Crossover models blend the looks of an off-roader with the driving dynamics of a hatchback – and with its sporty rear-wheel-drive chassis, the BMW X1
has all the hallmarks of a winner. Especially if you like the look of the 1-Series, because, while the firm’s X3 and X5 models bear little resemblance to their 3 and 5-Series stablemates, the X1 is closely related to its more conventional cousin.
It’s not an entirely successful transformation, though, as the X1 appears bloated and heavy.
It lacks the presence of its rivals and sits much lower than the Kia and Land Rover. There are some 4x4 design details, however, including alloy-effect skid plates and squared-off wheelarches.
The firm’s trademark double-kidney grille, distinctive headlights and window line also ensure that there will be no mistaking the car’s origins.
You step directly into the cabin – no climbing is necessary – and it’s much smaller inside than the Sportage or Freelander. In the back, for instance, you get 40mm less legroom than in the Kia. The boot is equally disappointing, with its 420-litre capacity falling well short of its rivals’. Up front, the BMW is more like a car than either of its counterparts, as you feel a lot closer to the road. There’s plenty of chair and wheel adjustment, helped by our model’s optional sports seats, and the X1 provides the best driving position here.
The cabin features similar styling and switchgear to otherBMWs. However, the quality of the plastics used on lower parts of the dashboard, and the transmission tunnel in particular, is the worst of
the three cars here.
It’s on the road where the X1 really impresses, thanks to its delicately balanced rear-wheel-drive chassis. Body roll is well contained and there’s plenty of feedback from the thick-rimmed wheel.
The stiff chassis proves uncomfortable on anything but smooth roads, though, while the heavy controls become tiresome, especially around town.
Against the clock, the X1 accelerated from 0-60mph faster than the more powerful Freelander – taking only 10.5 seconds to complete the benchmark sprint – and the in-gear times were similarly impressive. However, the longer ratios of the higher gears do blunt responses a little. The trade-off comes at the pumps, as the BMW’s gearing helps economy. And while it couldn’t match its official claims on our test route (its return of 33.8mpg trailed the 36mpg Kia), the X1 is an economical choice. Low CO2 emissions of 136g/km also make it by far the least polluting machine here.
But although the X1 will appeal to enthusiastic drivers and company buyers, it’s rear-drive set-up is ill-suited to even mild off-road duties, and it lacks the all-round appeal of the other two cars in this test.
Chart position: 3WHY: Rear-wheel-drive chassis means X1 should be the most fun to drive car, while EfficientDynamics technology boosts its economy and emissions figures.