‘Wine only gets better with age’ is an age old saying but is that true when applied to other areas of expertise? Is it true that experience alone can help you build a better product as years go by? This was the question stuck in my mind during my few days behind the wheel of BMW’s 2016 X1 – a car that set out to fill some pretty big shoes. However, things are not always as easy as they seem, and as soon as I saw my whip waiting for our long drive I realized that it had grown quite a bit.
Same DNA, New Dimension
The old X1 was close to the definition of a crossover. It used the chassis of the E91 3 Series Touring model raised a few inches off the ground to offer a different driving experience. While allowing you to cover a wider range of terrains, it also brought forward more practicality while keeping the driving experience nearly untouched.
It was extremely loved, but with plenty of flaws. While most BMW enthusiasts loved the 3 Series Touring driving experience hugging you close while doing so, others complained about its lack of space and claustrophobic feeling.
Some hard decisions had to be taken then once the new model started being sketched, to decide which direction is more important for the brand. Considering the popularity of the first X1 – especially in the US – the Bavarian board of management decided to cater to a wider demographic – one looking to buy practical cars before anything else.
First Front-Wheel Drive SUV
That’s probably how the decision to move to the UKL platform was made. This meant that the new X1 would migrate from a rear-wheel drive configuration with xDrive to a front-wheel drive one with the possibility of adding all-wheel drive to the mix.
A change in the direction where the power would go isn’t the only new thing the UKL platform brought to the mix. As a package deal, a new family of engines was launched spreading across the entire front-wheel drive lineup. Furthermore, using a transverse unit under the hood meant that the interior space could be exponentially increased, without too much hustle.
And while that happened, it was the exterior that also grew by a hefty amount. Visually, the new X1 seems extremely close in size to the original X3. The design of the compact SUV is sharp and by many accounts, it’s the most beautiful model in the X range at the moment. Compared to its bigger brothers, the X1 has character, its own design – one that doesn’t resemble anything else in the line-up of today. The front fascia features a new design for the headlamps connecting to the kidney grills with just a touch of their edges.
Round the back, the same can be said about the taillights that have beautiful LED strips showing. The twin tailpipes on the rear bumper are also a nice touch, even though the engines under the bonnet are not larger in displacement than 2 liters.
The short overhangs and the character lines on the sides of the car give it an athletic appearance, and while looks may be the most subjective matter in the automotive world, I’d dare say that this thing is breathtaking.
Unfortunately, it’s not the same once you climb inside. We get that BMW wanted to offer more room in there but did they also have to use the same dash like on the rest of the UKL-built models in the line-up?
This is shaping up to be a trend, and the X1 looks almost the same inside as the 2 Series Active Tourer and Gran Tourer models. The same steering wheel, instrument cluster, and broad, low dash are noticeable once you step inside. They’re not ugly but maybe a change for even more character would’ve been welcome.
The materials used throughout the cabin are on par with the typical BMW standards. Storage compartments are aplenty and it is easy to see the Germans have worked really hard to offer a sort of MPV in crossover clothes.
The rear seats can slide front and back while their backrests can be adjusted to your needs. In case you need larger items, they can be folded in a 40:20:40 manner and increase the luggage size in the boot from the standard 505 liters (17.83 cu. ft) to a cavernous 1,550 liters (54.73 cu. ft). That will leave room for almost anything you can think of.
Other fortes include the extremely comfortable seats – as long as you don’t go for the M Sport ones which tend to be a bit on the harsh side of things. Trays for children can be fitted on the back of the front seats and the second row can house three adults abreast even for longer journeys. These are all the kind of tricks that the old X1 couldn’t do.
However, as is usually the case, there are some tradeoffs.
The driving position is a lot higher than in the old model. Chip in the wider and taller windscreen as well as the increased room you get up front and you’re having the feeling like you’re driving a van – not a BMW. Most customers won’t see this as an issue, but if you’re more into the driving experience than practicality, this might bother you a bit.
Yet, it’s rather unfair too because the new X1 handles great, no matter how you look at it. Take out the prejudice towards FWD models and the car makes it easy for you to have fun with it.
Our tester was the European-only X1 xDrive20d model equipped with all-wheel drive – albeit the new system sends its power to the front axle most of the time, the rear wheels getting some power only when needed.
Handling On The Road And Off-Road
How does it handle? While we expected tons of understeer – especially when pushed hard into a corner – the X1 surprised us with its character and driving dynamics. If you were to approacha bend with enough speed and try to carry it through in a rapid fashion, you will notice that the front end tends to get away from you, but the rear reacts in no time, balancing things out. As it turns out, this is one of the best FWD-based all-wheel drive systems we’ve driven so far and you can color us impressed.
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During our few days behind the wheel of this all-wheel drive X1, we navigated through snow as thick as 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm)
For most SUVs, the ultimate test drive is in less-than-ideal situations -like the snow. During our few days behind the wheel of this all-wheel drive X1, we navigated through snow as thick as 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) with little to none traction problems. Of course, we also need to praise the Bridgestone Blizzak tires that live up to their reputation.
Another special mention goes to the engine, the new B47 2-liter four-cylinder diesel unit offering 400 Nm (295 lb-ft) of torque from 1,700 RPM, a crucial detail when dealing with snow and needing to keep revs low.
Unlike the 320d xDrive Touring model we tested earlier this year, this time the engine was hooked up to an 8-speed Aisin gearbox that worked flawlessly too. It’s not more refined and it doesn’t shift faster than the ZF unit, but it offers slightly better fuel economy. Before our journey, the odometer showed 700 km (435 miles) on a full tank; three days later and 500 km (330 miles), we had more than a quarter of a tank left.
Around town, the X1 never sipped more than 8 liters of diesel over 100 kilometers (29 mpg) which was impressive for a car of this size and the bumper-to-bumper traffic we had to deal with. Outside of the city limits, the fuel consumption went down to 6 liter/100 km (39 mpg) even though we were never too careful with the throttle. At the end of the test drive, the average fuel consumption is rated at at 7.2 liter/100 km (32.6 mpg) – and that’s not an easy feat to achieve.
We were also surprised to see that the Driving Experience Control lacked the Sport+ mode that is found on nearly every other model. Therefore, if you want to get the most out of the car, you have to switch into Sport mode and then deactivate the DSC manually by pressing the dedicated button. Even so, we noticed that the electronic nannies would never turn off completely. That surely won’t be a problem for future customers, though.
Should I Buy One?
The new X1 gave us the impression that BMW now has two different types of cars in its line-up – the ones built atop the UKL platform aiming at a different kind of customer, and others that doesn’t care all that much about the ‘old values’ of the brand but more about the badge on the hood. How else could we justify the lack of a proper water temperature gauge, for example? Yes, the new X1 doesn’t have one, instead the board computer shows you a message when the temperature is ‘OK’.
We’re certainly nitpicking here but that’s how the car feels: deceiving. Your eyes see something they like, such as the blue and white roundel up front, the corona rings and the beautiful overall design. Your hands touch premium materials and the space inside is more cavernous than you thought is possible and yet, something’s off.
The new X1, therefore, behaves like an adult. If you will, think of the old model as a teenager eager to learn and fast paced, and fun to hang out. Well, the new X1 is that same teenager but all grown up – mature, practical and reliable.
It’s not as fun as before but it has plenty of other new tricks up its sleeve to make sure you don’t care anymore.