BMW X1: Sporty soft­roader

Weekend Witness - - Weekend Motoring - ROBERT VAN WYK

BMW has fi­nally launched its X1 in both the 2WD and AWD SUV guise, and im­me­di­ately you no­tice that these mod­els are very dif­fer­ent, bring­ing with them a bit more char­ac­ter.

This new BMW has a very charis­matic and charm­ing feel about it, and in a coun­try where we value our free­dom to ex­press our­selves with trin­kets and mo­bile toys, their in­tro­duc­tion to our mar­ket could not be bet­ter timed. It is a wel­come al­ter­na­tive to what’s been around for a while, al­though you must re­mem­ber that this is not an off-roader, but rather a sporty soft-roader.

But the X1 still en­com­passes al­most ev­ery as­pect of what an SUV should be, from its good looks to its flex­i­bil­ity, but the most no­tice­able ad­van­tage the X1 has is the clever en­gine that I am sure we will see moreof soon. This gives the X1abril­liant bal­ance be­tween solid qual­ity and rugged lux­ury that few of its com­peti­tors have been able to of­fer.

I spent time in the X1 xDrive23d, a 2,0-litre turbo-charged diesel with some 130kW, and an as­ton­ish­ing 400Nm of torque. This com­mon rail diesel unit is the first of its kind and makes use of vari­able twin turbo lay­out, whereby two dif­fer­ent-sized tur­bos not only al­low a se­quen­tial and smooth de­liv­ery of power, but at lower revs the smaller turbo gives an im­me­di­ate re­sponse to power de­mands.

Al­though a rather well-spaced and dy­namic six-speed man­ual is avail­able, BMW’s six-speed Step­Tronic is be­com­ing a favourite, partly be­cause of its flex­i­bil­ity and sporty na­ture, but mostly be­cause of its no­fuss, no-has­sle at­ti­tude when driven hard. Each se­lec­tion is pre­cise, crisp and im­me­di­ate, and with a very torquey and spir­ited en­gine, it makes for a near-per­fect match.

With the X1 shar­ing a sim­i­lar­sized frame as the 3-se­ries, there is space for be­hind-the-scenes magic, and the X1 is the per­fect plat­form to show it. The X1 AWD sys­tem is made up of a clever, multi-plate, elec­tron­i­cally ac­tu­ated clutch that bal­ances the torque be­tween the front and rear wheels, and as an op­tional ex- tra, the au­to­matic corner­ing helps by ap­ply­ing the rear in­side brake to as­sist in a turn.

By di­men­sion, the X1 is not to be con­fused with its 1-se­ries sib­ling, and in fact, is a slim­mer ver­sion of the X3, but it bears more of a re­sem­blance to the X5, es­pe­cially around the front. The X1 also plays with lights and shad­ows to give some flu­id­ity to its rather tall stance — es­pe­cially see­ing that the shoul­der line rises to­wards the back.

The greyed in­serts in the bumpers and run­ning sills en­hance the con- trasts be­tween the ex­ec­u­tive and sporty per­son­al­ity, and it shows when you look at who is drawn to it. The in­te­rior is much the same with a fresh and re­vived styling sim­i­lar to the 3-se­ries, but a lit­tle leaner and more ath­letic, and with the choice of ma­te­ri­als and colours also a re­fresh­ing change.

The cabin is sur­pris­ingly spa­cious and vis­i­bil­ity all round is good con­sid­er­ing the raised waist­line. In the X1 you are also slightly raised from the tar in a more com­mand­ing seat­ing po­si­tion up front, but the rear pas­sen­gers have a more re­laxed and slumped ar­ray with re­clin­ing seat backs, so the X1 will suit four adults in a lux­u­ri­ous for­mat more than any­thing else.

Equip­ment lev­els are up there with the best, from i-Drive, to Sat­Nav, pad­dle shift, ra­dio and cruise con­trol at your fin­ger­tips and stun­ning H & K sound to name a few. The lay­out is also pretty log­i­cal and some more unim­por­tant bits of in­for­ma­tion are also avail­able on request. Thetest model also boasted a re­mov­able tow­bar and a full-glass panoramic sun­roof.

On the road, the X1 re­in­forces the mar­que’s ath­letic abil­ity with­out mess­ing with lux­ury. Feed­back is a lit­tle too damp­ened for my lik­ing and the steer­ing is slightly heavy, but the X1 is pre­cise and sure-footed. With its bet­ter-than-av­er­age road man­ners, rigid chas­sis and good han­dling, the X1 is not a slouch ei­ther. The corner­ing is pre­cise, al­though the nose can get heavy. But if you re­mem­ber that this isn’t ac­tu­ally a sports car, it’s rather easy to drive.

Over­all the X1 is some­thing that will have to grow on you, but is sure to leave you im­pressed. It is a log­i­cal, well-thought-out car that has a lot to of­fer.

All the same, if I had to choose the same-priced 3-se­ries, I would still choose the X1.

On the road, the X1 re­in­forces the mar­que’s ath­letic abil­ity with­out mess­ing with BMW’s for­mula for lux­ury.

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