2016 BMW X1 – the empire strikes back

BMW has a bit of a knack for getting to the party early in terms of SUV niches – the original 1999 X5 was a trendsetter in terms of offering car-like handling and a luxurious interior, and it repeated its success in 2004 with the mid-sized BMW X3.

In 2008 BMW revealed its smallest SUV/crossover, the X1. Based on a shortened 3 Series platform but with a more compact body that took styling inspiration from the smaller 1 Series, the X1 was the first compact premium SUV. Thanks to an emerging trend for downsizing and that blue propeller badge, the original X1 was a success for the company, but lacked a warm reception from the motoring press because of its unusual styling and low quality interior.

This year saw the launch of the new 2016 model BMW X1, so today I take a deeper look at a car that has the potential to banish memories of old and take on a much-changed marketplace.


The X1 now looks more like a junior X5

It wouldn’t have been that hard for BMW to improve on the exterior of the original X1; its estate car proportions, gawky front end  and stubby rear meant that it wasn’t hard for rivals to beat the Beemer on the style front. Range Rover Evoque aside, even the sedate Audi Q3 and dull Mercedes GLA managed to be considerably more attractive; although in certain lights with the right wheels, the original car looks about passable.

The new model takes inspiration not from the reasonably old 1 Series, but rather the new 2 Series Active Tourer – a car the X1 now shares its platform with (and a front-wheel drive one at that…eek). Gone is the hangdog front, replaced by a sleek face that looks even more X5-esque than the X5 does. The front wheel drive platform means that the bonnet is shorter (and the X1 loses any hope of a 6-cylinder engine option as a result), but it means proportions are more SUV than estate – its shorter overall.

The 2 Series Active Tourer shares its underpinnings with the X1

OK so its not the best looking car on the road, but its definitely a better effort than before and comes across as a bit more exciting than most mainstream rivals. The Range Rover Evoque is still a more striking machine, but it has become slightly generic because of its popularity and age.


The X1’s cabin is classy and practical

If there was an area where the X1 needed improvement more than its exterior, it was inside; the original had a design based on the 2004 1 Series and it really showed with scratchy plastics and a pop-up navigation screen. The model shares much with the aforementioned 2 Series Active Tourer, and so gets a modern BMW interior that is slightly more targeted at family buyers than saloon models.

A wide dashboard showcases an easy to use radio and simple ventilation controls – they aren’t as nice to use as in rivals but nevertheless are better than in the Nissan Qashqai…a car that some buyers will be cross-shopping with the X1 (thank cheap finance deals). All X1s come with navigation as standard (as with all BMWs nowadays), but its worth upgrading to the ‘Professional’ iDrive system as this brings a larger screen and tonnes of connectivity options for not much cash.

You need to watch the options list though, as you can very quickly add many thousands of pounds to the list price of your X1 – its very easy to spec one up to over £40,000…a disgusting amount for a car based on the same platform as a £12,000 MINI One, especially considering that 10 years ago you could get a decent X5 for that money.

Plenty of boot space…505 litres with the seat up

Speaking of that vintage of X5, the X1’s boot space now surpasses it by a reasonable figure – 505 litres is a good 85 more than the original X1’s, and 40 more than the aforementioned 1999-2007 X5. Rear space is impressive too, although it may not be as wide as larger vehicles, and there will be a hefty transmission tunnel too.


Most UK X1s will have all-wheel-drive, not for proper off-roading though

If there was one thing that the old X1 was praised for, it was being one of the last BMWs to handle like a ‘proper’ BMW – as in it had that heavy-yet-sharp steering and good weight distribution that the brand was known for. The new car is a different beast, being based on the front-wheel-drive platform used in various BMW and MINI models. That doesn’t mean that it’s bad to drive, but it just lacks the sharp turn-in of more sporting models in BMW’s line-up.

Having said that, reviews state that it’s still notably better to drive than the dull Audi Q3 and bone-shaking Mercedes GLA; the ride and handling balance is basically very good, and most drivers aren’t really going to know or care how their car gets power put to the wheels…in fact a lot of models will be all-wheel-drive anyway.

BMW makes excellent engines, and although the X1 is powered by 4-cylinder, diesel efforts, they are still amongst the best in the business. All offer good performance for such a vehicle; at the moment there are just 3 options, a 18d, 20d and 25d, but it’s very possible that there will be a 16d at the bottom of the range. A petrol model has recently been added, and the 20i should prove a good option for buyers who do lower mileages. All are paired to a very good 8-speed automatic, although the it’s an Aisin unit rather than the renowned ZF one found in the brand’s rear-wheel-drive models.


OK so not cost-related, but the X1 has good rear seat space too

Prices for the BMW X1 have risen slightly, but then that does reflect the improvement in standard kit and larger interior space. Even so the base price of nearly £27,000 is still not unreasonable for a car this size from a premium manufacturer; sure the Audi Q3 is a little cheaper, but the X1 has an automatic gearbox, diesel engine and satelite navigation as standard.

Running costs are very cheap though, road tax for front wheel drive diesels is only £30 a year, and four wheel drive models are only £110. Petrols are a little more to tax, but when you consider the performance on offer it’s amazing how far the market has progressed within the last 5 years. Fuel consumption is predictably good, and diesels officially return 60mpg on the combined cycle…a little unrealistic perhaps but 50mpg should be achievable for those who don’t have lead feet.

BMW also offers a 5 year servicing package for not much at all, and excellent residuals mean that finance packages are very affordable – you should be able to drive a new X1 for less than £350 a month.


The X1 should suit most buyers who can afford it

Although the original X1 had its merits, it wasn’t quite the BMW it could have been. The new car is arguably less a BMW in classical terms, thanks to a front-wheel-drive chassis and 4-cylinder engines, but is so much a better car for it.

If it were not for the fact I prefer the looks and image of a larger car, I can’t really foresee why anyone would look beyond a BMW X1 if they wanted a new car. It’s not that expensive, has tonnes of space inside, good equipment, handles well, is cheap to run, and importantly for some it has a premium badge too.


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