It’s fair to say that the outgoing BMW X1, launched in 2009, wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea.
Yes, it sold well – some 730,000 globally and 40,000 in the UK alone – but it had a slight identity problem, occupying a fuzzy area somewhere between an SUV, hatchback and estate.
BMW’s clearly listened to the feedback and returned with an all-new BMW X1 which is thoroughly well thought out and a far better all-round package.
More spacious and refined, the new X1 puts BMW in the driving seat at the premium end of the UK’s fastest growing sector.
Better proportioned and with off-road capability in the case of the 4WD variants, the X1 is a serious contender.
There are four engines to choose from, starting with a frugal 1.8-litre diesel capable of 69mpg, two more powerful 2.0 and 2.5-litre diesels, plus a 2.0-litre petrol.
But it’s the xDrive20d we tested that’s likely to be the most popular in the range.
Outwardly the new X1 has evolved into a much more attractive car – the front dominated by a large version of BMW’s signature kidney grille and a more defined “X” look.
For the record, it’s also wider and higher than the old X1, and slightly shorter.
Inside, the BMW family interior is evident, especially up front, giving it a mostly classy feel, though some of the plastics used let down the show.
BMWs now come equipped with sat navs as standard and the new X1 is no exception. It’s part of BMW’s iDrive touchscreen infotainment system (go for the optional larger 8.8-inch version) which also controls the phone, audio and various other settings. There are also three driving modes – Comfort, Sport or Eco pro.
But it’s the head-up display that deserves a special mention – it’s one of the clearest systems out there, projecting essential sat nav instruction, speed limit signs and your speed on the screen directly in front of you.
The driving experience itself is relaxed in Comfort and Eco pro modes, though a little more rapid in Sport mode. If you want more exhilation you’ll have to wait until the M-Sport version is launched later in the year.
The other aspect of the new X1 you immediately notice is its refinement – the 2.0D engine is so quiet it could easily be mistaken for a petrol model. Indeed, when cruising on fast, smooth stretches of road, it’s the slight road and wind noise that’s more noticeable.
The xDrive20d features a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, but my car came with an optional, and very smooth, eight-speed Steptronic transmission.
BMW claims it can reach 62mph in 7.6 seconds and top out at 136mph and it’s capable of 57.6mpg. In the real world I suspect it’s closer to 45mpg, but decent all the same.
The driving position is higher than before, while the comfortable seats offer plenty of adjustment and feel just right.
Even with tall people in the front, there’s plenty of space for 2/3 adults in the back, while the boot is a decent 505 litres, extending to 1,550 litres with the rear seats folded down. There’s also an option to have a front passenger seat that folds flat so that long, thin objects can be carried too.
The ride itself is good, though it’s no sports car and it will wallow a bit if pushed hard into a corner in Eco pro and Comfort modes.
The reality is that most X1s will probably be bought by families and not be driven to the extremes. Equally, nor are they likely to go off-road.
That said, we tried the X1 on a quite demanding, but dry, off-road course and it coped admirably up and down steep hills and a near-20-degree banked area.
For a car without massive ground clearance in standard spec, it excelled thanks to ABS and hill descent control.
The X1 range starts at £26,780, but can head up closer to £40,000 once some of the juicier optional extras have been added. For instance, I’d definitely go for the leather seats which don’t just look good, but should be very durable.
The all-new BMW X1 is a class act. Safe, spacious, refined, practical and well built, it’s strong competition for the Audi Q3 and Mercedes-Benz GLA.