Is it a jacked-up 1 Series crossover, or a genuine premium compact SUV? That’s the identity crisis the X1 has always faced. Perhaps crisis is too strong a term, but the smallest BMW X model has never had the kudos and image of the larger X3 and X5.
Yet for some buyers, the absence of brash SUV styling is a plus point, and the latest revisions to the X1 do little to change that.
In fact, a quick glance will leave you wondering if the looks have changed at all. Study the car closely, however, and you might spot that there’s less grey plastic cladding, that the indicators have been integrated into the door mirrors and that there’s a new set of headlamps to give the front end a more contemporary look. xDrive cars get 18-inch wheels and chrome for the grille and exhaust, plus aluminium-effect roof rails and side sills.
Still, there’s no escaping the fact that the X1 is based on the previous 3 Series Touring – and this is immediately apparent once you climb aboard. There, you’ll discover that the steering wheel, gearlever and some of the switchgear are carried over from the old car.
The cabin is solidly built, but some of the plastics feel a little hard and overall the X1 isn’t as modern or upmarket as the Audi. Passengers don’t fare too badly – two adults can sit comfortably in the back – but the X1 doesn’t offer any more legroom than the average family hatch, plus its small rear doors make accessing the back seats tricky.
On the plus side, those seats fold flat to the floor without the need to tumble the bases forward, and the maximum luggage capacity is just 15 litres down on the Q3’s, at 1,350 litres. However, with the seats up, the BMW’s boot suffers more wheelarch intrusion than the Audi’s, giving only 420 litres of space as opposed to the Audi’s more generous 460 litres.
Cabin stowage is decent, especially if you go without sat-nav – then, a large bin in the centre of the dash fills the gap where the screen would be.
The X1 doesn’t have the lofty SUV-like driving position of the Q3, but the seats are comfortable and the interior wraps around you in typical BMW fashion, reflecting the company’s driver-focused values.
Unfortunately, first impressions on the move are not good, as the steering is very heavy at low speed. While rear-wheel-drive sDrive X1s get electric power-steering, 4x4 xDrives have the older hydraulically assisted set-up, which robs them of the lightness of touch that we now expect from BMWs.
Things get better once you’re up to speed, as the steering is precise and offers plenty of natural feedback, while body roll is kept in check and there’s lots of grip. With 18-inch wheels and run-flat tyres, there’s a firm edge to the ride, and the revised X1 still doesn’t hit the sweet spot between handling and comfort.
And because it’s 105kg heavier than the Q3, it never feels as agile as its small dimensions suggest. Yet despite a 60Nm torque deficit, performance is strong, helped by a sharp throttle response: the 2.0-litre 18d engine feels faster and punchier than the Audi’s.
At the test track, the X1 and Q3 are closely matched, and it’s only in the higher gears that the BMW can edge ahead against the stopwatch. The engine’s refinement makes a good impression, too. Noise is well isolated from the cabin and it’s smooth and quiet on the move. The snappy six-speed manual gearbox is great, while the standard stop-start system ensures the 18d emits only 144g/km of CO2 – placing it one tax band lower than the Audi. During our test, we averaged respectable 38.9mpg economy.
Fixed-price servicing also helps to lower running costs, but the X1 can’t match the Audi’s residuals. If that’s a marker of the BMW’s desirability, we wonder whether the updates have done enough to hand the revised crossover victory in this test?