AutoTrader NZ
Published 3 September 2020

Seems BMW’s trying to put a car in every niche – and creating a few slots that didn’t existed before. The BMW X6? A sporting SUV with reduced interior space. The 5 series GT? A wagon/ liftback with capacious seating and – reduced interior space.

Driving pleasure is all very well, but what happened to practicality?

It hasn’t been forgotten in the new X1. It’s a high-riding compact that will replace the X3 in focus when that vehicle’s replacement steps up in size.

This car is barely smaller than X3 – wheelbase is just 33mm less, overall length down by 111 and width by 55mm. That pays off in terms of ease of use round town, a benefit also felt by those trading in the 3 Series wagon that donates its underpinnings, and therefore shares the same wheelbase and track as this car – though X1’s boot is a whisker smaller.

Why buy the X1 instead of the more spacious 3? You can’t get a four-wheel-drive 3 Series in right hand drive. The X1 xDrive comes with four-paw advantages – though there’s also a rear-drive sDrive variant for those who like the look, but want a more affordable and slightly lighter vehicle.

Engine options were limited to the diesels at launch, with the 20d 2.0-litre 130kW/350Nm turbo, and the 23d, 150kW/400Nm twin-turbo version. Both are strong, especially in the mid-range, and smooth performers when cruising.

Two petrol-engined variants will arrive later this year, a four-cylinder sDrive 18i and the six-cylinder xDrive 25i.

I wasn’t expecting too much from the X1. This is a stylish ‘lifestyle’ vehicle with an aspirational badge. But – it is more fun to drive than I’d expected from its high-riding stance.

X1 is also fairly economical for an SUV, thanks in part to what BMW calls ‘efficient dynamics’ technology. Translated, that means stuff like an alternator that charges – or not – depending on engine load, with fast-charging when you lift off the throttle, or no charge on uphills to reduce engine drain. Even the air-con compressor only works when you need it, and manual cars use stop-start.

That means in theory the 20d sips just 5.8l/100km of fuel. Not when we drove it however; charging over the Crown Range isn’t the most frugal approach to driving. But it did reveal this feels more well-sorted hatch than SUV to drive, even through fairly challenging bends.

No doubt that’s partly due to performance control which, like the X6, varies torque between the rear wheels as you steer. Hurl her into a corner and she’ll send less torque to the inside wheel and boost the outside one by the corresponding amount, to literally drive you round the bend. If you want a sports car you’ll go elsewhere – but if you want the high-riding and grip benefits of a soft-roader without compromising road handling, you’ll like it.

Mind you, I still have reservations about those run-flat tyres. Yes, there are safety benefits to being able to drive with a puncture – if you don’t mind the jiggly ride they come with.

Overall? With pricing that overlaps the mainstream X1 could become an important model for BMW, cementing its position before the similarly-focussed Audi Q3 and Land Rover LRX arrive.