The most affordable BMW with modern design details and good drive, the XI is an attractive addition to the luxury stable
B MW's X1 is the most affordable car BMW has introduced in our market. The X1 is easily recognisable as a BMW, and a modern one at that. Using design cues first seen on newer cars such as the 7-and 5-series, the X1's skinning is fluid and cohesive rather than sharp. However, traditional BMW details remain. The double barrel headlamps, the large ‘kidney' grille, the ‘Hofmeister kink' in the shoulder line and the big squared off-wheel arches; they're all there. But this ‘youngest' of BMWs has other interesting bits as well. The long bonnet is heavily sculpted, the wide front splitter gives the X1 a square jawed look and the design of the rear is very fluid. But while it's long and wide, the X1 is not tall or chunky enough to be a convincing SUV. This is especially true in the flesh where it looks more like a tall estate than an off-roader.
The X1 and the 3-series are pretty similar under the skin; slightly raised and differently tuned but otherwise identical. Built on the 3-series touring (BMW for estate) wheelbase, this car inherits all the 3-series' driver-focussed hardware. For India, as yet, there is no four-wheel-drive version of the X1, and that's smart. This car, despite its 194mm ground clearance is not likely to be taken over challenging or wildly undulating ground. The chin is low slung, the wheelbase is too long and the X1's wheel travel is also pretty restricted. Boot space at 420 litres however is just about adequate, but the seats can be split 40/20/40, which is very useful.
There are plenty of bits carried over from the 3-series and this gives the cabin a familiar look. The steering wheel, dials, gear lever, central console and even the front seats are lifted straight off the 3. But that's no bad thing. New bits include a swoopier dash, angular vents, and some tastefully placed pieces of faux wood.
The front seats are typical BMW — generous with lots of legroom and very comfortable. Space at the rear however is at a premium. There isn't enough legroom when you place a tall passenger behind a tall driver, and space for three is very cramped, the tall transmission tunnel doesn't make life easy for the person in the middle.
What eats into passenger room is BMW's unflinching belief that driving manners take priority over everything else including extra space and comfort. The car's longitudinally aligned engine is placed well back in the chassis for perfect weight distribution, the low stance of the car means a lot of horizontal space is eaten up for legroom. The seats themselves however aren't too bad and comfort is pretty good for two passengers sitting behind a short chauffer.
Engine and performance
The 2.0-litre common rail diesel motor under the hood of the X1 is familiar as well. Similar to the motor that powers the 320d, this well-specced motor has an all-aluminium crank case, a variable geometry turbo, piezo electric injectors and a fuel rail pressure of 1800 bar. The power output of 177bhp is impressive too. The headline figure however is the torque output of 35.69kgm, which really is a serious amount of twist.
This high torque figure translates into good performance, and the X1 comfortably ducks under 10 seconds to do the 100kph sprint. If you keep your foot down for 20.9 seconds, you cross a real speed of 150kph. There's plenty of punch in the midrange and BMW's baby delivers a good-sized surge of power when you tap the throttle. Progress is very rapid even if the gearbox upshifts early. The six-speed automatic box however isn't the quickest and blunts the X1's eagerness a bit. There's a bit of lag when you floor the throttle and this is noticeable on the highway when you want to make a quick overtaking manoeuvre. It's best to switch to manual mode for sharper throttle response or when you want to drive in a hurry.
On the road
The X1's handling is somewhere between a saloon and an SUV, which is to be expected from what is essentially a raised 3-series. On its taller springs, the X1 rides quite comfortably as well and feels a touch more compliant than a 3-series. The suspension works silently for the most part and the X1 takes poorly surfaced sections quite easily in its stride. Sharp ridges and expansion joints though do catch out the suspension which can't soak up jagged surfaces that easily.
Grip is excellent from the 225 wide tyres, allowing you to corner with astonishing speed. The torquey engine which drives the rear wheels lets you balance the X1 on the throttle through corners but even with the traction control completely switched off, it's hard to break traction. With its decent clearance, the X1 can be driven quite easily on dirt roads and it's on loose surfaces that you can put the X1 sideways and truly enjoy its brilliant chassis balance.
The steering at low speeds is not effortless and this may bother buyers on the lookout for an urban runabout. Also, the steering feels a touch wooden about the straight-ahead position and it's only when you've given it a flick of the wrist that it comes into its own and delivers the pin-sharp accuracy that has made BMWs special. The brakes are utterly brilliant too and just add to the joy of driving.
The X1 like all other BMW diesels is frugal. It managed to stretch the litre of diesel for an average of 9.8kpl in the city, impressive for a car of this weight. What helps is that it's geared very similarly to the 320d, which is a very efficient car itself. It's not as efficient on the highway however, the greater drag supposedly affecting efficiency here.