The BMW X1 follows the larger X3 and X5 in the BMW SUV range, and it takes on the MINI Countryman and Audi Q3 in this much smaller section of the market. The BMW X1 never had the appeal of its larger siblings, and that's possibly because it's essentially a BMW 1 Series that's been beefed up to look like a 4x4. A mid-life facelift in 2012 saw it get a new interior and a cleaner look, as well as two new trim levels: Sport and xLine. You can choose from a range of strong petrol and diesel engines for the BMW X1, with the 20d EfficientDynamics that can return 62.8mpg being a particularly good choice. You'll need to go for a more expensive xDrive version if you want to take the X1 off-road, as the entry-level models are rear-wheel drive and don't get the extra grip that xDrive four-wheel drive provides. The BMW X1 does have a low price up its sleeve, however: it costs less than both the Audi Q3 and the more desirable Range Rover Evoque.
Our choice: X1 sDrive 20d SE
The BMW X1 started off in life looking like a shrunken X3, which didn't do it any favours. Its styling was awkward and aggressive, and the Range Rover Evoque beat it on style in every area. Despite a 2012 facelift that improved things somewhat, the X1 is undoubtedly behind its rivals when it comes to sleek looks. It does look less utilitarian than before, which is always a plus. The new model got sleeker headlights, as well as chrome rings around the LED daytime running lights (if you choose the optional xenons). The interior got an overhaul too, getting a new centre console and better quality fit and finish as standard. It's still not up to the standard you might expect from a BMW, though. There are four trim levels to choose from – SE, Sport, xLine and M Sport, with all getting alloy wheels as standard. Go for an xLine car and you'll get larger 18-inch alloys, sportier exterior styling with new bits of trim, as well as unique colour choices and ‘X’ embossed seats. Sport versions get bigger bumpers and side skirts, plus red-trimmed sports seats, red detailing on the leather gearshift and different alloy wheel styles.
As with most cars in this small SUV class, and BMWs in general, the BMW X1 is better to drive on the road than it is off. The interior is nicely designed to feel sporty, but that means you don't get the feeling of being above the traffic like you do in other SUVs. There's plenty of grip and body roll isn't an issue, but it's not much fun to drive in town as the steering is quite heavy. Things do improve once you’re up to speed, though, as the steering is precise and offers plenty of natural feedback. Avoid the M Sport versions if you want comfort, as the large alloy wheels cause the car to crash over bumps and potholes in the road. The standard six-speed manual gearbox works well but the new eight-speed auto is better still. It matches up well with the 2.0-litre diesel engine in the 25d and overtaking is easy enough to give confidence.
The BMW X1 gets ESP, seatbelt reminders, Isofix child-seat fixings and a full complement of airbags as standard on all models, which helped it to achieve a full five-star rating from Euro NCAP, including an 87 per cent rating for adult protection. You can also add a reversing camera and adaptive headlights for added safety. It's worth noting, though, that because entry-level models are rear-wheel drive they won't be much good when the weather turns icy when compared with four-wheel drive rivals. BMW placed 14th in the Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, which is actually the lowest ranking of the big German manufacturers. The BMW X1 placed 58th in the 2013 poll, held back by the heavy steering and harsh ride.
When it comes to practicality, the X1 is beaten by its main rival, the Audi Q3. Its 420 litres of boot space is 40 litres smaller than the Audi's, and a full 155 litres less than the Range Rover Evoque. Fold the rear seats down and you get a large 1,350 load area, however, which is only 15 litres less than the Q3. There's plenty of space around the cabin to store things too, including a large bin the dashboard where the sat-nav would be - though of course if you add navigation then this is taken up by the unit. It's a comfortable place to sit too, but visibility is not great thanks to large pillars, and parking in town isn't very easy. The small rear doors make access a chore, but there's actually decent legroom in the back and two adults will fit in the seats without much trouble.
Because it's the smallest member of BMW's X family, the X1 has impressively low running costs for an SUV. The entry-level 16d and 18d models both return 57.6mpg and produce CO2 emissions of 128g/km, which will appeal to plenty of buyers. Only one model manages to better those figures and that is the 20d EfficientDynamics, which returns average mpg of 62.8 and emits 119g/km of CO2, meaning it's free to tax in the first year. With a 0-62mph time of 8.3 seconds, these are appealing figures. The petrols are much less efficient, however, with the four-wheel-drive 20i managing just 37.7mpg and a hefty 176g/km of CO2. Standard equipment is pretty good on the whole, but when it comes to optional extras, it get very pricey. A range of fixed-price servicing deals should help to keep running costs in check, but the X1 can’t match the Q3 for residual values.
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