JOHN TERRY is the lion-hearted soul and backbone of Chelsea football club. If he leaves at the end of the season, as has been reported, and is carted off to a home for used footballers, he will be replaced by someone called Schmitt or Ng or Aspuertoli-Detomaso-Gorva-Didivichlaboueff. And then will Chelsea be Chelsea any more?
What will give the team their character? How will they be different from Arsenal or Manchester United, or any of the other clubs that, behind the chanting, will be just businesses that employ the best people?
At present my son argues pretty much all the time with his mates about football. He loves Chelsea. His mates don’t. But how will they be able to stoke up that level of passion when their clubs become like Sainsbury’s and Tesco and Lidl? Because nobody gets into all-night debates about which of those does the best sandwiches.
Car manufacturers earned their reputations back at a time when their products were designed and built by people from a specific area. An Alfa Romeo felt Italian. An Austin really didn’t. That was important.
I worry about this sort of thing with car manufacturers too, because all of them earned their reputations back at a time when their products were designed and engineered and built by people from a specific area. An Alfa Romeo felt Italian. An Austin really didn’t. That was important.
But today car makers have to keep that spirit and that heritage alive when it isn’t second nature to the people who work there. The Germans who run Rolls-Royce have to guess what a British engineer would do. The Italians who run Jeep have to think American. And the Indians who run Jaguar have to read in history books what a Jag should be like. (And sometimes I wish they’d pay more attention.)
Look at Citroën. Its design offices will be more international than Arsenal’s Christmas party, but somehow it’s got to make a product that feels French and quirky and odd. You can see this in the products, this desperation. And you can feel it too — a sense that it has built an ordinary, global car and then given it some silly design touches that it hopes will cause customers to imagine they are driving around in President Charles de Gaulle.
That’s a bit like replacing John Terry with an Argentinian and then asking him to call everyone “geezer” at post-match press conferences. We won’t be fooled.
Amazingly, though, we are mostly fooled by cars. The Suzuki I reviewed last week is built in Hungary, but it still feels Japanese. A Bentley is built largely from Volkswagen components, but at no point when you are driving a Continental GT do you think: “Mmmm. It’s as if I’m in a bar in Baden-Baden.”
And the Alfa Romeo 4C? Not once when you’re behind the wheel do you ever think: “I wonder. Is this Australian?”
Then there’s BMW. Its cars are made from the same components that you find in any other vehicles, and I don’t doubt the design team is fully international, and yet they all feel as though they were conceived and built by a team that started the day with a few star jumps and then went to work wearing raspberry- or mustard-coloured jackets and extremely clean shoes. They feel utterly German.
Except for the horrible old X1. You got the distinct impression that BMW’s engineers —quite rightly, in my view —didn’t want to build a so-called crossover. They felt such carswere all right for Renault and Chrysler and Terry and June, but not for a company that had spent 50 years building a reputation for finesse and driving pleasure. BMW making a hatchback on stilts? That’s like Rolls-Royce making a van.
So they had it made in factories in India, China and Russia and it felt like it. In fact it felt like a cement mixer. It was rough, impractical, ugly and slow. No crossover car is particularly nice, but this one? Ooh, this one missed the bar by about 40 miles.
Unfortunately for the BMW purists, it was a huge sales success, so the company had to make a newer version. And with this it has really thrown away not just the bathwater and the baby, but the bath as well. It has a BMW badge, but it doesn’t feel, sound or drive like any Beemer I’ve been in.
I’d love to have been a fly on the wall when the accountants met the engineers for the weekly catch-up. “Look, you lot. We are in business, and to survive we must make this car. It’s what customers want these days, so stop cocking about and do it properly.”
My test car was fitted with four-wheel drive, so you might think it’d be able to deal with a bit of muddy ground. Nope.
Well, they didn’t. They simply decided to mount the new car on the same platform as the Mini. Which means the engine is mounted sideways — that goes against the grain for BMW — and in some models it drives the front wheels, which is the devil’s work so far as they’re concerned. The styling? I think they did that with the lights off.
They’ve even fitted the gearlever surround with a shiny plastic that reflects everything you drive under. So when you go down a motorway you can see out of the corner of your eye the lampposts speeding by. After a few miles this will give you an epileptic fit.
BMW says that despite the way it looks and the people it’s aimed at — caravanists, basically — it’s still pretty fast. But the range-topping TwinPower 2-litre diesel that I drove didn’t feel speedy. In fact it left the line about as enthusiastically as its designer got out of bed in the morning. With a plaintive cry of: “Must I?”
My test car was fitted with four-wheel drive, so you might think it’d be able to deal with a bit of muddy ground. Nope. On a short piece of level grass it was skidding about all over the place.
Comfort? Well, the suspension’s not bad, but the seats put me in mind of my old school desk. And while the boot is quite long, it’s not very wide. I suppose it’d be all right if you had to transport a coffin. Or me. The only other thing of note back there is how you open the boot. You wave your foot about as if you’re doing some kind of Riverdance routine and it pops up.
I’d love to be able to say at this point that because the X1 is so meh — that’s the first time I’ve used this word — and because it’s based on the Mini, it is at least priced keenly. But compared with its rival from Nissan it’s actually quite expensive.
I suppose that, all things considered, it’s not a bad car. It doesn’t crash all the time, or explode. If it were a Kia or a car from one of those weird Chinese companies, you’d say it was quite nice. But because it says BMW on the back, and because you know just how good BMW can be, you expect something better.
2016 BMW X1 xDrive25d xLine specifications
- PRICE: £36,210
- ENGINE: 1,995cc, 4 cylinders
- POWER: 228bhp @ 4,400rpm
- TORQUE: 332 lb ft @ 1,500rpm
- ACCELERATION: 0-62mph in 6.6sec
- TOP SPEED: 146mph
- FUEL: 54.3mpg (combined)
- CO2: 137g/km
- ROAD TAX BAND: E (£130 a year)
- DIMENSIONS: 4,439mm x 2,060mm x 1,612mm
- RELEASE DATE: On sale now
Head to head
|BMW X1 xDrive25d xLine||Volvo XC60 D5 AWD R-Design Nav|
|Boot space||505 litres||495 litres|