Magical touch lacking in BMW's small crossover
ROAD TEST:The arrival of the BMW X1 back in 2009 heralded yet another sub-category for the premium segment as car firms like BMW sought to eek out extra sales by creating an array of cars that is as close to personalisation as mass production will allow.
Somewhere out there in the red-bricked estates of suburbia resides a buyer with a desire for a beefed-up supermini that looks like an SUV from a distance. At least that’s what BMW believes. And it’s not alone. Arch-rival Audi unveiled its own rival to the X1 at the Frankfurt motor show last autumn, albeit in “concept” form.
In reality the X1 is only an SUV if, like Dougal in Father Ted, you haven’t yet grasped the difference between small and far away.
The designers have pulled off some spatial magic with this new model and when it’s parked on its own it does look remarkably like the larger X3. It’s only when you park it alongside other cars that you realise how small a footprint the X1 has.
Sit it alongside a line of regular cars and the shape-shifting design loses its magic. Regardless of what BMW may christen this sub-sub-category of car, this is simply the premium rival to popular mainstream models like the Nissan Qashqai and its ilk.
There’s a lot to like about the X1, particularly when you sit inside. The fit and finish demands no significant sacrifice over larger siblings, at least up front. The plastics you encounter at eye level are all soft to the touch, even if those lower down are more basic fare. The higher seating position gives a better view of the road ahead than a regular family car – as with most SUVs – while there’s plenty of power on tap from the engine up front.
It’s in the rear, despite the high seating position, that the space-shifting magic starts to wear off.
Legroom is tight for adults when compared to larger models, although the boot space is akin to what you would find on a 3-Series Touring. The link with the 3-Series is not just coincidental, for the X1 shares many of its underpinnings with the BMW family saloon. Indeed, it’s really a vamped up version of the 3-Series estate.
The test car featured BMW’s xDrive four-wheel-drive system so there was plenty of grip and the X1 hunkers down well on corners to give far more nimble handling than you might expect.
Our biggest gripe with the X1’s driving dynamics was with the hydraulic steering system on the four-wheel drive version we tested, which felt far too heavy for a car of this size. Perhaps BMW wanted to give the X1 the feel of a more substantial SUV - in keeping with the styling tricks - but the end result just leaves you wondering if the power steering is acting up.