Capable, covetable compact 4x4
Looks much better than before
Cabin is more spacious
Good to drive
Head-up display and dials tricky to see
Not the cheapest SUV
Overly light steering

First Drive review: BMW X1 (2015)

The ugly duckling spreads its wings

More Info

2015 BMW X1 review by The Sunday Times Driving

2015 BMW X1 at a glance

  • Handling: ★★★★☆
  • Performance: ★★★★☆
  • Design: ★★★☆☆
  • Interior: ★★★★☆
  • Practicality: ★★★★☆
  • Costs: ★★★★☆

When the original X1 was launched, in 2009, BMW had an ugly duckling on its hands. A mishmash of hatchback and SUV, the car looked so gawky that mums at the school gate could be heard whispering behind its back about its “unfortunate” appearance.
So it’s little surprise that when BMW’s designers and engineers were handed a brief to create the second-generation X1, top of the to-do list was “Lose the ugly looks”.
Have they been successful?

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In a word, yes. Drivers will no longer set eyes on an X1 and quickly look away, all colour drained from their faces. It’s much more attractive, with a more coherent design.
Outside, it’s fractionally shorter, wider and higher, and every body panel has changed. The X1’s new platform is shared with the 2-series Active Tourer and the Mini – indeed, open the bonnet and you’ll see an engine mounted across the car à la Mini.
Inside, the X1 is a lot roomier and captures that solid-but-stylish quality expected of a BMW. Contrast this with the decidedly bargain-basement feel of the last version.

Nearly 40,000 British drivers liked that previous X1 enough to buy one; the more handsome new model (F48 in internal BMW-speak) will surely surpass that figure. After all, BMW predicts 25% in growth of SUV sales in the next five years.

Classy cabin: 2015 BMW X1 review by The Sunday Times Driving

To sit in its sleek, spacious yet solid cabin reaffirms the upmarket credentials of the X1 over rivals such as the hugely popular Nissan Qashqai. The wide information screen, which appears to have risen out of the dashboard’s shelf, sets the tone. It’s the gateway, via the turn-and-prod iDrive controller, to all the car’s settings and the whole gamut of multimedia.

An extra 3in of legroom and 2in of headroom make travelling in the back a more relaxing business, and the boot takes 25% more family clobber. From one of the cosiest cars in the class, the X1 has become, BMW says, the roomiest.

Back seat space improved: 2015 BMW X1 review by The Sunday Times Driving

A powered tailgate and the options of a two-part sliding rear seat and a bespoke bike rack suggest that practicality was high up among the engineers’ concerns. Safety too: options include LED headlights able to shape their beams automatically to avoid dazzling others, and a telematics system alerts the emergency services if you crash, giving information on speed, how hard the seatbelts were pulled, how many airbags burst and more.

Trim levels are now SE, Sport, xLine and M Sport, all with turbocharged 2-litre engines. The petrol engine delivers 189bhp in the X1 20i; the diesels manage 148bhp (in the 18d), 188bhp (20d — expected to be the bestselling version) and 228bhp (25d).

Boot space: 2015 BMW X1 review by The Sunday Times Driving

I tried all three diesels, and each was smooth, quiet and punchy, the 25d especially so. The automatic transmission always seemed to be in the right gear, and the 18d’s manual gearbox has a springier action than we’re used to in a BMW.
All versions of the new X1 have BMW’s Driving Experience Control as standard. To you and me that means three driving modes, Comfort, Sport and Eco-Pro, which change the responsiveness of the throttle, gearbox and steering – disconcertingly so in the case of the steering, which becomes so light in Comfort that you could almost  be ice skating. In Sport mode the engine is automatically given a blip of revs when you change down a gear to ease the shift. So departs another driving-skills nicety, taken over by the electronics.
The cheapest X1 is front-wheel-drive only, a departure for BMW, and it is less grippy as you power through bends, but it rides well in both Comfort and Sport modes. The four-wheel-drive X1s are more obviously BMW-like in their handling, and a steep and dusty off-road course revealed surprising all-terrain ability.

Good to drive: 2015 BMW X1 review by The Sunday Times Driving

This is a greatly improved compact SUV, but I feel I must mention two cabin irritants. The optional head-up display is projected too high up the windscreen, even at its lowest setting. And I couldn’t stop the steering wheel obscuring the bottom of the instrument display, including the mileometer and trip meter. BMW shouldn’t be getting such things wrong.

So, the X1 still has a little way to go before it can be considered an elegant swan, but the new model won’t face ridicule at the school gates. Prices start at just £26,780 — less than the price of some Qashqais.
BMW X1 xDrive 20d specifications
  • PRICE: £30,630
  • ENGINE: 1995cc, 4 cylinders, diesel
  • POWER: 187bhp @ 4000rpm
  • TORQUE: 295 lb ft @ 1750rpm
  • TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic, 4-wheel drive
  • PERFORMANCE: 0-62mph in 7.6sec
  • TOP SPEED: 137mph
  • FUEL: 58mpg
  • CO2: 127g/km
  • ROAD TAX BAND: D (free for first year; then £110 a year)
  • RELEASE DATE: On sale now

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2015 BMW X1 rivals

Audi Q3 TDI 184 quattro, £29,280 (view cars for sale)

  • For: Slightly cooler badge; slightly cheaper
  • Against: A bit thirstier than the X1; handling and ride are not as good

Kia Sportage 2.0 CRDi KX-4, £28,200 (view cars for sale)

  • For: Handsome design, competitive quality, good to drive, fine value
  • Against: Not a German premium brand, but then neither is Samsung