' BMW Australia managing director Stavros Yallouridis says.
``For these customers, the new sDrive X1 wagons have better fuel economy, even better on-road agility and exceptional value for money.''
That value equation is the one BMW is counting on, with the range-topping Toyota RAV4 now $49,990, Honda's best CR-V $42,790 and the Subaru Forester as high as $45,490. If BMW is right and a lot of people are more worried about sitting up than straying off-road, the sDrive range may be a winner.
By BMW standards there's nothing innovative about the sDrive 20d but the basic features are good for a car in this segment. The rearview mirror has an anti-dazzle function, the sound system has Bluetooth and USB compatibility, the wipers automatically start up when the rain comes down, the rear parking radar will impress friends with graduated beeps as the car get closer to the wall and there's cruise control as standard. Everything else costs.
The diesel engine is typically Euro-efficient, with an official combined fuel use of 5.9thlitres for 100km with the optional automatic. The manual uses 0.6thlitres/100km less and comes with stop/start technology and a light on the dash that advises of optimum shift revs.
BMW is not the only company to use this, so it's not the only one that irritates me. It's smart technology — but I'm driving a diesel. If I was a card-carrying member of the local greens branch, I'd rave about it, but until then if I'm paying for the fuel, I'll decide when I want to change gears.
Anyway, given there's 350Nm available, the auto is the smarter option. Both transmissions come with brake energy regeneration.
The brick-solid body is backed by ABS and what BMW describes as Cornering Brake Control, which is obviously German for ``if you're too stupid to judge a corner, we'll still rein you in''. Couple that with electronic stability control and traction control and the driver has to be trying really hard to punt the sDrive 20d off the road.
The styling is unmistakably BMW and that will be a big part of the sDrive's appeal. The high-riding look is well proportioned and has all the signature lines owners of the brand expect. The interior is a surprise. The colours and basic layout follow the family theme, but the iDrive controller in the centre console is notably absent. In its place is a menu button that, along with the radio channel selector buttons, allows you to program the various functions.
It works, but regular Beemer drivers will find themselves having to check the manual before they can get the most out of the system. Love it or hate it, the iDrive rotary dial has improved with every generation, so it's presumably only cost that sees it deleted from the X1.
The engine is noisier than most BMW diesels at idle, but it disappears once underway and it gets along at a fair clip — the official 0-100km/h time is 8.3 seconds for the six-speed automatic. The automatic will try to hold on to too high a gear on steep hills but flick the selector left into sports mode and the problem goes away. Too heft a right foot exiting tight corners will then light up the traction control warning, but that's to be expected when 350Nm is unleashed without any care
For the majority of the time the ride is refined and it's only when you push the sDrive beyond the point of tyre traction that it will give a disapproving shake. It's not enough to engage the stability control, but 3 Series sedan owners might wonder what went wrong. Then they'll remember the price ...
The sDrive is not a performance car and doesn't deserve to be treated as such. Fold down the rear seats and it will happily take whatever you throw at it, from bikes to removal boxes.
More importantly for potential owners, it will also collect the kids after school and ferry the family to the shack on weekends with a look that says if you haven't yet made it to the top, you're working at it.
BMW X1 sDrive 20d
Engine: 2.0-litre turbodiesel
Power: 130kW at 4000 revs
Torque: 350Nm from 1750-3000 revs
Transmission: Six-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Fuel use, CO2 emissions: 5.9thlitres/100km, 155g/km