Used tow car: BMW X1

Small SUVS are all the rage these days, but were still a nov­elty when the X1 made its de­but. Euan Doig takes a closer look

Practical Caravan - - Contents -

It might not be the most com­fort­able of com­pan­ions, but this small SUV does of­fer econ­omy and per­for­mance

SOME­TIMES SUC­CESS comes about by be­ing able to re­act quickly to chang­ing trends. That’s what hap­pened with BMW and the X1. Back in 2009, the small cross­over mar­ket was just start­ing to take off, but it clearly rep­re­sented a sea-change in buy­ers’ tastes. Small hatch­backs were out, dis­re­garded in favour of small SUVS with their loftier driv­ing po­si­tions and as­so­ci­ated feel­ing of se­cu­rity, which is why peo­ple were flock­ing to cars such as the Nis­san Qashqai. BMW wanted a piece of the ac­tion, and in the process to steal a march on ri­vals, so the X1 was born. The X1 was based on the 3 Series sa­loon of the time, and was launched with only the one en­gine – a 2.0-litre tur­bod­iesel – in three states of tune. The lesser-pow­ered mod­els, badged 18d, gen­er­ated 143bhp and 236lb ft of torque, then the 20d mod­els had 177bhp and 258lb ft. Fi­nally, the twin-turbo 23d model topped the range with 204bhp and 295lb ft. How­ever, where the two lower-pow­ered mod­els were avail­able with two-wheel drive (sdrive) and four-wheel drive (xdrive), the top-of-the-range ver­sion was four-wheel-drive only. In ad­di­tion, the 123d was launched solely with an au­to­matic gear­box, whereas the oth­ers had man­u­als as stan­dard. The 123d was of­fered with a man­ual from the middle of 2010. All mod­els came with BMW’S full suite of Ef­fi­cient Dy­nam­ics tech­nol­ogy, de­signed to en­hance ef­fi­ciency, and if buy­ers spec­i­fied ei­ther of the two sat-nav sys­tems of­fered, they would ben­e­fit from the idrive in­fo­tain­ment set-up. In 2011 the xdrive 20d Ef­fi­cient Dy­nam­ics model was launched, and the fol­low­ing year BMW re­leased an eco­nom­i­cal sdrive 16d ver­sion that could do 57.6mpg, plus the first petrolpow­ered X1, the 20i model, which also came with twoor four-wheel drive.

Model his­tory

BMW was quick off the mark with its X1; the ri­val Audi Q3 wouldn’t ap­pear un­til 2011, Mer­cedes didn’t get the GLA out un­til 2014, and Jaguar has only re­cently launched the E-pace. All ver­sions of the X1 drove pretty well, with their em­pha­sis

most def­i­nitely on driver en­joy­ment in­stead of com­fort. How­ever, whether this was a wise course for a fam­i­ly­ori­en­tated SUV is more open to ques­tion, be­cause road tests of the day al­most uni­ver­sally de­cried the X1’s stiff sus­pen­sion and jig­gly ride. Still, all mod­els are pretty quiet on the move. We’d steer clear of both the sdrive 16d and the petrol 20i mod­els. Nei­ther of these will have the nec­es­sary low-rev torque to cope with a heavy trailer, so you’ll have to work them ex­tra hard. Not only will this have a com­men­su­rately dis­as­trous ef­fect on your econ­omy fig­ures, you’ll also end up feel­ing more stressed than you need be. Tow car fans will un­doubt­edly be drawn to the four-wheeldrive ver­sions. These of­fer plenty of ex­tra trac­tion on slip­pery sur­faces, with only a mi­nor in­crease in costs for fuel. In ad­di­tion, the X1 re­mains sta­ble when tow­ing and stops very quickly in­deed. Only a slightly in­tru­sive sta­bil­ity con­trol sys­tem de­tracts from its man­ners. Ei­ther the 18d or 20d en­gine will prove per­fectly ad­e­quate for tow­ing, but we’d go for the slightly stronger 20d. Space in the rear is ( just) ac­cept­able, but the 450-litre boot may strug­gle to carry all of your hol­i­day gear. Once the rear seats are folded down this be­comes a de­cent 1350 litres. All mod­els have air-con and al­loy wheels. Higher-spec mod­els come with dual-zone cli­mate con­trol, leather trim and bet­ter au­dio. Mod­els with sat-nav and idrive are worth seek­ing out.

Trou­ble spots

The X1 has been sub­ject to four re­calls. The first con­cerned the power steer­ing, which could fail. The steer­ing will still oper­ate, al­beit with sig­nif­i­cantly more ef­fort from the driver. Sec­ond, a faulty elec­tri­cal con­nec­tion can cause the ve­hi­cle to fail to start or, in ex­treme cases, cut out while on the move. The third re­call con­cerned the clutch cover, which could be­come loose and noisy be­fore caus­ing a loss of drive. The fi­nal re­call was the most se­ri­ous, be­cause some screws could break in­side the en­gine, caus­ing an in­ter­nal oil leak and ac­ti­vat­ing the ve­hi­cle’s emer­gency mode. As al­ways, en­sure that all of these reme­dies have been per­formed be­fore you part with your cash. Also, when on the fore­court, lis­ten to the en­gine of any diesel model you’re look­ing at. If you can hear a tick­ing, knock­ing or rat­tling noise, it could be a sign that the tim­ing chain is on the way out. Ei­ther get the dealer to re­place it or use it to ne­go­ti­ate a suit­able sum off the price.


As long as your tow­ing needs are rel­a­tively light, the BMW X1 makes a rea­son­able ve­hi­cle. It isn’t the most com­fort­able of com­pan­ions but the xdrive 20d SE model of­fers the best com­bi­na­tion of power, trac­tion, econ­omy and equip­ment – any other model re­quires a sac­ri­fice on one area or an­other. w

The X1 puts driver en­joy­ment be­fore pas­sen­ger com­fort

Most of the diesel engines are good but we’d go for the 20d

Even en­try-level SE trim gets de­cent kit. The rear seats and boot don’t of­fer much space

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