When I was offered the chance to test a BMW X1 over the weekend, I didn’t know what to expect. I was only hoping it would come in an interesting colour, not some boring grey or black, because it was the middle of a wintery March and I was longing for some nice photos. But my concern went out the window the minute I laid my eyes on that piece of chocolate on wheels.
The first feeling, when I climbed inside the car, was that I no longer get what an SUV is supposed to look like: the position behind the wheel puts you somewhat higher than in a compact model, but the interior is downsized for daily comfort, with premium fittings and a great care for details, as is specific to the BMW brand. I will come back to that in a minute.
Going to Brașov, there was one thing I liked a lot: this X1, xDrive 18d model is unexpectedly agile. With an all-wheel drive system and 150 hp, it has a fairly rigid standard suspension and enough torque (330 Nm) to make you forget for a second that you aren’t behind the wheel of a sports car. The direction is annoyingly precise and finely tuned, but unfortunately it didn’t seem to me that it changed when switching between driving modes. The Steptronic box is very well configured, and this is where you can see a clear difference between the Sport vs. Eco and Comfort modes – not even to mentionhow nice it feels to drive it around town, like any other car equipped with an automatic box. Of course, my experience is subjective and I kind of compare just about any car with my Leo (Seat Leon FR 1.4 TSi 2014).
Even so, the X1 with us and our luggage added to its weight of 1650 kg, seemed to have an engine power greater than what the interior could handle. But why? The standard seats do not provide lateral support, and the elevated position at the wheel caters to the popular expectations of a Utility Vehicle without being flexible enough to also support the Sport mode. Basically, it gives you a nicer perspective on the exterior, apparently magnifying the cabin, but compromising on effective driving. In the same vein, the audio system is not so well-calibrated for travelling, providing a flat, slightly distorted sound at higher volume or deeper base sound. Besides, I had the strange feeling that I was about 10 centimetres higher than I needed for a pleasant audio experience.
There are a few features I liked a lot because they seemed useful and complemented well the driving experience: the central ambient lights (the vertical ones that light up the area above the gearshift and the iDrive controller) specific to the brand are just the kind of option you did not know you needed until you tried it for yourself; wheel pressure can be checked directly from the menu, which increases your safety especially on long journeys; the rear seats are adjustable for added comfort of passengers, or more space in the trunk; the front passenger seats fold perfectly horizontally so you can carry objects up to 2.5m long (IKEA here I come); the mix of leather and textiles I have always liked and it seems to me the most practical and durable option for a car, and for the xLine package the colour scheme is very well chosen, the brown tones offering coherence between the interior and the exterior.
From the standard equipment, I’m still lacking the leg lights, which are useful if you get used to dropping your phone under the seat, like I so often do. The screen is not touch-sensitive in this model, so this being a ‘take or leave it’ proposition, you have to accept the iDrive – the BMW own system that integrates all the buttons into a single round controller positioned at the level of the gear lever. I like it, it seems easy and intuitive to use, kind of like an iPod.
Another thing I am looking for since I started rallying is whether the cars I’m testing have towing capabilities and how much can they actually tow. Well, the X1 comes with a nice surprise from this point of view: 4015 kg is the maximum weight of the ensemble – now that’s what I call versatility. You can safely transport your race car, ATV, motorcycle, horse or anything else that is specific to dynamic hobbies.
In terms of consumption, the BMW X1 gave out a good output, as I ‘warmed’ it up during a cold weekend, in the rain, snow and temperatures well below 0 degrees. More specifically, the drive through the Braşov area on the Sport mode meant a consumption of 8.4L / 100km and the trip from Brasov to Bucharest (160km on a crowded DN1) on the Eco Pro mode was made with a good consumption of 6L / 100km (compared to 4, 9L / 100km as specified in the brochure).
Talking about a versatile car that is large enough to take on a holiday without worrying about country roads or luggage space, but you choose it for the urban spirit, being sufficiently compact for crowded cities such as Bucharest or Cluj. I do not necessarily see it as the first choice for the necessities of a young family, but you can place child seats in the back seat through the two existing isofix systems. What you cannot do, however, is carry 2 anxious Labradors in the 505L trunk because X1, like most of its colleagues from the same generation, has that motion sensor that does not allow you to close the trunk if someone wags the tail near the trap door. Fortunately, this option is not currently included in the standard package, but soon there will probably be solutions to temporarily disable it (or get dog training lessons).
In conclusion, the BMW X1 is well balanced and there really isn’t a situation where you can’t trust it. But it is much more than that: the essence of X1 stands in trust – it makes you think of the confidence you have in your own strengths and choices. It is the kind of car I imagine driven by an ambitious young woman who has overcome the first challenges of life and is beginning to define her own sense of success and an elegant and active attitude. This small SUV has made me understand that it’s not just a whim, it’s exactly the solution you find at the crossroads of budget, functionality and the quest for urban refinement.