The original X1 wasn’t the best car from BMW, so this new one has moved itself away from it. And it’s good.
When the original X1 came out, its timing couldn't have been better. It debuted during the heat of the soft-roader craze (which some will say hasn’t yet subsided), and it was a massive sales success for BMW. It managed to do that despite harbouring some pretty deep flaws, like a relatively uninteresting drive, questionable interior quality, and a lack of the refinement you’d expect from a premium, German luxury car.
Of course the X1 would be succeeded, and the successor has been quite a success. It’s more accomplished than the original, feels more premium than the original, drives better than the original, and does all this while also being better looking than the original. But, purists will be up in arms: Beneath the desirable body lies the bones of a MINI, with front-wheel drive on the base model. So is it good enough all-round to make up for it, or will this be the downfall of BMW’s smallest SUV?
“From the outside the new X1 is far more grown-up and stylish in its design than the car it replaces.” - CarAdvice
When the last X1 bowed out, there were more than 400,000 examples on the road worldwide. Knowing that they had hit a recipe that worked, BMW did not risk spoiling the chemistry. The new X1 is now just as handsome as other SUVs in the range, with a familiar family look throughout the car. If you look at it from a distance, you could mistake it for an X3. Or even an X5.
The large kidney grilles are flanked by LED headlights, replete with white corona rings as is the BMW signature. The current X1 looks a little less rough-and-tumble than the last car, which is an entirely good thing: This is a car that will spend 90% of its time on sealed surfaces, so there’s no real need to play to off-roading pretensions. The X1 looks athletic, like a high-riding hot hatch. No bad thing, and certainly not as ‘challenging’ as the original.
Engine & Drivetrain
“A range of strong three and four cylinder engines that improve efficiency and performance.” - WhichCar
Like the X1, the engines on offer here are pretty small. There’s one petrol and one diesel, with both engines available in two states of tune. In the 18d, the 2.0-litre turbodiesel pumps out 110kW/330Nm, and is claimed to use as little as 4.3l/100km. Step up to the 20i, and the 2.0-litre turbo petrol manages 141kW & 280Nm, while sipping 5.9l/100km (claimed). The out-and-out sprinter here is the 25i, with 170kW & 350Nm, which offers proper hot-hatch performance with fuel consumption at a fairly-reasonable 6.6l/100km.
All cars are paired with an 8-speed automatic ZF transmission, with the sDrive18d & sDrive20i putting power down through the front wheels and the xDrive25i putting its grunt down through all four wheels.
“Still the traditional BMW combination of free-standing screen and audio controls with the iDrive unit, as usual, placed in the centre console.” - The Motor Report
BMW has almost always played it safe when it came to cabin design, the X1 plays to the marque’s strengths more than the last one did. The X1 features solid, well-engineered switchgear and employs soft-touch materials where possible, addressing the previous-X1’s lack of interior quality well. Although the X1 is an entry-level BMW SUV, it certainly doesn’t feel like it, with only the omission of leather seats on the base sDrive18d detracting from a plush overall experience. Generous levels of standard kit also make it feel pretty special in here, with the optional sports seats giving the X1 a little more by way of visual appeal over the standard front pews.
Thanks to its MINI underpinnings, the new X1 offers more cargo space than the previous iteration. A lot more cargo space: Up by 85-litres, the 505-litre cargo bay is now among the best in class, with 1550-litres available with the seats folded flat. While that’ll allow you to haul just about anything you’ll really need, a premium audio system ensures that even when the roads are at a crawl, you won’t be frowning in your X1.
Behind the Wheel
“High-riding 4x4s aren’t famed for their ability to go around corners, but the X1’s ability to do so is faintly astonishing.” - Telegraph UK
Despite its transversely-mounted engine and front-wheel drive (which undoubtedly leaves BMW purists with a sour taste in their mouth), the X1 handles like any BMW should. It’s a cut above the rest, and in terms of driving pleasure, it certainly moves the game up from the stoic Audi Q3 and offers more dynamism than the Mercedes-Benz GLA. With the optional adaptive dampers specced, the X1 also rides more comfortably than its German cousins, resulting in a one-two punch from Munich.
Even with xDrive specified, the X1’s front wheels will be doing most of the work. As a result, the X1 tends to understeer under heavy cornering. Paired with the rather-stiff standard suspension setup, and you’ll find that when it faces sharp bumps mid corner, the X1 can skip and hop and ultimately change its trajectory. To get the best out of the X1, the optional adaptive dampers are a must-have, and we cannot stress that enough.
Safety & Technology
“Equipment wise, the base cars might surprise cynics…” - Wheels Magazine
Usually, the base-model cars will miss out on a lot of important active safety technology and advance driver assistance (ADAS) systems. However, in this regard, the X1 seems to merely get better the higher up you go. LED headlights, lane departure warning, all-round sensors, forward collision warning, pedestrian collision warning, and city-speed emergency braking all come as standard.
Autonomous emergency braking only comes as standard higher up the range, though the ‘Driver Assist Pack Plus’ throws in AEB for the more affordable variants. Eight airbags, the usual traction & stability systems, and cornering brake control (which aims to maintain the intended trajectory of the vehicle by braking slipping wheels during cornering) are all standard fare here, which means that even the entry-level sDrive18d will be more than suitable to ferry the family around.
Where the original X1 divided opinion, the current X1 soothes even the most opinionated. With a well-built cabin, good looks, and an accomplished drive, the X1 is now an even stronger competitor in the premium compact SUV market, addressing all the complaints of the previous model and then some. The X1 no longer feels like a generic SUV with a BMW badge on the nose; No, this feels like a proper BMW, albeit one with front wheel drive…
While we would recommend the middling X1 xDrive20i on the grounds that it’s attractively priced and well-equipped, the entry-level sDrive18d is also worthy of praise for the same reasons. BMW really does offer an X1 to suit all needs, with the sDrive models great for urban motorists (the diesel offering better outright fuel economy, the petrol better agility), while the xDrive25i has the greatest breadth of ability across the X1 range. The mid-range X1 sDrive20i is the best bet for most applications, with enough power and usability without affecting fuel economy too much.
Motoring - 73/100 - “No, it’s not a BMW as we have traditionally known it, but that doesn’t mean the X1 is anything other than exceedingly competent.”
CarAdvice - 7.5/10 - “My, X1, you’ve changed. But instead of transforming from bland to bold, like some makeover reality television contestant, the BMW X1 has gone the opposite way. You used to sit on flamboyant small-SUV fringes, now you’re thoroughly middle of the road.”
The Motor Report - 4.5/5.0 - “Let’s think for one second about the people who are buying BMW X1s – families for sure but also urban dwellers without children whose lifestyle dictates an SUV – and, for many, this will be their first BMW. On that front there’s no question the so-called ‘entry level X1 succeeds.”
Wheels Magazine - 4.0/5.0 - “By tailoring a body on an architecture designed to be a crossover, the second-gen F48 looks, feels, and pretty much drives like you’d expect of something from the Bavarian car maker. That also extends to the downsides, by the way, like a hard ride and expensive options. But the point is, even in base sDrive guise, the latest X1 is pure BMW. And that should be more than enough for most buyers.”
WhatCar? - 4.0/5.0 - “The BMW X1 is a small SUV that makes for a great family car, thanks to its spacious and practical interior.”
Telegraph UK - 9.0/10 - “If you’re in the market for a small 4x4 like this, the X1 should be high on your list to try. It’s roomy, economical, and endowed with a great interior; what’s more, it’s far more enjoyable to drive than you might expect, and it’s more than comfortable enough for most people, too. In fact, so good is the X1 now that we’d question the need for the larger BMW X3 – unless the extra space is something you absolutely require.”
AutoExpress - 4.0/5.0 - "Some may question why the X1 costs more than larger crossover SUVs like the Mazda CX-5, but you could argue the BMW has a more premium image. It easily beats the more crossover-led Mercedes GLA for space and also highlights the age of the Audi Q3. Just steer clear of the pricey options list.”
Autocar - 4.0/5.0 - "Owners of the previous X1 simply won’t recognise the spacious, flexible, classy customer they’ve taken delivery of here – and refugees from other crossover models will have plenty to say in praise of the car’s practicality, quality and handsomeness. But those with a broader experience of BMW’s model range may not be quite so bowled over by this car and neither, quite, are we."