sDrive 18i  M Sport 5dr Step Auto [Pro Pack]
BMW's second generation X1 brings fine handling and a touch of class to the growing Crossover market that's suiting people who want an SUV feel without its associated costs. June Neary reports
It's taken the motor industry quite a time to realise that typical buyers like me don't want a fully-fledged 4x4 SUV, even in compact form. They're too expensive and pricey to run. However, we do want the high driving position and purposeful design cues associated with cars like these. We want the best of both worlds. Cars called 'Crossovers' have been developed to meet this need and it's at the top of this little group that the model I'm testing this week resides, BMW's second generation X1. In principle, it'd be ideal for me - but in practice? Let's find out.
In the cabin, there's BMW's usual fine balance between driver focus and practical elegance. The flat surfaces of the instrument panel and centre console controls are angled towards the driver, while the controls located in the lower section are surrounded by quality surfaces and are separated from the front passenger side by a smartly-designed bar. Rear seat accommodation will be fine for two adults once they've entered through the rather narrow door apertures and provided that they're under six feet tall. On shorter trips, you can squash up to provide space for a third middle seat occupant provided they're not the whinging sort likely to object to the bulky central transmission tunnel. The designers claim that there's an extra 37mm more kneeroom this time round, a figure you can extend to a limousine-like 66mm if you pay extra for a sliding rear bench which offers 130mm of back-and-forth adjustment. It's annoying that this feature's optional, but otherwise irritations here are few. Some might question BMW's decision to provide only a single 12v socket as a means for rear passengers to charge their various electronic devices - and a few parents might wish that an ISOFIX childseat fastening was provided for the middle seat as well as the two outer ones. Otherwise, there's precious little to criticise here. With the optional seatback tables, it'll even feel rather MPV-like and if you pay the extra for the Panoramic glass roof, the otherwise rather dark cabin can be flooded with a welcome burst of sunlight.
On the move, this second generation X1 feels quite different from its predecessor, with a higher-set driving position that's less sporty but more commanding than before. All the key elements are in place for a decent driving experience and there's a 'Drive Performance Control' vehicle dynamics system that, via three main modes, 'ECO PRO', 'Comfort' and 'Sport', allows you to tweak throttle response, steering feel and stability control thresholds. Gearshift timings too if you've opted for the 8-speed automatic gearbox that I think many X1 buyers will want. You have to have this auto transmission if you go for the 192bhp xDrive 20i petrol version or the top 231bhp xDrive 25d diesel. Otherwise, an auto 'box is an option across the range. X1 buyers get a front-driven 'sDrive' set-up on lower-powered models and a 4x4 'xDrive' layout for the pokier variants that gives you just enough on-demand traction for icy days and muddy tracks. Enginewise, the line-up starts with the three cylinder 1.5-litre petrol and diesel units that BMW has borrowed from the MINI and fits to the base sDrive 18i and sDrive 16d derivatives. Otherwise, you'll be looking at the Bavarian brand's 2.0-litre TwinPower diesel unit. This comes with 150bhp in the 'sDrive 18d' and 'xDrive 18d' models, or with 190bhp in the volume xDrive 20d variant I tried.
This second generation X1 range is priced between £27,000 and £36,000, with the mid-range xDrive 20d model I tried - the one most buyers will want - needing a budget starting from just over £32,000, about the same as you'd spend on a 4WD 320d version of BMW's 3 Series Touring estate. Overall, we're talking of figures that see this second generation X1 pitched a little more expensively this time round - which is significant. At the bottom of the range, BMW offers its three cylinder MINI-derived engines in the front-driven 136bhp sDrive 18i and 116bhp sDrive 16d models, with either six speed manual or automatic transmission. I decided though, to focus on one of the four cylinder units the range was initially launched with, these being the powerplants most customers want and the ones that can be ordered with 4WD. The four cylinder line-up is focused around BMW's familiar range of 2.0-litre TwinPower diesel units, the starting point being a 150bhp '18d' variant that can either be ordered in 'sDrive' front-driven form or, for a £1,500 premium, in 'xDrive' 4x4 guise. With the remaining versions, provision of the xDrive system is non-negotiable and in concert with the 190bhp diesel I tried, it's a set-up that makes the xDrive 20d model a strong package. The 231bhp xDrive 25d version offers an even pokier alternative and across the 2.0-litre diesel range, there's the usual £1,550 option of the company's 8-speed Steptronic automatic transmission. For the few buyers who'll be looking at fuelling from the green pump, there's a single automatic-only 192bhp xDrive 20i petrol variant.
There are plenty of people ready to be cynical about lifestyle SUVs and the Crossover models that copy them but reality is that without these kinds of models, the 4x4 market would have petered out here long ago. With this MK2 model X1, BMW has looked carefully at this sector and produced a product carefully designed to suit. There are premium prices true, but it's decent value and provides most of what you get in a BMW 3 Series Touring in a better value package. On that basis, it gets my vote.
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