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BMW 330d Hot rod plus SUV The long bonnet line gives the X1 a more sporting appearance than its bigger brothers

The X factor

BMW’s X1 SUV has more sporting proportions and a more sensible size for the sensitive early 2010s. However, it’s not the complete package, as Jack Yan explains



THE BMW X cars that we’ve tested over the years—beginning with the mighty X6—have been endearing. They tread a very precise market: one which recognizes that the majority of buyers will keep their cars on-road, and demand the scale or height of an SUV for stylistic rather than utilitarian purposes. After all, if you had demanded more, you would have gone to that former BMW subsidiary, Land Rover.
   It was a while since Vicki Butler-Henderson took the first X5 on to a track in the United States on Top Gear, remarking just how well the car gripped. Since then, we’ve come to expect that the BMW Xs will blend performance with style.
   The X1, the smallest entry in the range, looks the business in theory. The X5 is a very large SUV, one that’s hardly convenient to take for a quick jaunt to the shops. It’s a vehicle into which you climb up, which brings it more into truck territory than crossover. The X1, then, seems to make sense in an urban setting.
   The styling says as much. It’s actually quite low: it’s higher than the regular Einser, the 1-series hatch, by 124 mm. You feel slightly above the rest of the traffic, but not extremely so. That means it’s not cumbersome to drive, and the supermarket parking missions are not dissimilar to an average family car.
   BMW has emphasized this through the lines, which sees the X1 with what could be said to be an extended bonnet. Proportionally, the front end appears to take up a greater percentage of the overall length than on the larger Xs, signalling that the X1 has a more sporting, urban intent. In terms of proportion, nothing in the range is the same: what ties it in with the other BMWs is the fussy detailing of the Bangle era. The black detailing around the wheel arches and up front is a turn-of-the-decade æsthetic—these days it says ‘sporting’ and makes the body of the vehicle appear lower.
   There’s no annoying step in the way, though there is just enough chrome detailing beneath the doors to hint at it. So you might think, the X1 seems perfectly suited to the demands of the modern age: urban robustness, practicality and sportiness, all in one package.
   The Xdrive23d model that Lucire tested certainly furthered the image, with smart alloys which added to the purposeful look. But the driving experience is still hard to pin down.
   Being a diesel, and with a unit related to that of the 123d we tested earlier, the X1 Xdrive23d (quite a mouthful) is certainly no fire-stormer. It drives somewhat like a regular BMW 1- or 3-series, but the weight hampers performance. That is to say that the handling is excellent, and the build quality cannot be faulted, but you just don’t have any real wish to opening up the throttle.
   The connections to the regular BMW saloons are there in terms of layout and seating position. What is lacking are the plastics used and the overall interior ambience, which take away from the exterior quality.
   There’s nothing wrong with the way it’s screwed together—just that the centre console’s plastics don’t feel as pleasant as they do on the saloons, and at the price one shouldn’t expect to have too much utilitarianism in a sports utility—at least not at this price, at NZ$77,900.
   Given, however, that it’s light on the S part of the SUV acronym, then some drivers might expect the X1 to be reasonably comfortable. At lower speeds, sadly, the ride leaves something to be desired, especially with the run-flat tyres on our test car.
   We have no objection to a firm ride and this magazine has regularly favoured handling over comfort. But to truly delight in the X1, it’s at higher speeds and on twisting B-roads, not the round-town experience.
   As a package, then, the X1 is hard to place. It will entice those who find its looks appealing—and who may find the X3, X5 and X6 too chunky. The X1 is, in SUV terms, svelte. But the sporting intent that is signalled in every flourish and wave of its panels, and in the complex and attractive alloy wheels of our test car, is not carried through to the driving experience. The extra weight blunts it relative to the regular 1s and 3s. It is a vehicle with which to impress the neighbours but not reward you quite as much in everyday driving.
   But there is one area in which the X1 Xdrive23d is rewarding: fuel economy. BMW claims 47 mpg (Imperial) or 6 l/100 km, a figure we didn’t quite match, but we were able to see the high 30s regularly with our city driving. Emissions are fairly low for this type of car, at 159 g/km of carbon dioxide.
   So the planet should be happier, and everyone outside will have something nice to look at—and that may be enough reason for some to opt for the X1.
   Its rivals are few and far between at this stage. There is the Volkswagen Tiguan, which offers none of the svelte style and looks to the world like a six-light tall Golf. If the hot-rod proportions resonate, and you must have an SUV, then the X1 is a worthwhile proposition, but largely because BMW has carved a useful niche in which few are playing presently. •


As a package, then, the X1 is hard to place. It will entice those who find its looks appealing—and who may find the X3, X5 and X6 too chunky. The X1 is, in SUV terms, svelte. The sporting intent is signalled in every flourish and wave of its panels






Jack Yan is publisher of Lucire.



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