It's almost impossible to not notice the massive changes in the global automotive market in the last decade.
The industry is moving towards an electric future, cars are coming with features that make it easier to stay connected, there are safety features that allow a car to brake on its own, and even technology that can virtually let a vehicle drive itself.
But one of the more fundamental changes in the industry is the huge shift towards from passenger cars to crossovers. These vehicles come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, and from all major automotive brands. Well, except Ferrari... for now.
When it comes to crossovers in the premium category, BMW is really one of the pioneers when they debuted the X5 in 1999. The term crossover hadn't even been coined yet to denote a sport utility vehicle (SUV) with a car-like unibody platform, but BMW did have the option to use the acronym 'SUV' but didn't. History notes that they made their own acronym instead: SAV, or Sport Activity Vehicle. We know these to be the X models.
Today, BMW's line up is peppered with all kinds of X vehicles: the original, the X5, is still going strong. They just launched the larger and more luxurious X7. They also have the X3 which is selling nicely, as well as the smaller and more liberally-styled X2 which, surprisingly, isn't as prolific as the rest. There are also niche versions of their X line which would be the “coupe” type models such as the X4 and X6.
And that brings us to the X1, a small 5-seater, 5-door crossover that measures about 4.4 meters long and about 1.8 meters wide.
As a nameplate, it isn't new; this has been around since 2009, originally envisioned as the smallest of the X models. Naturally we'd think that the X1 would be the X counterpart to the 1 Series, but it isn't; the X1 actually had more in common with the 3 Series, platform and all.
The X1 we're driving is already the second generation model that was launched in 2015. This is the updated one, and BMW has made a few design adjustments all around the vehicle.
In all honesty, it's not as easy to distinguish BMW facelifts (they don't change much) but they adjust the kidney grilles, changed the detail on the headlamps (particularly the signature DRLs), changed the bumper to something a bit sportier, removed the round front foglamps that have been an X1 staple since 2009, and a few more bits and pieces here and there. Really, the design changes aren't major, but if you look closer, you'll notice that the kidney grilles are connected. I'm not a fan of this direction for the BMW kidney grille though.
Inside, the updates are likewise subtle, which is frankly a bit of a let down. I would have wanted BMW to do more with the cabin of the X1 especially after seeing the interior of the new X2. The materials used, while undoubtedly of good quality, doesn't evoke the premium feel that the badge on the hood should command.
I'm also not a fan of the steering wheel on this one, and the rather conventional gear selector shifter doesn't have the feel of the one they used for other models; the one that feels more like a joystick. The X1 will seem a bit more dated compared to competitor models in the premium segment.
Of course it's not all downhill. I actually like the driver's seat, the updated iDrive infotainment unit, the audio quality, the boot space, as well as the rear seats. That last bit is where it got a little interesting, because the last time I drove the X1 was in 2013, and that was still the previous generation model.
I remember it being very much like a flat bench; uncomfortable for passengers especially when you're cornering. This one is much better with extra space for your knees; and the reason for that, I suspect, is what's under the hood, or at least how it's mounted.
The previous generation X1 had the engine was mounted longitudinally with the cylinders aligned front to back along the vehicle's length; in classic BMW terms, it was a rear-wheel drive vehicle. The gearbox would be mounted that way too, eating up space in the forward cabin, along with a drive shaft that needed a huge channel beneath the center console and the floor under the middle seat.
Since 2015, the X1 has become primarily a front-wheel drive model (all-wheel drive optional as xDrive) with the engine mounted transversely, or with the cylinders mounted laterally along the width of the vehicle. That layout generally means more room because the powertrain doesn't eat as much cabin space, giving engineers more room to allocate for legroom and kneeroom.
Powering this X1 is a 2.0-liter turbodiesel that makes 150 PS and 350 Nm of torque. BMW calls it “twin power”, but it's not to be confused with twin turbo. There's only one turbine hooked up to the engine, but it has two distinct inlets and scrolls (tubes, really); one set allows the turbo to produce boost at low RPMs and the other at higher RPMs. In other words, there's less turbo lag meaning a more enjoyable drive, especially with the 8-speed automatic.
When doing a daily drive around town, this BMW is really a nice drive. The ride is slightly on the firm side but not overly so. I actually expected it to be firmer since this one has runflat tires, but all things considered, the X1 rides over the bumps and ruts very smoothly. The steering is light, precise, and intuitive. The rear view camera makes it easy to maneuver into a parking slot, rear first. Visibility is good despite my desire to set the seat height to the lowest setting; that's just my personal preference.
The only real issue is the lurching in heavy traffic; the kind where your average speeds are about 10 kilometers per hour. The X1 doesn't seem to like that, almost mimicking the feel of a dual clutch in traffic. I have a feeling it's because of the good torque at low RPMs wanting to accelerate the vehicle as eagerly as possible. Mind you, that's with the normal drive mode engaged.
Those misgivings were quickly erased though when I started checking the fuel economy numbers. After a fill up, I realized the X1 was doing 11.0 kilometers per liter in the city (average speed: 19 km/h). I thought it was a bit high so I retested and filled up again, and I ended up with 10.9 km/l (average speed: 20 km/h, but with two passengers). On a highway drive and with a full cabin, the X1 was doing 15.5 km/l (70 km/h average, 5 persons, plus bags). Mind you, those numbers are with normal mode (not Eco Pro) and with the auto start/stop (aka: idling stop) feature deactivated; personally I prefer not to use it. Either way, the X1 delivers on the promise of fuel economy.
At a faster pace is when I really realized how different the new X1 is from the last one I was behind the wheel of. This one may use the same platform as a front-wheel drive Mini and not a rear-drive BMW, but the handling is still nicely dialed in. At speed on the highway the X1 is very planted and confident. Turn in isn't crisp, but the manners are really enjoyable for this front-drive (sDrive) model. The only real difference is that you'll get torque steer rather than a powerslide if your right foot gets a bit too eager with the turbodiesel coming out of a corner. Don't worry though, you've got stability control, traction control, and a lot of features to save the day.
So far, the X1 has proved to be a fairly mixed bag. The drive is there, the fuel economy is great, there are definite improvements all around, and the exterior looks better than before. Honestly, they should have elevated the interior design especially since in traffic that's what the customer will be looking at. And considering that the X1 has to compete against newer models such as the Audi Q3, the BMW X1, the Mercedes GLA Class and Jaguar E-Pace, it might be a challenge. This isn't the spring chicken of the premium compact crossover lot.
But all isn't lost. The X1 does have a clear edge in one aspect: price. BMW is launching this German-made X1 sDrive 18d X-Line tonight, and it will retail for PhP 3,090,000. As far as we know, that's much less than many of its competitor models.