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Can an electric powertrain resolve some of our frustrations with this new SUV?

The petrol BMW X1 is a confusing and frustrating product from Munich.

The brand’s smallest SUV is pretty good at the sensible stuff – boot space, leg room, interior versatility and economy – but an anodyne engine, a clunky gearbox, infuriating infotainment and uninvolving handling mean it’s notably bad in many areas that are traditional strengths for the brand.

In many EVs, when you set the navigation to a rapid charger, they will precondition the battery so that it can charge quickly right away. The iX1 does that too, but also allows you to turn on the preconditioning manually.

BMW’s strategy for most of its EVs is for them to be closely related to ICE cars, hence the all-new BMW iX1 is essentially just an electric X1. And by and large, replacing that sub-par engine and gearbox with a 66.5kWh battery and a pair of 188bhp motors does make it a more pleasant drive.

A system output of 308bhp means it’s properly fast. In fact, a single-motor version would in all likelihood be sufficient (and yield some useful efficiency benefits), but BMW has not confirmed any plans to offer one.

In contrast with the X1 xDrive23i, drivability is well resolved, too. The pedals are calibrated to allow smooth driving and you can choose from three levels of regenerative braking, plus a one-pedal mode. A coasting mode is absent, however.

Thanks to four-wheel drive and astute traction control, the iX1 has no problems in putting down its mighty power and can even send a bit more power to the rear axle for a more dynamic corner exit, despite the two motors being identical.

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Electric power suits the X1 well, then, but it comes with its own set of issues. Its battery is pretty small for the class and yields an official range of 260 miles – or just shy of 190 in winter. Call it 210 miles in summer, but it’s still nothing to shout about.

Its rapid-charging capability is unspectacular, too. Its 130kW peak is on par with the Audi Q4 E-tron but down on the Volvo C40 Recharge, let alone the Genesis GV60 (260kW). In our rapid charging test, the iX1 maintained at least 120kW to 40% before gradually dropping off. That’s not terrible, but it can’t make up for the short range.

That aside, the driving experience is mostly familiar from the petrol X1. In most circumstances, the steering is overly light, mute and inconsistently paced, which robs you of confidence. Sport driving mode adds some useful heft but also makes the ride blatantly unsuited to a bumpy B-road.

You see, every iX1 gets adaptive dampers, but the suspension setting is bound to the driving mode. So if you want weightier steering (you absolutely do) or looser stability control, you’re forced to accept the stiff damper setting, which makes the car disconcertingly bouncy over bumps.

As long as we kept to its standard mode, the ride of our xLine test car on its 19in wheels was decent enough and usefully better than the X1 xDrive23i M Sport on 20in wheels that we road tested recently.

The interior is the same as in the X1, so it’s mostly a lovely place to be, if quite spec-dependent. For instance, the 'Sensatec' leatherette seats and gloss black plastic trim of this iX1 test car conjured a far less convincing air of luxury than the real leather and aluminium trim of our X1 road test car. There's no arguing with the excellent seats and flexible driving position, which ensure that anyone will be kept comfortable. BMW has done a sterling job with noise isolation, too.

You lose next to no boot capacity by choosing the electric version, but the X1’s sliding rear seats aren’t available on the iX1 and the EV loses a little bit of rear leg room.

Sadly, also carried over is the infotainment. It’s shorn of physical climate controls, shortcut buttons and the classic rotary controller, making navigating the confusing layout especially infuriating.

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Prices start at £52,255 – slightly less than for most dual-motor rivals, but then the Tesla Model Y is better equipped. If two driven wheels are enough for you or if you don’t need quite that much power, there’s no dearth of cheaper, single-motor EVs with more range, more space and a more rounded driving experience.

Illya Verpraet

Illya Verpraet Road Tester Autocar
Title: Road Tester
As part of Autocar’s road test team, Illya drives everything from superminis to supercars, and writes reviews, comparison tests, as well as the odd feature and news story. Much of his time is spent wrangling the data logger and wielding the tape measure to gather the data for Autocar’s eight-page road tests, which are the most rigorous in the business thanks to independent performance, fuel consumption and noise figures.