The second act of BMW’s X1 is one of those rare cases where the sequel is better than the original
Words by: Adam Allen
The original X1 wasn’t a bad car. What gives?
That’s true- the first generation X1 was not even close to bad- but it did suffer from a few compromises that kept it from achieving greatness in both the eyes of BMW loyalists and in the sales charts. First and foremost, it was hobbled by awkward styling; it looked sort of like a low-profile clown shoe. Those less than flattering aesthetics contributed to a backseat that wasn’t very comfortable for bigger passengers and a cargo area that you would hardly describe as commodious. And although we liked it for its keen handling thanks to its E91 3-series platform, its ride might have been a bit too much on the firm side for those predominantly urban folk who purchased them. When BMW decided that a second generation was going to happen, they abruptly changed course by asking MINI to supply them with the underpinnings from the Countryman which- wait for it- is a front-wheel drive based platform.
A front-wheel drive Bimmer? No way.
Yes, way. While some markets will get the option to have their X1’s power sent exclusively to the front wheels, here in Canada only the xDrive model is available. That means that under most conditions the X1 operates as a front wheel drive car until the drivetrain sensors detect the need to send power rearward. BMW fans who think the apocalypse is nigh, fear not- the proficiency of the BMW driving dynamics suite has been preserved, meaning that only when you really push this chassis will you detect its front-wheel drive architecture. The move to the UKL2 bones made sense despite the moans of protests from enthusiasts- changing to a transverse engine layout means more interior space, especially for those passengers in the back seat. About that rear seat- it’s the only one its class that will allow owners to slide it forwards and back, something that will no doubt be coveted on long trips. Another benefactor of the new platform is the styling. While the X1 may never compete for real estate at Pebble Beach Concours in the distant future, it’s now much easier on the eyes, certainly better looking that the Audi Q3, the wonky Mercedes Benz GLA or its badge engineered twin, the Infiniti QX30.
Tell us how it drives.
We felt a sense of relief wash over us during our tenure in the X1’s driver’s seat- this car still feels like it was conceived by Munich’s finest. We admit that our pulses don’t get elevated much at the prospect of flogging another front-wheel drive based crossover but the X1 is actually fun to drive. The suspension is still on the firm side of the spectrum even in Comfort mode, but it’s never harsh. We welcome this tradeoff for handling that doesn’t make the X1 feel like a dead fish when you show it some corners. The engine is BMW’s familiar 2.0 turbo which powers everything from this CUV to the 5-series sedan and is one of the industry’s best four bangers. It offers startling smoothness with an eagerness to rev, and it feels stronger than its numbers suggest. If you’re watchful with the throttle, it’ll return exemplary fuel economy. It helps that BMW has paired this engine with its 8-speed automatic gearbox which is a paragon of smooth shifting around town but swaps cogs with measured authority when you summon full power. We applaud those who calibrated the xDrive all-wheel drive system- during a bout of wintry weather we appreciated how transparently it engages the rear axle. Overall the driver-centric driving experience has been thankfully left intact.
Does it offer a flair for the dramatics like its Countryman cousin inside?
Not at all, but that isn’t a bad thing unless you are an unapologetic Type A personality. Step inside the X1 and it’s pure BMW- the simple and clean instrument panel, supportive yet comfortable seats, and the now excellent iDrive infotainment- all are present and accounted for. It also has the intangibles that we’ve come to love from BMW- hushed confines, especially on the highway, and a feeling of unshakable solidity. After spending time in some cars whose beltlines come up to your ears making you feel like your piloting a pillbox, the X1 was a breath of fresh air. While seated in the driver’s seat, you immediately notice a feeling of airiness, helped by the massive panoramic sunroof and excellent outward sightlines; you are not going to get claustrophobic driving this car. Lastly, the X1 deserves praise for its increased cargo area, a big improvement from its predecessor.
What might go wrong?
Not much. We think that right now, the X1 is easily the best in its class so it has now become the target within its competitor’s crosshairs. If pressed, we’d ask for a little more power (hey, it’s hard to wean ourselves off an addiction to BMW’s excellent inline six engines.) We would’ve liked to have generated better fuel economy numbers but it should be noted that what we recorded is consistent with driving through snow chocked streets.
Should I buy a BMW X1?
Weren’t you paying attention earlier when we said it’s the best in the segment? If not, let us repeat: if you desire a rewarding compact premium crossover, look no further than the X1.
2018 BMW X1 xDrive 28i– Specifications
- Price as tested: $52,240
- Body Type: 4-door, 5 passenger CUV
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/all-wheel drive
- Engine: 2.0-litre inline 4, DOHC, 16 valves
- Horsepower: 228 @ 5,000 rpm
- Torque (lb-ft.): 258 @ 1,250 rpm
- Transmission: 8-speed automatic
- Curb weight: 1,695 kg (3,736 lbs)
- Observed Fuel consumption: 11.7L/100km (20 mpg)