UK Drive: BMW’s X1 arrives to challenge the compact SUV segment

What is it?

BMW X1
The large front kidney grills are a BMW staple


BMW’s line-up of SUVs has radically changed over the years. We’ve seen more entries than ever before as the firm looks to capitalise on the ever-growing demand for high-riding models. But the X1 – its smallest SUV – has actually been around for a little while, plodding along as one of the frontrunners in the compact end of the market.

So in order to keep it current as rivals descend upon the segment, BMW is introducing a new X1, bringing a vast swathe of changes alongside some of the very latest technology it has to offer.

What’s new?

BMW X1
The X1 handles the bends nicely


From the outside at least, quite a lot has changed. The previous X1 was a decidedly compact-looking model, whereas this new, revitalised version is closer in design to the much larger X3. Up close, it’s actually hard to distinguish the two.

Inside, there’s an even greater focus on practicality and quality, with the X1 aiming to deliver the kind of everyday usability that buyers in this area – mostly families – are after. A range of efficient engines is available, too, while a fully electric iX1 is due to hit the market soon too.

What’s under the bonnet?

BMW X1
The 23i is one of the most powerful petrol engines in the range


As we’ve mentioned, BMW offers the X1 with a variety of engines but the one we’re looking at – badged X1 xDrive23i – uses a four-cylinder petrol engine with mild-hybrid assistance to deliver 215bhp and 360Nm of torque, making it the punchiest of all the combustion-engined X1 models. BMW claims a 0-60mph time of just under seven seconds, which isn’t half bad for a car of this type. The addition of xDrive all-wheel-drive means you’ve got plenty of traction, too.

Despite relatively brisk performance, the addition of that mild-hybrid assistance means that you could see up to 42.8mpg and CO2 emissions of between 148 and 157g/km depending on specification. As you might expect, it’s the diesels which will prove to be the best on fuel, with the entry-level X1 18d able to return up to 57.6mpg.

What’s it like to drive?

BMW X1
The X1 feels like a much larger car to drive


The X1 exhibits all of the traits that you might expect to find in a much larger SUV, transplanted into this somewhat more compact model. It’s quiet at speed, able to cope with lumps and bumps in the road well, and has more than enough performance for most occasions. Visibility is good and this helps contribute to a very easy driving experience.

We did notice a bit of a delay in the gearbox, with the pause between pressing the accelerator and the power arriving proving to be quite noticeable, particularly when exiting junctions or entering roundabouts. That said, when you’re up to speed the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic shifts really smoothly and accurately. It’s particularly reliable when you want it to change down in order to perform an overtake.

How does it look?

BMW X1
Alloy wheels come on all models as standard


As we’ve mentioned, the X1 does resemble some of the much-larger SUVs in BMW’s range. Up close, the chunky, box-like dimensions are actually quite appealing – to our eyes at least – and give the X1 an upright, go-anywhere kind of appearance. It’s quite a nice change from the other, more rounded offerings in this part of the segment.

Our particular car, in xLine trim, has a more refined take on design than the sportier-edged M Sport versions. So rather than the gloss black accents that you’ll find on the sportier model, you get chrome applied to areas like the front grille and roof bars. To us, it’s the more attractive option.

What’s it like inside?

BMW X1
The interior is spacious and well appointed


BMW has really lifted the overall look and feel of the X1’s interior, making it a very pleasant place to be. The upright design of the car as a whole means there’s plenty of headroom for both front and rear occupants, while legroom for those in the back is decent too. Everything has a nice robust feel to it – even the satin-coloured plastics on the dash aren’t scratchy.

There’s loads of boot space, too. The rear seats split and fold 40:20:40 to give you some really flexible loading options, but even with them in place, there are 540 litres of space to play with. Fold all those rear seats down entirely and this expands to a healthy 1,600 litres. It’s a nice square boot, too, and there’s not too much of a load lip so putting heavier items in there is easy.

What’s the spec like?

BMW X1
The main screen is where you access most of the car’s main controls


There’s been a big push from BMW to elevate the X1’s value for money, mainly through the addition of plenty of standard equipment. Things kick off with Sport grade, but even here you get 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and BMW’s latest curved infotainment setup, accessed via a 10.25-inch screen. This is sat alongside a digital driver display, too.

Our car, in xLine trim, starts from £38,190 and as well as all of those standard features, you get 18-inch alloy wheels, heated front seats and all of those aluminium exterior elements. Some choice options – such as the £2,750 Technology Plus Pack with a heated steering wheel, adaptive LED headlights and head-up display – did crank the price up to £46,440 so, as with all BMWs, keep an eye on the optional extras to help keep prices down.

Verdict

The SUV segment is awash with options but, thankfully, the X1 isn’t just another car for car’s sake. It builds on two generations of vehicles – so it’s got a bit of reinforcement heritage-wise – and can’t be considered a complete newcomer to the market. But it’s this, coupled with the excellent build quality and refined driving style, which helps to make the X1 feel like a very attractive proposition.

Go easy with the options list and there’s no reason why it can’t be a good-value one, either. Our only caveat would be the arrival of the iX1 which, with its 270-mile range and high performance, could actually prove to be this regular car’s greatest rival.

  • Model: BMW X1

  • Model as tested: X1 xDrive23i xLine

  • Price as tested: £46,440

  • Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine

  • Power: 215bhp

  • Torque: 360Nm

  • 0-60mph: 6.9seconds

  • Top speed: 145mph

  • Economy: 40.9 – 42.8mpg

  • CO2 emissions: 157 - 148g/km