As outstanding as some of its saloons, estates and SUVs have been over the decades, there’s no greater proof of the enduring power of the BMW brand than the success of the previous X1 crossover hatchback.
Over a lifecycle of almost exactly six years, built in factories in India, China and Russia as well as in Germany, the X1 clocked up 730,000 worldwide sales. And yet the X1 was awkward-looking, cumbersome-handling, badly packaged, plainly finished and equally plainly rough and unrefined. Munich’s blue-and-white propeller may never have been risked on such a poor car.
What, you can’t help but wonder, would happen if BMW made a good one? It certainly needs to. In the six years since the launch of the original X1, the crossover market has mushroomed to the point where it has become more important than most of the more traditional segments in which BMW can draw on established experience and strength. Building a good X1, in 2015, is probably more vital than leading the market with any of the firm’s luxury or sporting models.
To achieve that aim, there’s a new platform, new engines and all kinds of new on-board and all-round systems technology at play here – all going towards repeating the sort of European sales domination that BMW has produced with some of its executive saloons.
The transversely engined, predominantly front-drive UKL platform underpins its third series-production model for the BMW Group after the Mini hatchback and 2 Series MPV, and atop sits a body widely rethought for more recognisable SUV looks and significantly better practicality. The Chinese market will become the first to benefit from a long-wheelbase version of the X1, although there is no clear indication over whether the UK may ever see an X1 L.
Among those new engines are the latest three and four-cylinder turbocharged petrols and diesels, many of them providing the obvious performance superiority we’ve come to expect from BMW. But will BMW’s other motive trademark be in evidence here, in the shape of truly distinguishing handling appeal to go with that obvious get-up-and-go?