It’s a hard task to fit everything you could need or want into a small SUV while keeping it functional, spacious, affordable and fun, yet, somehow, the Germans seem to have done it.
With competition like the Audi Q3, Mercedes-Benz GLA and Volvo XC40 all vying for a spot on the podium, the compact SUV segment is definitely becoming increasingly competitive. Luckily for BMW however, they’ve got a great deal of knowledge and expertise in the segment, seeing as how they were one of the first manufacturers to venture into that space. It’s abundantly clear that their bold step into the (then) unknown has paid off, made evident by the polished offering that is the X1. The model we’ve been testing for a week is the range topping BMW X1 xDrive 25i and here’s what we thought.
The BMW X1 may look small from the outside, but don’t let that fool you because once inside, you’ll feel like you’re sitting in something a lot bigger. It is rather spacious and loaded with tech such as Apple CarPlay (on a large 10.25-inch and very clear infotainment screen), digital radio, dual-zone climate control and an abundance of advanced driver-assistance features as standard such as a heads up display, cruise control with braking function, parking assist, Driving Assistant including Speed Limit Info, Lane Departure and Forward Collision Warning.
Even for a small SUV, the X1 handles surprisingly well, and the steering is far more engaging than other vehicles we have tested in the segment that’s more focused on relaxed town driving. It’s almost as if in this small SUV segment, driving shouldn’t be this fun (in a vehicle that’s meant to exude comfortable suburban style) but we’re definitely not complaining.
The BMW X1 has welcomed a refreshed look for 2020. To keep it in line with the rest of the current BMW line up, the traditional BMW dual-kidney grille has been enlarged flanked by LED headlights, and the front and rear bumpers have been redesigned to look bolder and more modern with newly designed air inlets up the front and a new rear valance. The rear tail lights have also been revised.
Our test vehicle came fitted with the following options: Mineral White Metallic Paint ($1700), Panoramic Glass Roof ($2457) and M-Sport Package that includes Gloss-black exterior trimmings, Anthracite Roof Liner, Gloss Black Roof Rails, LED Foglights, M Sport leather steering wheel, M Sport suspension and aerodynamics package, sports seats for driver and passenger, and 19-inch Y-spoke alloy wheels ($3250).
We’re happy to report the small German SUV performs extremely well. The turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol four-cylinder engine doesn’t want for power either, with 170kW of power (at 6000rpm) and 350Nm of torque (between 1450-4500rpm) on tap. Combined with the SUV’s relatively lower weight, xDrive (all wheel drive) and smooth eight-speed transmission, the powertrain allows the X1 25i xDrive to make the 0 to 100km/h sprint in a swift 6.5 seconds. To put that into perspective, a Golf GTi (that weighs a few hundred kg less) will do the same sprint in 6.2 seconds.
Engine and Transmission
Initial take off does suffer from a bit of turbo lag, but when you’re cruising around or the car is on the move, it’s not a problem. The engine is happy to downshift to the correct gear and get things going (with a nice little burble between gear shifts in sports mode). On the subject of sports mode however, it’s almost “too” sporty and tends to rev out the gears for normal every day driving, and putting the engine into ECO-PRO mode just makes it feel like it’s nowhere near sporty enough. We found ourselves leaving it in the Comfort mode setting.
Then there’s the subject of the start/stop system. Yes when driving through suburbia and coming to red traffic lights and stop streets it does the job just fine, but on a morning commute into the city with single digit speeds on the highway, the system is almost over-eager to shut off when you’re at walking/crawling speed, and just when you need to put your foot down, you have that bit of delay for the system to wake itself up again.
Handling and Driving Impressions
One of the best traits of the BMW X1 25i xDrive is that it feels like a two-for-one deal. It is a highly capable daily driver that is perfectly suited for hauling the family around town or running to store for groceries, but it is equally as capable of delivering a spirited driving experience for those needing a bit more excitement and adventure in their lives. Young at heart, or even young parents and families will love this small SUV for its playful yet competent handling.
While it is definitely taller than a sedan, the X1 feels surprisingly light on its feet and doesn’t offer much body roll into corners. Hit some mid-corner bumps though and you will definitely notice the suspension is a bit on the stiff side, definitely more than you’d expect from a small SUV. Granted, the the ride will never be as smooth as something like larger more luxurious SUVs (think X5, Mercedes-Benz GLE, Audi Q7), but they don’t offer anywhere near the same playfulness as the X1, either (definitely not around the same price point anyway). It’s a sacrifice we would be happy to make.
The steering is fairly light and responsive around town, and the SUV’s smaller dimensions do make it a pretty easy one easy to park. But once you pick up some speed on the highway, (which doesn’t take long thanks to the eager turbocharged engine), the wheel gains some very welcome weighty feel to it. What we found even more welcome is the steering feedback in general – considering we’re testing a vehicle in a segment where ride compliance is favoured a lot more than engagement. Even when taking corners at spirited speeds, the communication and response through the steering wheel is something that we have not felt it’s competitors have come close to matching.
However, there was one black mark against the X1 that we must address – which is the road noise. That being said, this is not uncommon among small SUV’s, so we don’t hold it against the BMW. But in the fairness of the review, it’s only right we give the good with the bad.
One thing is for certain, you definitely couldn’t mistake the interior of the X1 for any other manufacturer. The comfortable, spacious and attractive cabin is loaded with upscale materials and classic German style, and even though a fairly large 10.25-inch infotainment screen (and its abundance of features) sits above the dash, the centre stack doesn’t feel at all cluttered or busy. Sadly there is no Android Auto, but it does come with more than its ample share of standard and optional features (including AppleCarPlay) and everything is laid out with the drivers comfort and reach in mind, with rotary dials making operation of most features very easy. The M-Sport Seats in our test vehicle were a bit on the firm side – maybe go for the more comfort orientated seating option would be our recommendation.
Seating and Interior Space
Here is where the X1 really shines. There is a surprising amount of passenger space inside the cabin of the small SUV with generous headroom no matter where you’re seated, and legroom up front is more than sufficient. The vehicle will seat five people, but you probably wouldn’t want to seat more than four adults from a comfort perspective, more so due to the legroom in the back being little more constricted than the front. The standard driving position is quite good as is the overall visibility from inside.
Considering the X1 is the entry level for a BMW SUV, there are a few places that it doesn’t feel as premium as it’s bigger siblings (which is kind of expected in a sense) however, you can still be assured of high quality and expert craftsmanship that goes into the cabin. The cabin boasts plenty of soft touch surfaces, and the dash and door panels are available in a variety of trims such as woods and aluminium options. Our test model came with the Black High Gloss over Pearl Chrome, giving a great sense of sporty luxury.
X1 Trunk and Cargo Space
We like big boots and we cannot lie, and boot space is abundant in the X1, with a cavernous 505 litres available behind the rear seats. Fold them down, and you get 1550 litres – more than enough to help a friend move a coffee table or two. For comparison reasons, the Mercedes-Benz GLA has only 421 litres behind the second row seats, and the Audi Q3 only 460 litres.
The power tailgate opens easily and is wide, allowing for excellent access to the area, no matter the size of your cargo. This standard capacity is more than enough space to do the day’s shopping, take the kids to school and after school sport classes, and do your afternoon gym session. All in one trip.
Unfortunately there are some negatives – definitely not deal breakers by any means, but it must be mentioned that storage for smaller items isn’t nearly as impressive. The front and back cupholders are not spacious or easily accessible, the glove compartment is useable at best, but by the time the owners manual is in there that’s about it for usage. Onto some positives though, there is a much-welcome storage tray under the front seat and the door pockets are relatively wide, thankfully, and the center armrest cubby should keep your phone safe.
X1 Infotainment and Features
Even though it’s the entry level SUV into the BMW brand, the X1 comes standard with a decent number of features. Our range topping X1 25i xDrive came equipped digital radio, dual-zone climate control and an abundance of advanced driver-assistance features as standard such as a heads up display, wireless phone charging, heated front row seating, cruise control with braking function, parking assist, Driving Assistant including Speed Limit Info, Lane Departure and Forward Collision Warning.
The infotainment suite on the X1 was upgraded for 2020, with the old 6.5-inch monitor swapped out in favour of a larger 8.8-inch touchscreen, which was previously optional. Our test model however came standard with Navigation System Plus, 10.25” colour display, touch functionality, iDrive Controller with high-resolution instrument cluster display.
Several rotary knobs are also available to control the features, which include AM/FM Radio, Digital Radio, and navigation. You can connect your smartphone via the USB ports (of which there are four in total), Bluetooth, or Apple CarPlay, but as previously mentioned, Android Auto is not offered. All audio is channeled through the 100W six speaker sound system, although a harman/kardon loudspeaker system complete with 12 speakers and 360W amplifier is optional.
When all is said and done, The BMW X1 isn’t perfect, but then, what vehicle is? However, it comes closer than many rivals, even if they manage to best it in one or two categories. It is a well-rounded, upscale, more than capable compact SUV that should be near or even at the top of your list when looking at the luxury segment.
The BMW X1 is one of the worlds biggest selling luxury Compact SUVs and it’s not hard to see why with it being both effortlessly playful in driving dynamics and uncompromisingly practical. The cabin is spacious seating four adults in comfort, with room to spare for their luggage in the capacious cargo hold. In range-topping 25i xDrive guise it comes powered by a turbocharged four-cylinder engine that revs eagerly and smoothly with good fuel economy and plenty of power. It’s this perfect blend of sportiness and function
What we liked:
Large cargo capacity in what appears to be a small SUV from the outside.
Typical fun to drive BMW driving dynamics and handling.
What we didn’t like:
Front seats are a bit on the uncomfortable side.
Infotainment can be a bit slow to react at certain times, No Android Auto yet.