From £23,880
Baby SUV is more practical than a 1-series and cheaper than a 3-series

Our Verdict

BMW X1
The BMW X1 is a rival for the VW Tiguan, Audi Q3 and Range Rover Evoque

The BMW X1 is fine to drive, but buyers looking for premium feel may be better served by rivals' offerings

  • First Drive

    BMW X1 xDrive25d x Line

    BMW’s new trim strategy means that there will be three ‘x’s in the name of your X1 xDrive25d x Line
  • First Drive

    BMW X1 xDrive 28i

    New engine is great in everyday driving, but it lacks the polish and fun factor of a BMW six-pot
23 September 2009

What is it?

It's a test of how small an SUV can be while being considered premium. It's called the BMW X1 and BMW plays on the 1-series lineage – what with the '1', and the fact that engines are the same. It's even built on the same production line as the 1-series coupe and convertible in a relatively new plant in Leipzig.

The 1-series link is, however, a bit of a misnomer. The 3-series saloon also rolls down this line and it's the 3-series, rather than the 1-series, with which the X1 shares more in common.

To call the X1 a jacked-up 3-series would be mean; this car has been three years in development at a cost of millions. But the floor is the same, so the wheelbase is identical, and as with 3-series, the X1 can be had not just with four-wheel drive (the 3-series doesn't get this in the UK but it's a popular option abroad), but also with rear-wheel drive. It's the first of BMW's X models (X5, X3 and X6 being the others) to be offered with an option that powers only its rear wheels.

At present it's a bit short on rivals. The X1 is meant to offer a more premium feel than Honda or Toyota's soft-roaders - something the Range Rover LRX and Audi Q3 will both do from 2011. Until then the VW Tiguan is its closest rival.

What's it like?

A lot like you'd expect. The versatility of new car platforms and architecture means that carried-over components endow cars with a company's DNA without them having to work too hard at retaining it.

So the cabin layout will look familiar to anyone who has spent a deal of time in another small BMW. Fit and finish is pretty good and the materials choice just about justifies the 'premium' tag.

There are soft-feel surfaces everywhere you touch regularly, with a couple of hard plastics thrown in too on the lower centre console. There are plenty of storage cubbies, though only one front cupholder unless you erect, in the style of the 6-series, a snap-in additional one on the passenger side, which feels rather cheap.

Ergonomically it's sound and the driving position is fine; you tend to sit somewhere between the height of a normal saloon and a conventional SUV. The X1 seems relatively low, even for a soft-roader.

Space in the back is surprisingly good. Don't come expecting 1-series levels of space here because leg room, naturally enough, seems to mirror the 3-series, while there's plenty of head room. The rear seat backrests are adjustable and split and fold 40/20/40. With a shorter overall length than a 3-series, though, the boot is a little smaller.

Our test car was an X1 xDrive20d manual, a ridiculously contrived moniker to indicate that it's an X1 with four-wheel drive (rear-drive cars are sDrive) and the 2.0-litre diesel engine making 174bhp. As with most BMWs, it gets a range of Efficient Dynamics ancillaries and returns 51.4mpg on the combined cycle, with a CO2 output of 153g/km.

We'd only go for four-wheel drive if you need it, though; the drag of the permanent four-wheel drive system via a central clutch, which can apportion power entirely to the front or rear, makes the xDrive's economy, while good for the class, worse than a 2WD X1, which returns 53.3mpg and 139g/km.

So what's it like to drive? Think tall 3-series with a bit more roll and you won't be far off.

At town speeds the ride could be cleverer. The X1 rides on run-flat tyres (optional 40-profile 18-inchers on the test car), so it's knobbly over low-speed sharp inputs – expansion joints, drain covers and the like. It's not particularly compliant. Up the speed, though, and it improves somewhat, plus the chassis control is fairly tight for a taller car, so the X1 turns with sufficient enthusiasm and a fair degree of poise.

Its steering, hydraulically assisted, is accurate and well weighted. Optional, as on the X6, is Performance Control, which brakes an inside wheel to cut understeer, a bit like an electronic limited-slip differential.

The engine is pretty smooth and has a broad powerband but is grumblier at idle than we'd like. Otherwise, there's a little wind noise around the A-pillars, but overall refinement is good.

Should I buy one?

This is the key question, I suppose. The cynic might ask why you'd have a taller, heavier and less efficient car than one BMW already produces.

Yet the X1 positions itself quite neatly to counter this argument. It's more expensive than a 1-series (and vastly more practical), yet it's not as expensive as a 3-series Touring.

It doesn't feel quite as complete as a 3-series, but for those who need the versatility of its tallness it's worth a punt.

Join the debate

Comments
58

26 September 2009

any idea how many litres of boot there actually is?

26 September 2009

Potentially dull as these cars are, I'm a keen track driver and therefore need a car that will tow a track car, carry a set of wheels and tyres, petrol cans and tools, it would be wonderful to find a good handling "fun to drive" soft roader. My current generation Nissan X-Trail 172 has amazed me by its excellence, but maybe BMW can do it better, could you tell what the towing capacity is ?

26 September 2009

OMG .... it makes a Cayenne look pretty !

26 September 2009

This is what you get when you blend a Fabia with a Cayenne.

26 September 2009

[quote Ravon]but maybe BMW can do it better, could you tell what the towing capacity is ?[/quote]

two tonnes braked, 750kg unbraked.

26 September 2009

or you could have a mega-loaded top spec. Skoda Yeti Elegance 4x4 170bhp. 0-60 8.4 seconds, 416 litres boot, towing capacity 1800/700 all in for £22K

But I guess it wouldn't be the ultimate driving machine... and your mates might laugh at you. (wouldn't bother me, too old to care).

Actually I like this BMW, if the residuals are good (with those emission and economy figures they should be) then this could be very affordable on company car lists - especially being comfortably below 160g/km.

26 September 2009

[quote The Apprentice]

or you could have a mega-loaded top spec. Skoda Yeti Elegance 4x4 170bhp. 0-60 8.4 seconds, 416 litres boot, towing capacity 1800/700 all in for £22K

But I guess it wouldn't be the ultimate driving machine... and your mates might laugh at you. (wouldn't bother me, too old to care).

Actually I like this BMW, if the residuals are good (with those emission and economy figures they should be) then this could be very affordable on company car lists - especially being comfortably below 160g/km.[/quote]

you're right, the Yeti's a smashing, great value car. The secret to this SUV BMW is two-wheel, rear wheel drive. Once people clock that you can have a pukka rear drive Bimmer, with the space and utilty of a 3 series estate plus the option of an enthusiast's manual gearshift for £22.5k it'll fly out the doors. Can't see the smaller LRX, when it comes in 18 months time, managing to undercut this on price. It'll have to be a helluva car to unshift the by then established X1.

7 April 2016

Excellent comment. In 2014 I was set on ordering a new top spec 170bhp Yeti for c. £20,000 - exactly as you suggest. But I drove past a Bmw dealer with a used automatic 2.0D Xdrive for c.£17,000. [I wanted 4wd] Apart from being cheaper to buy - my mechanic advised me that the yeti's DSG gearbox still had gremlins so it was best avoided. I've now done c. 20,000miles now in the X1 - I get 36mpg for reasons explained in this Autocar review. Like the yeti, the original x1 is a quirky/unusual car that you either love or hate. It is fidgety over poor road surfaces, the mpg is under 40 and the steering is sensitive. But I like it.

This auto car review is one of the best I have read on the car - generally, the original x1 gets a poor press & motoring journalists often say they can't understand why owners like them so much. People are strange.

26 September 2009

I would take the Skoda! ;-)

26 September 2009

Yet again another pointless car by bmw, we already have the X3 X5 X6, 5 series GT etc and now this. We all know no one will ever take this car of road and why not just got for a 3 series estate. BMW have lost the plot with this model range !!!! if you go on there website its like a maze of cars and uglyness

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