Beneath the skin of the new BMW X1 compact SUV, a significant transformation is continuing.
It’s one that began with the 2 Series Active Tourer — the first transverse engine and front-wheel-drive product from those rear-drive stalwarts at BMW.
The introduction of the second generation X1 sees the adoption the east-west engine location, based on the architecture of the latest generation Mini models with front-drive and all-wheel-drive versions.
In contrast to the 2 Series Active Tourer, the significance of the second generation X1 is that it’s the first time BMW has actually replaced a car built on its traditional layout with the new design approach.
The X1 xDrive 20d version tested here provides all-wheel-drive but it still makes the X1 a good case study for discovering the subtle differences between the two design layouts.
The verdict is the switch delivers a much roomier and more practical BMW X1. But also one that’s not quite as nimble or responsive to drive as the rear bias and 50:50 weight distribution that the original had been able to deliver.
The poise and traction of the xDrive all-wheel-drive system helps to some extent but there’s still a hint that the new X1 has become a little heavier in the nose and not quite as direct in its steering feel as it was before.
It has wide tyre grip and all-wheel-drive poise at open road speeds with the xDrive 20d model running on 18-inch alloys with a 225/50 R18 dimension tyres. Just not quite the communication and direct feel which the original X1 could provide.
The new X1 shows off styling and proportions that clearly position it as the smaller sibling to the X3 and X5. It neatly fits the modern premium compact soft-roader template with an overall length of 4439mm and height of 1598mm.
BMW NZ offers four versions — front-drive X1 sDrive18d diesel and 20i petrol models and all-wheel-drive xDrive 20d and 25i models which also offer higher outputs. All of the engines are four-cylinder and 2.0-litre displacement but there are four levels of performance.
The xDrive20d version I drove is priced from $76,500 and has the latest 140kW version of BMWs 1995cc four-cylinder diesel engine with a strong 400Nm of torque. An eight-speed Steptronic Sport transmission (Sport designation signals there are paddle shifters) is standard.
The 400Nm of torque is produced from 1750-2500rpm and is a happy match to the close ratios of the eight-speed auto to achieve long-legged 1500rpm cruising at 100km/h in top gear with downshifts to 1900rpm in seventh, 2300rpm in sixth and 2900rpm in fifth. Official combined cycle fuel consumption for the xDrive 20d is 4.9 litres per 100km and my road test averaged what I consider a pretty efficient 6.4L/100km. The car can be driven in EcoPro, Normal and Sport modes.
It’s a longer drive that best shows off the attributes of the X1 with its low effort highway cruising and easy uphill performance among benefits that 400Nm of torque and modern eight-speed transmission refinement can deliver.
I’d rather drive it on a longer highway trip than a busy series of round-town errands. At lower speeds over bumpy surfaces the X1 and its run-flat Pirelli Cinturato P7 tyres are bit thumpy over corrugations and surface changes.
The new layout is a lot more space efficient and overcomes the rear seat compromises of the original X1 with more space in all key measurements.
The new X1 has generous rear seat headroom, plenty of footwell space and some useful kneeroom. I found it easy to sit directly behind my preferred driving position — not something so easily achieved in the first generation X1.
There’s 506 litres of cargo capacity and a significant amount of concealed storage under the folding load floor.
A little more versatility from comes a 40-20-40 split fold rear seat design with the test car was fitted with the $600 option of sliding rear seat mechanism that allows varied combinations of passenger and load space.
It’s a well appointed premium SUV at the xDrive 20d spec level with rain sensor wipers, excellent LED headlights and daytime running lights, dual zone air conditioning, front and rear Park Distance Control, a powered tailgate and heated front seats.
Push button engine start, cruise control with braking function and reversing camera are also standard. A 6.5-inch colour display and latest generation iDrive controller allow access to the satellite navigation along with audio and phone functions.
While it’s not quite the sweetly responsive and crisp steering wagon that the original X1 was I think most customers will prefer the improved packaging and the new technology that the latest model offers.