BMW X1 review

Our Rating: 
2015 model
By Auto Express Test TeamComments

Now a more convincing player in the premium crossover crowd, the BMW X1 takes the fight to the Audi Q3

Sharp handling, efficient diesel engines, new styling
Not the best off-roader, fairly expensive

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The latest BMW X1 differs greatly from its predecessor that arrived in 2009, most notably featuring a new front-wheel-drive platform and chunkier design. So if you want a rear-driver, you now need to look for a used BMW X1. However before you start trawling the BMW X1 for sale ads, take it from us that the new format beats the old car into touch.

The old BMW X1 used to be based on the 3 series Touring platform, while the current model’s FWD engineering is shared with the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer and the MINI. Previously barely distinguishable from an ‘ordinary’ hatchback, the X1 now has more of that desirable crossover/SUV stance. That’s because it has a body 53mm taller than before, and it’s 23mm wider. With the new look, the BMW X1 is a much more convincing rival for the Mazda CX-5Audi Q3 and Mercedes GLC.

Although it looks bigger and a bit tougher, the new X1 is actually marginally shorter than its predecessor, although a longer wheelbase and broader girth means it’s noticeably roomier inside.

The BMW X1 rides on the group’s shared UKL2 platform, which is why the entry-level sDrive cars are front- rather than rear-wheel drive. However if you want the extra grip, xDrive variants continue to use an all-wheel-drive chassis set-up.

Trim levels range from the basic SE, through to Sport, xLine and top-spec M Sport. All cars come with sat-nav, 17-inch alloy wheels and a power-assisted tailgate. Sport models get racier details like bigger alloy wheels and contrasting stitching, while xLine cars add leather and a set of LED headlights. M Sport models are by far the most aggressive looking, with a big bodykit, sports seats and stiffer suspension.

Engines kick off with the front-wheel-drive sDrive 18d, with the xDrive 20d expected to be the biggest seller. There’s also a powerful 25d and a thirstier 20i on the list.

Our choice: X1 xDrive 20d xLine

Engines, performance and drive


UK buyers have the choice of three diesel and one petrol engine in the X1.Being based on the same platform as the 2 Series Active Tourer, means entry-level X1s are in fact front rather than rear-wheel drive. While this may trouble the BMW purist, the real world translation is nowhere near as bad as you may imagine.


It’s not as sharp as a BMW 3 Series, but the X1 is still entertaining to drive, and the xDrive models offer plenty of grip due to the intelligent all-wheel-drive system that can send power to the front or rear when either axle senses slip. The steering is direct and body control is kept nicely in check – even with the dampers in their most comfortable setting. 

It’s worth noting that we didn’t get to drive a car on standard springs, so we’ll have to reserve judgement on those until we drive one in the UK. However, if you’re ordering one now, for £390, it’s a fairly trivial option box that we’d recommend ticking as it's a small outlay for such a useful piece of equipment.

We also only drove the automatic, which in all honesty is likely to be the top pick anyway. It’s nicely refined and changes gear with precision and pace. It’s a bit jerky in Sport+ mode, but leave it in Comfort and you won’t be disappointed.

All cars apart from the basic 18d are four-wheel drive, and it’s the 20d that is likely to be the best seller. It’ll do 0-62mph in 7.6 seconds and should prove sufficient for 90 per cent of X1 buyers.

Don’t go thinking you can take your X1 too far off the beaten track, though. While hill descent control is included, this isn’t the kind of car you’ll go mud plugging in at the weekend. If you want to spend time off-road, try a Range Rover Evoque.

MPG, CO2 and running costs


There is a range of three diesels and one petrol engine. All units are turbocharged, and all emit less than 150g/km of CO2.

The economy champion is the front-wheel-drive-only sDrive 18d. It’ll emit just 114g/km and return 68.9mpg. The more powerful, four-wheel drive 20d isn’t bad either, doing 57.6mpg and emitting just 128g/km of CO2. The range-topping 25d is also four-wheel drive only and returns 56.5mpg/132g/km.

While we’ve not driven the petrol xDrive 20i yet, anyone looking to save the pennies should steer well clear. While it isn’t super thirsty, it can’t compete with the frugal diesels – emitting 146g/km and returning 44.8mpg. That said, if you only do short journeys and the occasional longer trip, it may suit your needs perfectly.

Standard equipment is good, but be careful of adding too many options, as it can get expensive. A range of fixed-price servicing deals should help to keep running costs in check, too.

Interior, design and technology


When the BMW X1 launched in 2009, it was one of the first crossover cars on the market. It was based on the last-generation 3 Series Touring, and featured slightly raised suspension, tougher cladding and more interior space over the standard 1 Series hatchback. However, as rivals joined the game, it soon became apparent that the X1 wasn’t quite what UK buyers were looking for.

As a result, this new model is much more ‘X car’ and follows in the footsteps of its bigger siblings, the X3 and X5. It’s taller and wider and gets a more purposeful stance. All cars come with 17-inch alloy wheels and beefed up bumpers as well as a taller ride height. 

SE models are well equipped, but it’s the Sport and xLine models that we’d go for. The larger wheels look great without ruining ride comfort, and the plusher interiors are well worth the extra cash. Sport cars get flashes of red with contrasting aluminium trim, while xLine models boast a choice of leather and wood options. M Sport cars are the most expensive, and are recognised by the blue trim, and specific M steering wheel and badging.

Practicality, comfort and boot space


Practicality is much improved over the outgoing car, with a 505-litre boot that is 85 litres bigger than before. Fold the rear seats down and you’ll reveal a 1,550-litre load area, which is a whopping 200 litres more than you’ll find in the old X1. Compared to its rivals, then, the new BMW X1 is ever-so-slightly smaller than a Mazda CX-5, but 135 litres larger than an Audi Q3.

There are loads of handy touches, too. For example, you can order your X1 with a fold-flat front passenger seat, and all cars can hold a one-litre water bottle in each of the four doors. BMW’s Extended Storage is standard, menaing there are nets and tie down points dotted around the cabin – and all cars come with an automatic tailgate.

It’s comfortable, too. There’s loads more room in the back and enough head and legroom for a six-foot adult to sit behind a relatively tall driver. The old one was criticised in this area, so it’s great to see BMW has listened to feedback and improved the new car where it mattered most.

Reliability and Safety


This is a brand-new model, and for that reason it’s hard to comment accurately on reliability. However, BMW came 14th out of 32 manufacturers in the 2015 Auto Express Driver Power survey, so potential owners can rest assured that things will be dealt with should the worst happen.

In fact, a mid-table 100th place finish for the previous-generation car isn’t a bad showing considering the X1 is now more than six years old. We expect this model to surpass its predecessor in next year’s standings.

As it’s so new though, Euro NCAP haven’t been given an opportunity to put the X1 through its stringent crash tests. However, the old car got five out of five, and we’ve no reason to believe the new one will be any different. 

Last updated: 28 Jul, 2016