It’s helpful to think of the BMW X1 as a 3-series wagon with a bit of extra ride height. That helps explain its size (very close to the Three), bias towards on-road driving and the fact that you still sit reclined, in a snug cabin, rather than upright as you might expect in a crossover.
The fact that a 3-series wagon (Touring) already exists is quite beside the point. BMW doesn’t seem to have much luck selling conventional wagons in this country, whereas Kiwis love crossovers and, in the premium space, especially BMW X-cars.
The X1 doesn’t quite carry the halo of the larger X5, but BMW New Zealand has still sold over 400 of them since launch in 2010. Not bad for a compact crossover that starts at $65,000.
After two years on sale it’s time for a mid-life facelift. Well, it would be if this was any other car company. But at BMW, cars get a Life Cycle Impulse (LCI) instead. The X1’s involves a restyle with new headlamps and front/rear bumpers, incorporating more paintwork and less black plastic. Inside, the X1 has upgraded materials and trim elements.
More importantly, there are new engines, an eight-speed automatic transmission and more of BMW’s EfficientDyanmics technology: the pushbutton EcoPro mode for the powertrain, stop/start and brake energy regeneration.
None of that may stick in your mind once you’ve seen the hue of our test car. It’s called Valencia Orange and is the hero colour for the X1 LCI worldwide, although ordering one for our little black-and-white country is still brave move by BMW New Zealand. Actually, I quite like it; but then I only lived with it for a week.
In fact, our X1 sDrive 20d is one of the least ‘new’ of the LCI range, as it carries over its 2.0-litre 135kW/380Nm turbo diesel engine (albeit with the new transmission). The petrol models get new TwinPower turbo engines.
Our car is an ‘sDrive’, which means rear-wheel drive in normal-person language. Of the five X1 models on sale here, three are two-wheel drive. See what I mean about this being more like a 3-series wagon?
That goes for price as well. The sDrive 20d opens at $71,000, although our test vehicle weighed in at $79,250 thanks to a plethora of options, including an M Sports package and a rearview camera (for $500, which seems a bit rich on a $71k vehicle). Nothing extra for eyeball-searing orange, though.
The X1 doesn’t quite drive like a 3-series, but it’s suitably sporty. BMW diesels are fantastic and the combination of steering and chassis balance in the X1 is very good indeed. It’s not lightning-quick – 0-100km/h in 7.9 seconds – but the surfeit of torque means you roll along the open-road easily and it achieves a remarkable 5.0 litres per 100km in the Combined cycle.
Beyond that it’s comfortable – especially with the sports seats that come attached to the M package – and mildly practical, with a nifty 40/20/40-plit three-piece rear seat and luggage capacity of 420 litres. But style comes first and the relatively low-slung shape (for a crossover) means it’s not the last word in load-carrying. Nor would any of its buyers expect it to be.
There’s plenty to like about the X1, but I don’t think the styling and driving experience is as well resolved as the larger X3 and X5 models. Although visually it is still unmistakably a BMW, which is essential when you’re paying the big bucks.
Ah yes, the price. I do struggle to justify the sticker when so many of the X1’s Japanese/Korean rivals are just so polished. You could buy a top-spec Mazda CX-5 and save yourself at least $15,000. But that’s not a premium German car, of course.