Small but appealing

The new X1 joins a small but growing family of front-wheel-driven BMWs that includes the 2-series Active Tourer.
The new X1 joins a small but growing family of front-wheel-driven BMWs that includes the 2-series Active Tourer.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

The new BMW X1 is practical and surprisingly roomy

Music gadget lovers will be familiar with the X-mini portable speakers invented by Singapore company Xmi in 2006. Some three million speakers have reportedly been sold.

The new BMW X1 reminds me of the X-mini. First launched in 2009, the X1 is the "mini-X" in BMW's X line-up. The second-generation car competes in a heated compact crossover segment, with rivals such as the Mercedes-Benz GLA and Audi Q3.

The first remarks that I made to a colleague immediately after I took over the X1 test car last week was: "It is rather small." But as it turned out, size can be deceiving.

Compared with its predecessor, the new X1 is 38mm shorter (4,439mm vs 4,477mm), but 23mm wider (1,821mm vs 1,798mm) and 53mm taller (1,598mm vs 1,545mm).

While its predecessor looks like a jacked-up 1-series hatchback, the new X1 is more proportionate looking all round. The most pronounced changes are in front. It has larger twin-kidney grilles, thinner but longer headlamps, bigger fog lights and larger intake vents. These give it a more aggressive and sportier look.

  • SPECS/BMW X1 SDRIVE20I

  • Price: $191,800 with COE

    Engine: 1,998cc 16-valve twin-turbocharged inline-4

    Transmission: Eight-speed Steptronic with manual select

    Power: 192hp at 5,000rpm

    Torque: 280Nm at 1,250rpm

    0-100kmh: 7.7 seconds

    Top speed: 225kmh

    Fuel consumption: 6.1 litres/100km

    Agent: Performance Motors

The car is powered by a new turbocharged petrol engine. Although it is a 2-litre power plant like its predecessor, the new engine has a higher output of 192bhp (vs 184bhp) and 280Nm (vs 270Nm). It is also more frugal on paper (6.1 litres vs 6.8 litres per 100km).

The engine is paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission carried over from its previous facelift. Rather unusually for a BMW, power is channelled to its front wheels.

The X1 joins a small but growing family of front-wheel-driven BMWs that includes the 2-series Active Tourer launched earlier this year. The list will reportedly include the new X2, Z2 roadster and 1-series over the next two years.

Despite being front-wheel driven, the new X1 maintains a distinct "BMW-ness" in how it handles. The steering is crisp and sharp, while gear changes are smooth and responsive to throttle input.

The car also feels faster than the official 7.7-second century sprint, which is unchanged.

The drivetrain offers three drive modes: Eco Pro, Comfort and Sport. On Eco Pro, the gear is a little too eager to upshift for my liking. To sample the free-revving engine, drivers have to switch to Sport, although it will be at the expense of economy.

Sport mode does not turn the X1 into a sports car. When driven spiritedly around corners, the height of the car causes a discernible but not disconcerting body roll.

Despite its compact size, the X1 is rather roomy. Thanks to a transversely mounted engine, more space is freed up in the cabin.

So even though the new car is shorter than its predecessor by 38mm, rear passengers get 37 to 66mm more legroom. The increase varies because the rear seats can slide forward and backward.

To appreciate what 66mm means, consider this: The difference of the economy-class seat pitches of an SIA Airbus A380 aircraft and a Tigerair Airbus A320 aircraft is about 85mm. So the increase in the X1's rear legroom means roughly an upgrade from Tigerair to SIA.

While the rear legroom has improved, the rear seats are best reserved for two adults and a child.

With the rear seats folded down, the boot capacity increases from 505 to 1,550 litres. This rivals the load-lugging capacity of the Volvo XC60, which has 495 and 1,450 litres respectively. This is quite a feat as the XC60 is a bigger car.

Local BMW dealer Performance Motors has imported only one petrol variant, but it did not scrimp on the equipment list. The car has factory-fitted frills such as LED headlights, reverse camera, handsfree tailgate and a navigation system with real-time traffic information that guides drivers out of jams.

Over a 94km test drive over two days, I recorded a fuel consumption of 10.2 litres per 100km, which is significantly higher than the official 6.1 litres. I attribute this to two factors: I drove mostly in Sport mode, and the test car had just 300km on the odometer, which meant it had barely been broken in. The fuel consumption should improve.

BMW ditched the sculpted asymmetrical lever found in other models that is inviting to the hand. Although the X1 is not ugly, it feels too ordinary and looks out of place with its upmarket cockpit. This, however, is not a deal breaker.

Overall, the X1 is a practical car that will draw new buyers to the BMW stable with its under$200,000 price tag. And at just $11,000 more than the entry-level 318i sedan, I would pick the X1 over the 318i in a heartbeat for its practicality and looks.

Like the X-mini speakers, the X1 proves that good things can come in small packages.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2015, with the headline 'Small but appealing'. Print Edition | Subscribe