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Car reviews - BMW - X1 - xDrive23d

Our Opinion

We like
Gives compact SUV true luxury choice, class-leading dynamics, solid feel, 23d performance, diesel economy, sufficient cabin space, practical cargo area, head turning styling, safety, expected resale value, quality
Room for improvement
Not enough driver’s seat height adjustment for 5’2”, hard ride, heavy steering exacerbated by low-ratio heavy-handed styling, expensive options, samey cabin to all other 2000s BMWs

1 Apr 2010

AT last!

Upwardly mobile compact SUV buyers who want to remain with the same sized set of wheels now have somewhere truly A-list to go to. Welcome the new BMW X1!

OK, the Land Rover Freelander 2 has sort of been occupying the same upper echelon of the segment, but it feels rather too blocky and blokey for the urbane bourgeois dreaming of their escape.

So for now, like Madonna’s acting, and until the Audi Q3 and Range Rover Evoque arrive, the Bavarians are in a league of their own, occupying yet another SUV/crossover niche after the X5, X3, X6 and 5GT. Just 10 years ago it was only about the 3, 5, and 7 Series, you know.

Anyhow, here’s what you need to know about the X1. It feels completely familiar inside, drives exactly how you might expect a modern BMW in terms of performance (strong), steering (heavy but secure), handling (responsive) and ride (oooh …).

Which got us thinking … if you put every single model that the company makes (including the coupes, convertibles and limos) into a Bamix and then squeeze the puree out through a tube, the result would be the X1 … pure essence of BMW.

The 7’s hangdog nose, X3 profile, 5GT-like rear, 3 Series Touring platform, 1 Series-style dash … we’ve seen bits of it all before. Plus, the X1 is a contemporary BMW photofit in the way it feels and drives too. And that is no bad thing.

That’s because this car’s main mission in life is to snare younger and/or first-time buyers than the marque currently manages, especially females. So while their mothers might yawn at the mishmash styling and carryover bits and pieces, to the virgin audience the X1 will feel fresh – much like the first time you watched The Godfather. Smart thinking BMW.

Cheap thinking too, because underneath this supposedly all-new vehicle is the soon-to-be-replaced E91 3 Series Touring undercarriage. From five years ago. Down to the same, cost-amortised 2760mm wheelbase. And that’s no handicap either. Waste not, want not the Germans go green yet again.

That’s how BMW can afford to charge ‘just’ $44,000 for the surprisingly well-equipped (cruise control, alloys, dual-zone air-con, rear parking radar, Bluetooth) X1 sDrive18i.

However, we suspect that would be an easier vehicle to live with than this current range-topper, the $59,280 X1 xDrive23d.

Our test car was fitted with handsome snowflake-style alloys shod with 255/40 R18 Pirelli Cinturato rubber, and the effect these have on the steering effort – never mind the firm and jiggly ride – would border on the unbearable for some.

Does BMW think the Y-gen agency types who can afford the 23d are all gym junkies? At parking speeds this X1 strain feels like trying to drag Harold Mitchell about.

Our advice is that unless your name is Popeye then you must try before you buy (and then drive another X1 with higher profile tyres and thus hopefully a lighter helm).

Exacerbating this is the typically BMW low-geared steering and bijou wheel that adds to the parking workout, but then pays welcome dividends at higher speeds since the X1 feels uber-planted to the road.

On the move, without the burden of having to conduct low-speed manoeuvres and U-turns, the Bimmer’s tiller comes alive, with exceptional levels of accuracy, sharpness and responsive handling capabilities for a compact SUV.

The X1 suffers few of the dynamic flaws inherent in a crossover, even one with 145mm of ground clearance. It really does change direction like the lightweight sports sedan it is based on, and feels much friskier than that awkwardly proportioned wagonoid body suggests.

An early-morning freeway dash to the airport during a freak dead-of-winter storm had us feeling extremely grateful at the security and surefootedness of our xDrive all-wheel-drive test car. Here the steering and roadholding combo felt like the hand of God was pushing us along, while the foot of God seemed as if it could stop us dead in our tracks with a stomp of the brake pedal.

But our X1’s ride comfort compromise is the own goal BMW seems all to ready to accept nowadays.

Yes, we expected a pummelling in the inner-urban terrain we mostly drove our 23d on (and let’s face it – buyers of this car will live or work in places with names like South Yarra and Surry Hills). But even prospective owners from the Outback need to know that rough roads make enjoying a smooth and relaxing ride a rare treat in this BMW.

So that’s two strikes against the X1 flagship despite its ability to dance with the stars, dynamically speaking.

Let’s see what the terrific 150kW TwinPower 2.0-litre turbo-diesel can do then.

First impressions are … disappointing – it’s noisy and coarse when cold before settling down to a low-level din, and always sounds a tad thrashy when you really cane it.

But then how does our overall 8.4 litres per 100km result (against the combined average of a low 6.3L/100km) sound? And 7.3s for the 0-100km/h dash is way under the far thirstier but slower, Golf GTI-engined Tiguan 147TSI or Forester XT turbo auto (but not the blistering manual Sube)? Wonderful, we say.

On the go, the 400Nm torque comes on like a bomb pretty much instantaneously from about 1500rpm, for utterly effortless overtaking. The open road is the X1’s natural environment.

Further plaudits are reserved for the 23d’s ZF six-speed auto, coming over all slurry smooth yet sufficiently speedy in Drive, but then Meer cat alert and action packed with the lever left into the DS position.

In either setting the X1 completely lives up to the BMW brand image of sports performance extraordinaire. No compact SUV currently comes close.

However, due to the low-rev nature of the diesel, we found the oddly unintuitive paddle shifters irrelevant and frankly annoying.

Sitting at the 0915/1445 positions on that slightly too small steering wheel, they do however lend an air of premium athleticism to the interior of this steroidal SUV.

Our test car was loaded with extras such as the lovely twin-glass panoramic sunroof that floods the impressively solid-feeling and welcomingly cocooning cabin with glorious light it also makes the X1 feel more spacious in the rear seat than in reality, which – by the way – is sub-medium car spacious (think Cruze not Camry), particularly with a massive transmission tunnel running through the middle.

And here’s another surprise, considering BMW’s greater female focus rhetoric. One of our guinea pigs is 153cm tall yet she felt the driver’s seat’s highest setting is still too low for her to see out of without needing to peer over the dash.

Otherwise, the driving position is utterly flawless, with sensible switch placement and no obvious ergonomic flaws – we’ve always been big fans of BMW’s iDrive and today’s system will appeal to the tech-savvy regardless of age, while agreeability will come with familiarisation.

Ahh, back to that word. The X1’s dash is more identikit BMW virtuosity, with ultra clear white dials, an expertly integrated (and optional) sat-nav screen and obvious air-con/heating controls, set within shiny hard plastics that lack both warmth and allure. Time to move on from this fascia look, we say. The high shoulder line and fat pillars don’t do vision any favours, either.

Fitted with the optional BMW sports seats, comfort levels are brilliant unless you’re not Australia’s Biggest Loser – firm and supportive, super-duper adjustable and satisfying even after a long stint in (not on) them.

Meanwhile the rear seat trio fold 40/20/40 and have a reclining angle choice, but there are no air vents.

The outboard occupants sit low but comfortably so they have plenty of space for feet, shoulders and heads but taller knees can feel cramped, while the centre rear pew is big-person purgatory.

BMW has a ‘0-degree’ backrest angle setting that ups the standard cargo volume from a meh 360 litres to 480L. But only narcoleptics should sit there since they would be positioned bolt upright. Folding all three (heavy) seatbacks increases that to a useful 1350L – and that’s more than plenty for the disposable income singles, DINKS and empty nesters attracted to this BMW.

Long, lushly carpeted, low-ish (no spare tyre due to the Runflats fitted), and boasting tie-down hooks and a power outlet, the X1 load space could easily double as a motel on wheels. Dogs and doggers alike will dig this.

But minds out of the gutter please, for we do need to come clean here.

If you can’t quite figure out whether we really like or really hate the X1 xDrive23d, you’re not alone. After our week with it, we suspect that the lighter petrol powered rear-drive models – as with all BMWs – are probably the better overall cars, so they’re what we would go for first.

Yet that assessment really misses the point of this BMW.

Overwhelmingly, it seemed people really love the looks (we don’t) everybody agreed on the xDrive23d’s potent performance, hard and busy ride, and rock-solid feel of the road and the (mostly non current model BMW-owning) observers thought the (heavily optioned) cabin matched the hefty asking price (again we don’t).

The fact is that such comments sum up virtually every other model levelled at the company that was once the ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’ but is lately (and don’t mention Rod and Tod Flanders or Ren and Stimpy now) seeking ‘Joy’.

We are just glad BMW offers somewhere for existing compact SUV owners to go to other than a larger, heavier and more profligate luxury barge. That the xDrive23d oozes brand DNA is a great thing for choice.

If you can cop the ride, cost and heavy steering, then the X1 sits literally and metaphorically on top of the compact SUV class.

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