Crossover buyers are a demanding bunch, because they can afford to be. The best examples of the crossover breed don’t feel like big cars but instead cover their extra bulk and higher roll axis with the body control, agility and balanced ride of a normal family hatchback.
As a result, their drivers don’t even have to recognise any inherent compromise, on ride or handling, for choosing a bigger, heavier car, much less accept one. Those buyers will, by and large, find the X1 capable of the same trick. Flat-handling, grippy, directionally responsive and fairly comfortable, the BMW feels almost as dynamically sophisticated as any of its rivals.
You wouldn’t call it the class’s best-handling act, though – not quite – and neither would you say that it does anything special. On both counts, that probably makes it a lukewarm success by BMW’s high standards.
Even without BMW’s lowered and stiffened M Sport suspension set-up and with its Dynamic Damper Control, the X1 feels quite firmly sprung: a little over-damped, fidgety, and sensitive to coarse surfaces in all but Comfort mode on the Driving Experience Control switch. For a BMW, perhaps that’s as it should be, particularly given that upright, alert handling is the trade-off.
Even without Variable Sports Steering, the car turns in smartly and resists understeer well as lateral loads build. It remains stable at all times, which in a relatively high-sided car is more important than mixing greater body roll with greater off-throttle handling balance and flirting with unwelcome oversteer.
On track the X1 generates plenty of mechanical grip, keeps its body in check at all times and makes it known when its adhesion levels are on the wane by slipping from the front end first, just as it should.
Attack a tight corner hard, reapplying power earlier than perhaps you should on the way out, and you can feel BMW’s torque vectoring system diverting power away from the unloaded wheels and its four-wheel drive system shuffling power rearwards. It’s a reactive rather than a proactive process, though, mitigating understeer as it builds rather than preventing it altogether.
The stability control is quite subtle, intervening gently to begin with. Turn it off and it’s possible to hustle the X1 through a corner more quickly, but considerably less tidily, albeit without encountering any underlying handling instability.