The cabin will look familiar to anyone who has spent any time in the 2 Series Active Tourer or the more recently introduced 2 Series GranTourer. It is orderly but hardly the latest in automotive interior design. The sweeping facia is dominated by a combination of soft-touch surfaces and hard plastic trims. The overall fit and finish is quite good, but certain dashboard elements and trim applications look and feel disappointingly cheap. Still, sizeable door bins and other cubby holes within the centre console help provide adequate oddment storage.
Ergonomically, the new X1 is every bit as sound as any of its rivals. The driving position has been altered slightly from that of its predecessor, with the height of the front seats raised by 36mm to enhance vision to all four corners. It is in the rear where the added space is most noticeable. BMW claims an additional 37mm of knee room with the standard 40/20/40 configured rear seat, which is now set 64mm higher than before. This can extend to an additional 66mm with the optional rear seat, which offers some 130mm of longitudinal adjustment.
When it is launched in the UK in late October, the new X1 will initially offer the choice of turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engines and turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel engines in varying states of tune and in combination with either a standard six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic gearbox depending on the model.
Although their technical details appear remarkably similar to those used in the old model, both engines are described as new-generation units and are claimed to provide added levels of performance along with greater efficiency. The two petrol engines range in power from 189bhp to 228bhp, while the three diesels offer between 148bhp and 228bhp.
Also planned, though not from the outset of sales, are turbocharged 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol and diesel powerplants with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic gearbox in a pair of price-leading models.
As with the range-topping X1 xDrive25d driven here, most models offer four-wheel drive as standard. Those that go without it now receive a front-wheel-drive layout rather than the rear-wheel-drive arrangement of the old model. To combine with the new transverse engine mounting, the four-wheel drive system has been developed from scratch. Based around an electro-hydraulic multi-plate clutch, its torque losses are claimed to be reduced by up to 30% over the old system, providing the basis for a big gain in driveline efficiency.
BMW has embraced a range of weight-saving measures that sees the new X1 hit the scales at an impressive 135kg under its predecessor in entry-level X1 sDrive18d guise at 1430kg, although the model tested here is just 10kg lighter than before at 1575kg, owing in part to increased standard equipment levels.
Key to the overall reduction in weight are the materials and techniques used in the new SUV's underlying structure. Hot-formed high-strength steel and aluminium is used liberally throughout the main body, tailored blank steel (sheet steel in varying degrees of thickness) has been adopted for the front bulkhead and B-pillar, the bonnet is aluminium and there are tube-shaped anti-roll bars both front and rear.
The X1 xDrive25d serves up an impressive blend of performance and economy. Power has risen by 13bhp at 228bhp, while torque remains the same as that of the engine this unit replaces, at 332lb ft.
The urgent low-end properties and solid mid-range flexibility of the new engine are fully reflected in the 0-62mph and top speed claims, which BMW puts at 6.6sec and 146mph respectively. Even more impressive is the combined fuel consumption of 56.5mpg and average CO2 emissions of 132g/km – improvements of 5.1mpg and 13g/km over its direct predecessor.
What’s really noticeable over longer distances is the improvement in the shift quality of the gearbox, which is supplied by Japanese specialist Aisin instead of BMW’s traditional automatic gearbox supplier, ZF. The adoption of a standard eight-speed automatic in place of the older six-speed unit on the top-of-the-line diesel model not only brings two extra ratios for added performance potential and fuel savings but also a new electronics package that provides an altogether smoother and more eager action.
In a bid to provide the new X1 with a broader range of driving characteristics than the older model, it comes as standard with BMW’s Driving Experience Control. This offers the driver the choice between Comfort, Sport and Eco-Pro settings, with the mapping for the throttle, steering, gearbox and optional adaptive damping altered depending on the mode.
The good news is that despite the adoption of the new platform and its transverse engine mounting arrangement, the new X1 continues to be a highly rewarding drive with the sort of agility to shame many hot hatchbacks. The basis for its dynamic excellence is its superb chassis balance, which provides the high-riding BMW with genuinely fluid and responsive handling characteristics both around town and out on the open road.
The optional electro-mechanical variable-rate Sport steering system fitted to our test car proved responsive and communicative, endowing the new X1 with eager turn-in properties and typically firm weighting. Depending on the driving mode chosen, the outright body control ranges from family-car respectable to sportingly taut. Grip levels are ample, allowing you to carry decent speed up to the apex without any concern of a loss of purchase. Thanks to permanent four-wheel drive on the model we drove, traction was never in doubt.
The drawback of these engaging handling traits is a somewhat compromised ride despite the inclusion of optional dynamic damper control on our test car. In a bid to provide class-leading body control, the X1 receives relatively firm springs and dampers with quite aggressive compression and rebound characteristics. There is sufficient compliance to ensure it copes with potholes without becoming overly harsh in Comfort mode. However, the otherwise impressive on-road poise and all-round refinement of the new BMW is occasionally challenged by sharp vertical movements and excessive road noise over rougher surfaces.
Buyers can specify optional M Sport suspension, although such is the inherent firmness of the standard underpinnings that you’d be best advised to spend your money on other options, such as a head-up display unit which is now being made available on the X1 for the first time.