Compact and competitively priced, the BMW X1 is expected to set new standards for a mini-SUV driving experience.

In Indian automobile market, direct co-relation between price and sales is evident, even at the luxury end. If the BMW X1 is to follow this rule, it could fast become the best-selling Bimmer after its launch later this year. The X1 will pose as the German luxury car maker's entry-level model in India. But that doesn't mean the X1 will be a compromise on quality. It may be small but the cabin material, build quality and driving experience have to be something that befits a BMW.

The X1 is based on the same platform as the current E90 3 Series but is smaller in dimension. It looks more hatch-like than a full-fledged SUV like its bigger siblings.

The X1's global range-topper is the xDrive30i equipped with a 3.0-litre 260bhp engine. However, in India, we will get BMW's 2.0-litre turbodiesel (the same 177bhp unit as in the 3 and 5 Series) and the 2.5-litre 204bhp petrol in-line six also seen in the 523i. Globally, the X1 is available with rear or four-wheel drive but for India, the drive, via a six-speed automatic, will only be to the rear wheels.

The suspension has double-jointed axles at the front (in effect, BMW's modified take on a MacPherson strut) and a five-link set-up at the rear. The rack and pinion steering is hydraulically assisted. The good news is that BMW will offer the X1 with conventional tubeless tyres and not run-flats.

On the inside, the X1 offers steering wheel reach and rake adjustment, so few will struggle to find a comfortable driving position. Once you're in situ, the X1 offers you a vantage point between that of a regular saloon and a full-size SUV; the shallow rear window doesn't help with reversing but you do feel more elevated. Rear accommodation is adequate as long as you're under six feet tall; any lankier than that and you'll find your knees rubbing against the front seats. But there's lots of headroom and the flat rear seat could just about cope with three people for short journeys. At 420 litres, boot space is on a par with the CR-V.

The standard kit list in ‘Highline' spec includes six-CD stereo, two-zone automatic air-con and an on-board computer which are activated with the iDrive controller. The rear seats split as well.

We've rarely found fault with the BMW 2.0-litre turbodiesel's performance in the past, and we're not about to start now. In this 177bhp, 35.6kgm guise, the unit has enough shove to make the X1 feel very lively. It's tractable from low revs, with only a little lag, and there's ample mid-range shove for overtaking. This is helped further by a smooth six-speed auto box.

But, the X1's 2.0-litre motor is considerably noisier than in any of its 3 Series applications. At idle a piercing diesel rasp comes from just beyond the bulkhead, and you'll find yourself raising your voice if you need to maintain a conversation under hard acceleration. It does settle down when warmed up and cruising — decently subdued road and wind noise play their part there too. It seems that a portion of sound deadening has clearly been removed from BMW's bottom line, too, and you notice. Braking is via 312mm (front) and 300m (rear) ventilated discs, and the system seems entirely comfortable with bringing the X1 to a halt. Pedal modulation is excellent — rather like a 3 Series, in fact.

If you're expecting the X1 to offer handling somewhere between a small saloon and an SUV, then you're right. But just as the car is closer to a 3 Series than an X3 in concept, so is the driving experience much closer to that of a regular four-door. There is a bit more roll in corners than in a 3 Series but the X1 does a good job of keeping its extremities under control.

If we do have a worry, it's the steering. Although it provides the sort of feel that you expect from a hydraulically assisted BMW system, it is surprisingly heavy. This may bother buyers in the market for an urban runabout.

On the whole, the X1 does feel like it sets new standards for a mini-SUV driving experience — but then from a BMW you wouldn't expect anything less. BMW will locally assemble the X1 in India to bring costs down.

The 2.0d in Highline spec is expected to cost around Rs. 25 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi) but there is talk of a corporate edition at a later stage which could drive the price down even further. Expect a long queue for this one.


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