Rear-drive traditionalist reverses its approach

Lending me a crossover is a gutsy thing to do. My dislike of the genre is well known and founded on what I regard as the undeniable truth that, as a whole, they represent the most underachieving class on sale. Because they are high and heavy they are uniformly worse than conventional cars in their performance, handling, fuel consumption, CO2 emissions and so on. But because they are ‘crossovers’ they lack the truly commanding driving positions of true SUVs and, by and large, their off-road ability too. They are fashion accessories bought by people happy to spend more money on a car less suited to their needs so long as they think it makes them look good, or at least better than otherwise they might.

But such is their popularity, manufacturers simply can’t afford to avoid them – even BMW, which has held out longer than most. But this new X1 is a crossover pure and simple, rather than a jacked-up small estate like its ugly but wildly successful predecessor.

It’s based on a new front-wheel-drive platform, the first so configured for BMW, that will also come to underpin the entire Mini range. Most X1s will indeed be front-wheel drive, though four-wheel drive is an option and standard on the most powerful 25d model driven here.

Of its type if no other, it is highly convincing. Its single best attribute is to look like a crossover but not behave like one, which for BMW must have been the primary dynamic goal. With a good slug of power and a wall of torque provided by one BMW’s typically gutsy 2-litre diesels, there is all the performance you could want from such a car, and probably substantially more than you might expect. It handles well too, refusing to wallow around when hustled like so many of its ilk. In short, it feels as a BMW should.

Inside, those progressing from the old X1 may scarcely believe the improvement in quality, but those who go shopping with an Audi Q3 or Mercedes-Benz GLA also on their lists will be less easily swayed. All the scratchy plastics may now be gone, but for sheer style Audi remains ahead as does the Benz for a sense of luxury.
I found the ride a little challenging, too.

But the X1 is still inherently likeable, which gives it a massive head start over most of the opposition. And if it’s a compact crossover you feel you must have, I’d probably recommend it over any other on the market right now.

Not that this should be mistaken for any kind of ringing endorsement. Instead it is worth considering that for less that £3500 more, you could drive away a 330d Touring in M Sport trim. Its engine has three litres not two, six cylinders not four. Its handling and performance are so far beyond the X1 and to render further comparison pointless, it rides much better and, officially at least, covers just three fewer miles for each gallon of diesel. By any objective assessment, it is a wildly better car. But that’s not what sells crossovers and, as the best of its bunch, I expect the X1 to fly out of the showroom.


Price £36,370

Engine 2.0 litres, 4 cylinders, twin turbocharged

Power 228bhp@4000rpm

Torque 332lb ft@1500rpm

Transmission eight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive

Weight 1660kg  

Power to Weight 143bhp per tonne

0-62mph 6.6sec

Top speed 148mph  

Economy 56.5mpg

CO2 133g/km