The original BMW X1, launched in 2009, was a curious machine. Its looks teetered halfway between a high-riding estate car and an SUV. Truth be told, it didn’t really excel in either role, but the new model is a far more accomplished offering.
This time round there’s a more rugged off-road look to the styling. As before, higher-spec models come with BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive system, which provides increased grip on slippery surfaces. Nonetheless, the X1 still feels most at home on tarmac.
Most buyers in this market will gravitate towards the diesel engines, which offer a great blend of performance and economy. In entry-level two-wheel drive form, the sDrive 18d returns a claimed 68.9mpg and currently sits in the second lowest tax band. This makes it one of the greenest premium crossovers out there.
The xDrive variant of the same engine offers the added security of four-wheel drive. But it bumps up the road tax by two bands and knocks around 10% off the fuel economy (at 60.1mpg). It also adds around £1,500 to the price.
Even the base model feels brisk, with 0 to 60mph coming up in 9.2 seconds. The more powerful xDrive 20d offers a useful step up in performance with a pretty negligible impact on the fuel economy. There’s quite a big jump in price to the top-spec xDrive 25d, but it feels genuinely quick, hitting 62mph in 6.6 seconds.
For petrol fans, there’s the xDrive 20i, which is roughly on a par with the 20d for performance, but don’t expect it to get close when it comes to economy. The claimed figures of 44.8mpg and 146g/km are competitive in class, but unless you only do short trips the diesels are likely to prove more cost-efficient.
Ride and handling
Despite its elevated stance, the new X1 handles well. It’s agile enough to thread down country lanes with ease and there’s not much in the way of body roll. Crisp, responsive steering also helps, making it one of the best-handling cars in its class.
Our test car had the optional Electronic Damper Control, which appears to be money well spent at £390. It alters the stiffness of the suspension, providing a suitably supple ride in Comfort mode, while firming things up for a more responsive drive in Sport.
A touch of road noise blunts the serenity a little when you’re cruising along, but the inside of the X1 is generally a relaxing place to be.
Interior and space
The cabin of the X1 feels very BMW - it has a clean, well laid-out dashboard with good-quality materials and an aesthetically pleasing blend of curves and creases. You sit high enough to appreciate the raised driving position, in seats which offer a good combination of comfort and support.
Unlike its predecessor, the new X1 has bags of room inside. Rear seat accommodation trumps the likes of the Audi Q3 and the Mercedes GLA, as does boot space. Should you need more, the rear seats fold completely flat, giving up to 1,550 litres of luggage capacity.
Aside from entry level SE spec – only available on the 18d – there are three main trim choices: Sport, xLine and M Sport. Broadly speaking, the two Sport options are designed to look more dynamic, while the xLine trim is more rugged.
Standard specification includes a 6.5-inch display for the infotainment system, along with satellite navigation and air conditioning. Beyond that, there’s an abundance of packages and individual options that allow you to tailor the X1 to your heart’s content. They do add up, though. Our X125d test car came in at more than £45,000.
So which options should you consider? Well, the Navigation Plus package is well worth having for £1,490. This upgrades the standard display to an 8.8-inch widescreen system and adds a head-up display system, real-time traffic alerts and even a concierge function.
There’s also BMW’s Driving Assistant Plus (£1,150), which allows the X1 to lock onto the car in front and virtually drive itself under certain circumstances – even steering for you at speeds of up to 35mph.
In terms of safety, the X1 has just been given the top five-star rating by Euro NCAP. Standard safety kit includes side airbags and BMW’s City Collision Mitigation system that will automatically brake if it detects a potential collision at up to 30mph.
What to know before you buy
It’s a little early to comment on reliability for the new model. There haven’t been any major issues reported in the UK yet, but BMW does offer a standard three-year warranty.
The previous model fell around average in most reliability surveys. There have been reports of niggling electrical issues, but major problems are rare.
That said, there were a handful of recalls. A small number were called back to the manufacturer for a power steering issue around 2012. And some of the larger-engined petrol models were also recalled due to faults that could cause the car to cut out or go into ‘limp home’ mode.
In theory these should now have been remedied, but check for any warning lights on the dashboard. Walk away if there’s any loss of power during the test drive.
Depreciation is reasonably high, particularly for the more expensive petrol-engined models. The good news is that there are some secondhand bargains to be found as a result. Particularly if you can stomach the running costs of the larger engine models.
What are the alternatives?
The X1 is an unashamedly premium offering. Mainstream alternatives such as the Nissan Qashqai and the Kia Sportage offer the same basic recipe for a lot less, but they don’t give you the same level of luxury or performance. For that, the X1’s closest rivals are the Audi Q3 and the Mercedes-Benz GLA.
None of them really attempt to offer any serious off-road capability though. You’re best off saving up for a Range Rover Evoque or a Land Rover Discovery Sport if you intend taking to the rough stuff.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Porsche Macan and the Audi RS Q3 offer a sportier on-road drive, with sports car chasing performance – albeit for an increased price.
If this were a high school yearbook, the X1 would get the most improved student award. Other premium crossovers can still better it in certain areas, but it now offers a good combination of performance, practicality and sophistication. As a result, it’s arguably the best all-rounder in its class.