BMW X1 xDrive 20d M Sport Review

BMW X1 xDrive 20d M Sport Review

It’s easy to forget what an important car (or SUV, whatever you may call it) the original X1 was. Back when it was launched, BMW were on a roll in India – they’d just done the impossible, out-selling Mercedes-Benz with the corporate editions of the 3 Series, the Accord and Camry were left with no customers; and then came the X1 with its 22 lakh rupee price tag. It wasn’t just the most affordable BMW, it was the most affordable luxury car and the numbers it clocked (730,000 over six years, worldwide) made the world take notice of the compact luxury SUV category.

But the X1 wasn’t BMW’s best work. It looked awkward, like a hatchback on stilts; it was way too stiff; its refinement was far from what you’d expect in a luxury car; and the 22 lakh rupee variant was rather poorly equipped. When the Q3 and later on the GLA came, the X1 didn’t stand a chance. And we all know what that did to BMW’s sales numbers.
Which makes this new X1, coming exactly five years after the original changed the dynamics of the luxury car market in India, so very important. And it starts with – shock! – front-wheel drive.

Why Front wheel drive?
India-spec X1s can also be optioned with the all-wheel drive xDrive drivetrain but this brand-new UKL platform is primarily front wheel driven, used first on the new Mini and BMW’s own 2 Series (the first FWD BMW). It also has its engine mounted – shock! – transversely which marks a fundamental shift from the longitudinal-motor-sending-power-to-the-rear-wheels architecture that has been at the core of every BMW, ever. To the purist this is A Very Big Deal but to the rest, well, who cares? How many current X1 owners actually know that their car (oh well, SUV) is rear-wheel drive?

What about dynamics?
As for the UKL platform, if you drive a new Mini there’s no way you will claim its handling is and also into the which was compromised. And it’s the same with this new X1 that steers and goes round corners with far more polish than its predecessor. Our test car, the M Sport version, gets part-time all-wheel drive that sends torque to the rear axle via an electro-hydraulic clutch. Technically then it is FWD most of the time (until slip is detected at the front) and that means you can’t kick the tail out under power (like the old X1). It loses some points on the entertainment factor but the rest of the package is very much in keeping with the BMW DNA.

Whats else is new?
The steel platform (aluminium is used for the boot lid and some suspension components) uses MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link setup at the rear and has a claimed 50:50 weight distribution, which is very impressive for a transverse-engined car. Steering is electrically-assisted and the heavy-handed feel of the old X1 is thankfully absent making it far easier to drive around at low speeds. Chuck it into a corner, at speed, and the nose tucks in with eagerness and despite the front wheels doing the powering and steering there is no lack of dynamic polish. Click it into Sport+ mode (sharpens up the engine and gearbox, slackens the stability control) and the X1 remains the most involving and enjoyable compact luxury SUV you can buy, with high levels of mechanical grip, great body control and swift change of direction. But ultimately the X1 lacks the dynamic poise of BMW’s rear-driven saloons and with the xDrive system being reactive (reacting to slip rather than predicting it and sending drive to the rear wheels) the all-wheel drive system doesn’t have a noticeable impact on handling.

The suspension has been softened, that’s evident in both the body roll when pushed hard in corners (not exaggerated but noticeable nevertheless) and the ride quality over broken roads (which is a big improvement). The suspension no longer bottoms out and crashes into road imperfection, in its place there is more compliance and a greater degree of comfort, and that’s despite our test car running on the larger 18-inch rims. The M Sport trim is not a mere styling exercise either, the suspension has also been stiffened and dropped by 10mm to aid the handling, which does the ride quality no favours. Does the New X1 ride as well as the Q3, the benchmark in this class? Not quite, but it’s not that far off either, with more alert handling being the trade-off.

How quick is it?

Adding to the dynamics is the new 2-litre diesel (the petrol will come later in the year once local assembly commences). It displaces the same 1995cc (500cc per cylinder, that’s always been BMW’s standard) but power goes up to 188bhp, torque is up to 400Nm available from 1750 to 2500rpm and the claimed 0-100kmph time drops to 7.6 seconds (7.8 seconds on the FWD sDrive X1). While the performance gains are marginal the big improvements are to response at lower revs and refinement, the sharp clatter of the old engine being done away with. That said the Q3 still sets the benchmark for NVH. The motor is mated to an eight-speed gearbox and together the package remains the most entertaining, involving and enthusiast-focussed in this segment.

How is it on the inside?
The other big area of improvement is the cabin. Where the old X1 was cramped the new one, despite being 36mm shorter, has vastly improved interior space. The transverse mounting of the engine means the bonnet is now much shorter (again unlike a typical BMW) and that has allowed 90mm to be added to the wheelbase – all of which goes in to delivering more rear legroom. They’ve even found space for – shock! – a spare wheel well that houses a space-saver tyre (it continues to ride on run flats).

The interiors have also been upgraded with BMW’s new switchgear while this M Sport version gets the 3-spoke M steering wheel (with paddle shifters) and a full 8.8-inch iDrive screen (lower variants gets the smaller 6.5-inch screen). If you’re familiar with modern BMWs, the X1’s cabin will be overwhelmingly familiar, but you will also notice that the joystick-like gear lever on all the other BMWs has been replaced by a long conventional lever which doesn’t feel half as nice. Overall though, this is a really nice cabin, with lots of stowage spaces, lots of occupant space, rear seats that fold down electrically and sports seats up front with bolsters that can be adjusted to squeeze your kidneys together.

To give the X1 a more SUV-like feel the driving position also goes up by an inch so you now feel like you’re sitting in a mini-X3, not a jacked-up 1 Series. And that is what most buyers will appreciate, as they will the styling. From the outside too the X1 is now a mini-X3, complete with sharp creases and typically-BMW aggression. This M Sport pack gets sportier bumpers with deeper airdams and this lovely shade of blue – all of which does make the new X1 look really attractive. Attractive enough to make life difficult for the GLA and Q3? For sure!

EVO India rating: 3.5/5

Evo India