BMW X1 xDrive25i xLine AT (2016) Review

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BMW's second-generation X1 is more of a compact crossover than its predecessor, offers better practicality and has a more luxurious interior. But, does BMW's all-wheel driven all-rounder deliver a well-balanced performance? 

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SHORT READ

Who buys an X1?

Whereas the predecessor to the BMW X1 was developed on a previous-generation 3 Series’ platform, its practicality and interior quality did not conform to what users expected from the Bavarian brand, even if its on-road performance did. Those facts did not hamper X1 sales to any great effect, however. Buyers included young urbanites with active lifestyles, suburban dog owners and moneyed mature buyers seeking a vehicle with raised driving position. Apart from the X1, buyers also bought cars such as the Mercedes-Benz GLA, Audi Q3 and Volvo V40 Cross Country.

More practical and upmarket

The new X1 will certainly appeal to the aforementioned clientele. More so, in fact. Its new front-wheel drive platform prioritises space utilisation — to the benefit of rear passengers’ head- and legroom in particular, its driving position and ergonomics have been improved and its powertrain is sophisticated. What’s more, the cabin ambience and build quality are upmarket and there's a host of luxury equipment available, which is to suggest the standard spec is less than generous...

Exclusivity comes at a cost

The BMW X1 xDrive25i offers all-wheel drive capability, which adds a safety benefit over and above nominal off-road capability. However, the X1 is let down by a firm ride quality, as well as excessive tyre roar and, in terms of value for money, this particular model’s asking price pushes the BMW into the territory of larger, well-established and road-biased SUVs that offer more space and practicality.

As a compact crossover, the X1 is more practical than rivals from premium-positioned brands and is likely to please BMW loyalists, but at the asking price, it offers too little to counter the value propositions of mainstream compact SUVs. Rather consider more affordable entry-level and (two-wheel drive) X1 sDrive models (including turbodiesels) and specify them moderately — that’s where the product makes the most sense.           

Price and after-sales support

The BMW X1 xDrive 25i xLine Automatic retails for R638 475. You get a two-year/unlimited km warranty, as well as a standard five-year/100 000 km maintenance plan. Service intervals determined by onboard computer.

We like: build quality, spacious and user-friendly interior, impressive powertrain

We don’t like: firm ride quality, excessive road/tyre noise, expensive options

Also consider: Mercedes-Benz GLA, Audi A3, Volvo V40 Cross Country

LONG READ 

Introduction

Upon its arrival in 2010, the BMW X1 was one of the first premium compact crossovers in the South African market, but the E86-generation model (developed on an earlier 3 Series’ platform), had a few drawbacks. Its practicality and interior quality did not conform to what users expected from a BMW product, even if its on-road performance was satisfactory. Those facts did not hamper X1 sales very much, however. Buyers included young urbanites with active lifestyles, suburban dog owners and moneyed mature buyers looking for a vehicle with raised driving position. Apart from the X1, buyers also bought cars such as the Audi Q3, Mercedes-Benz GLA and Volvo V40 Cross Country.

Fashion forward  

The second-generation BMW X1 (2016) sheds the awkward, almost cartoonish looks of its predecessor (especially the pre-facelift version) for an exterior design that looks better proportioned, features a dominant X-motif on its front end, more contoured flanks and a tapered rear-end treatment — all of which bring the newcomer in line with the rest of BMW's X range of vehicles, at least from a stylistic point of view. The xLine package adds satin-look aluminium trim elements, which are most apparent on the grille and front bumper, side sills, roof rails, rear apron. The kerb appeal of the xDrive 25i xLine is further enhanced by the fitment of optional LED headlights and 19-inch wheels.

Apart from a better-looking exterior, the BMW X1 most appealing aspect to the aforementioned clientele should be its new front-wheel drive/all-wheel drive platform that prioritises space utilisation, which was not its predecessor’s forte. Although the cabin doesn’t feel particularly broad, it is easy to get perched comfortably courtesy of the X1’s raised driving position, the head- and legroom afforded to rear passengers have increased to virtually class-leading levels, and the luggage area, although not particularly deep or broad, offers fair loading space at a convenient height.

For additional loading options, the rear seat backrest can be folded forward in a 40:20:40 split at the pull of a lever, the angle at which its occupants recline can be manually adjusted and the entire bench can slide forward and backward in a 40/60 split with remote backrest unlocking via a button in the luggage compartment.

A better-finished, if costly, product

The quality of the xDrive25i xLine's leather upholstery, trim plastics and overall fit and finish represents a marked improvement for the X1, which, thanks to its enlarged glass area and optional panormanic roof, feels simultaneously well-crafted and substantial, as well as airy and light. What’s more, the combination of the Mocha leather, Oakwood Dark grain inserts with Chrome Pearl grey trim looks suitably sumptuous.

Whereas testers approved of the X1’s improved ergonomics and enjoyed the plethora of luxury and convenience features fitted to the X1 xDrive25i test unit, it must be noted that although the leather-trim, a three-spoke multifunction steering wheel, auto lights and wipers and climate control are standard features, the automatic anti-dazzle interior mirror, park distance control (front and rear) and rear-view camera are all optional extras. Over and above the exterior adornments, the test unit was equipped with, inter alia, electrically folding and heated side mirrors, an automatic tailgate, panoramic slide/tilting sunroof, electric front-seat adjustment, extended lighting package, head-up display, a Harman/kardon hi-fi system, Navigation Plus and a host of ConnectedDrive services. From a base price of just over R600k for the xDrive25i (without xLine package), the test unit costs an eye-watering R795 975 (CO₂ tax included). 

Enjoyable to drive — up to a point

The top half of the six-model X1 range comes equipped with all-wheel drive drivetrains; and even if owners of the xDrive25i xLine are unlikely to venture far from tarred roads, the configuration lends the BMW optimal grip at all four wheels (not least nominal off-road capability), especially on gravel roads. The handling of the X1 feels planted and the steering feel, if devoid of feedback, is pleasingly light and direct. However, the X1 is let down by a firm and uncompromising ride quality, as well as excessive tyre roar, which is exacerbated by the 19-inch run-flat tyres.

The 2.0-litre turbocharged motor, which produces 170 kW and 350 Nm of torque, delivers prompt throttle responses, revs smoothly and pulls strongly, especially in terms of in-gear overtaking acceleration. BMW’s ubiquitous 8-speed automatic transmission appears well matched with the performance characteristics of the four-cylinder powerplant, although some testers noted that short, sharp throttle inputs would prompt the transmission to kick down a little too soon. The claimed combined fuel consumption of 6.4 L/100 km also seems a trifle optimistic for mixed use.

Comprehensive safety spec

In terms of safety equipment, the X1’s all-wheel drivetrain is supplemented by ABS with EBD, as well as dynamic stability control, including dynamic traction control. Front-, side- and curtain airbags are fitted and for the benefit of owners with infants or children, the rear doors have mechanical child locks and there are child seat ISOFIX attachments for the two outer rear seats and front passenger seat, the latter in conjunction with an "airbag off" switch.       

Verdict

Considering the sales success of the original BMW X1 range, many would expect the Bavarian brand to simply improve on a proven product, but the F48-generation X1 represents a thorough evolution. By switching to a transverse engine layout and adopting a space-optimising body architecture, BMW has redefined its premium compact crossover in a way that will allow the X1 to attract more buyers by virtue of the vehicle’s practical applications and outright execution (from an aesthetic and overall quality point of view) — not just those who are dazzled by the prestige of its bonnet emblem.     

Having said that the X1’s performance capability and on-road refinement are not balanced; the uncompromising ride quality and the permeation of road noise to the cabin are concerns. What’s more, the top half of the X1 line-up is not very competitive from a value-for-money point of view.

This particular model’s asking price pushes the BMW well into the territory of larger, well-established and road-biased SUVs that offer more space and practicality. As a compact crossover, the X1 is more practical than rivals from premium-positioned brands and is likely to please BMW loyalists, but at the price, it offers too little to counter the value propositions of mainstream compact SUVs. Rather consider more affordable entry-level and (two-wheel drive) sDrive X1 examples and spec them moderately, because that’s where this product makes the most sense.       

Price and after-sales support

The BMW X1 xDrive 25i xLine Automatic retails for R638 475 and you get a two-year/unlimited km warranty. It also comes with a standard five-year/100 000 km maintenance plan. Service intervals determined by onboard computer.

Test team opinion:

"The new X1 is quite expensive but has exceptional road manners and works well on the tarmac. The run-flat tyres cause a fair amount of road noise and make it harsh when heading off-road. The interior has been improved with less hard plastic materials on display than previously and it’s a more upmarket place to sit." Ashley Oldfield

"It's vastly better than its predecessor in almost every way. Furthermore, it's bigger and more premium than the equivalent Mercedes-Benz GLA and Audi Q3. However, the engine is a little too performance-biased for my liking and I'd select one of the economical turbodiesels instead." David Taylor

“Addresses the practicality and space issues of the first-generation model very convincingly, and is also a more pleasing product from a design, fit and finish perspective. But the ride is still quite rough.” Hannes Oosthuizen

We like: build quality, spacious and user-friendly interior, impressive powertrain

We don’t like: firm ride quality, excessive road/tyre noise, expensive options

Also consider: Mercedes-Benz GLA, Audi Q3, Volvo V40 Cross Country

Click here to compare the BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA and Audi Q3

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