► All-new 2015 BMW X1 road test
► Built on front-drive architecture
► Top 25d xDrive 4wd model tested
Everyone deserves a second chance, so the saying goes. The original BMW X1 was a bit of a mongrel, forcing a square-peg off-roader bodystyle to fit a platform based on the previous-generation 3-series Touring. The result was a car that not only looked a bit odd, but also didn’t have quite as much interior and luggage space as an SUV really ought to.
Didn’t stop people buying plenty of them, mind. The first-generation X1 shifted a mammoth 730,000 units worldwide and in 2014 it comfortably outsold the X3 in the UK.
Expect this, the sequel, to do even better. Because this time it’s based not on a rehashed rear-wheel-drive estate car but BMW’s new front-drive platform that underpins the 2-series Active Tourer people carrier, as well as upcoming larger members of the Mini family.
Another front-wheel-drive BMW? Hmm.
It makes perfect sense. Working with a transverse-engined platform rather than the old X1’s north-south arrangement allows for far greater interior space, for a start. Despite being 15mm shorter than its predecessor, X1 MkII offers 37mm more rear legroom (or a bit more with the seats slid back on runners) and even greater gains in the boot. There’s a whopping 85-litre increase in luggage space (to 505 litres in total), and another 200 litres with the rear seats down (1550 litres).
It’s allowed the design team to sketch the X1 in the mould of a conventional 4x4 from the outset, too. Part of the reason the original X1 looked a bit awkward was because its front wheels were so far forward; now the X1 looks more as you’d expect, following a scaled-down template of the X3 and X5’s proportions. It’s stopped slouching and stood up straight, essentially. With a roofline that’s 53mm taller, the seating position has jumped a notch or two as well, with a more conventional high-set SUV driver’s eye view.
Anyway, the vast majority of X1s sold will be four-wheel-drive xDrive versions. They’ll use the same system as the Active Tourer xDrive, which uses a hydraulically controlled clutch inside the rear drive axle to direct a more or less infinitely variable split of torque to the front and rear wheels. During steady-state driving the hydraulic pump depressurises and returns the car to its front-drive roots, to conserve energy and fuel.
Which member of the 2015 BMW X1 family is being tested here?
Four engines are offered from launch in the UK, one petrol and three diesels, all from BMW’s latest 2.0-litre, four-cylinder modular line-up. We’re driving the top diesel model, the four-wheel-drive, 228bhp 25d xDrive.
Although it makes a typical diesel gargle as the X1 gets up to speed, once it’s up there it really is super quiet. This is a refined, well-insulated car. With 332lb ft on tap, there’s a useful swell of torque to lean on and the eight-speed automatic transmission does a good job of keeping it bang in the middle of it at all times.
Handling impresses too. There’s not a hint of slack in the steering, with instant and evenly rated response, and body control is impeccable with less roll than you’d expect. That said, our test car was equipped with the optional electronically controlled adaptive dampers. Regardless, the X1’s stable, predictable and changes direction well. The nose tucks in nicely on turn in and stays there, the 4wd system shuffling power to whichever end needs it the most in long corners. If you’re feeling adventurous you can even trim the X1’s line mid-corner with a lift of the throttle, safe in the knowledge that it won’t do anything untoward.
What about practicality? Is the smallest BMW X car actually a usable family car?
Like the 2-series Active Tourer MPV, the rear seats can be mounted on rails with the bench and backrests split into sections, and the seat backs can be folded down remotely from the boot via electric switches.
In fact, interior space isn’t as far behind the boxier (and slightly cheaper) Active Tourer than you might imagine. The X1 might be the fashion-conscious, image over luggage choice, but buyers won’t have to suffer for their art – this is a car that really is pretty good at carrying people and things.
The interior itself is a big step forward in quality over its predecessor, with en vogue vodka bar lighting along the dash and doors, and quality that’s hard to knock. And if you do knock it, it feels nice; there’s plenty of plush, soft-touch materials and the gaps between the trim sections are micron-thin.
The original BMW X1 sold like particularly hot cakes, despite not actually being all that brilliant a car in the cold light of day. This all-new successor is actually a very decent vehicle, with fewer compromises on packaging, dynamics or style. We’d best get used to what the new X1 looks like – we’ll be seeing a lot of it.