Revamped baby diesel adds practicality and polish — and a price premium — to its shared front-drive layout
WHEN buyers wanted space-efficient city cars, BMW initially wouldn’t have a bar of front-wheel drive for fear of compromising its rear-drive mantra.
Having paid a price for that stance, the Bavarians capitulated and along came the 2 Series Active Tourer and X1, both based on the chassis that underpins the Mini.
The Active Tourer is built in the mini people-mover format and is a rival for the Mercedes-Benz B-Class. The X1 faces tougher opposition in the form of the Audi Q3 and Benz GLA and, given the price and standard equipment, is still playing catch-up.
In the base X1 sDrive 18d, the price is the problem rather than packaging or dynamics. A starting sticker of $49,500 makes the baby diesel dearer than an all-wheel drive Q3 at $47,900 or the $48,900 Benz GLA 200d.
There are enough standard inclusions to sweeten the deal, from a powered tailgate to
satnav with real-time traffic updates shown on a 6.5-inch screen, light city braking and a dedicated SIM card that can call emergency services if there’s a crash.
Beyond the SIM, the rivals have BMW covered on features, though they can’t match it on servicing costs.
Behind the wheel, it’s hard to picture the X1 as a jacked-up Mini. The chassis may be common but the Mini’s eccentricities give way to a practical and polished layout. If you’re new to the brand you’ll be too busy playing with the iDrive controller and various drivetrain modes to notice some of the harder plastics on the door panels .
The exterior is a scaleddown homage to the X3 and X5. The grille proportions don’t quite work but overall the look is a big improvement on the previous generation X1. Space, especially for rear passengers and cargo, is impressive relative to the outgoing model.
The absence of a digital speedo is a pain — to cure it, drivers will need to delve into the options catalogue for a $2700 “Innovations Pack” that bundles a plastic-shield style head-up display with adaptive cruise control, digital audio and an 8.8-inch screen.
Takeoffs aren’t tarmac-tearing but the 2.0-litre turbo diesel has enough poke to hold its ground.
Switching into sport mode overcomes the initial turbo lag and the eight-speed automatic capitalises on the available torque to deliver a better than decent drive out of turns.
Buttons in the cargo area to tumble down the rear seats are a hugely handy feature when loading bulky items and the pair of hooks in the back effectively secures shopping bags.
The steering is light and precise if lacking some of the feedback found on the more expensive models. Standard BMW switchgear is tactile to use and logically presented.
The 11.3m turning circle is 0.5m tighter than a Q3 or GLA.
ON THE ROAD
The vanilla-flavoured X1 is a good thing around corners … if you’re prepared to ignore the tyre noise and the suspension chatter over smaller bumps.
If the ride quality fails to impress on the first drive, tick the $690 option for adaptive dampers. Tyre roar remains but they do an impressive job in comfort mode of quelling the SUV’s propensity to skip and bounce over the smaller ripples.
Beyond that, the X1 handles itself well. There’s still some occasional torque steer when hammering out of tight turns but you have to go hard to feel it.