"Practical and comfortable, the X1 combines the driver appeal of a sporty hatchback with the practicality of an estate."
The BMW X1 compact crossover is designed to offer a solution for motorists looking to downsize from a large executive saloon car or who need a little bit more space than is offered by a standard small hatchback. Combining a practical interior with compact dimensions and a raised body, the X1 – a more macho spin on the BMW 1 Series – offers decent handling, low emissions and powerful petrol and diesel engines. It also brings BMW's premium badge appeal to the small crossover segment. The X3 and X5's little brother is competent to drive rather than a lot of fun, but the diesel engines do balance out strong performance and impressive fuel economy. Rivals include everything from the Volkswagen Tiguan and Range Rover Evoque to the Audi Q3 and MINI Countryman. You can choose between two models – a four-wheel drive xDrive version or entry-level rear-wheel drive sDrive – in four specifications, SE, Sport, xLine and M Sport, all for less than the price of a Q3 or Evoque.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
It's slightly annoying that the X1 doesn’t match the high performance of the 1 Series, but it costs about the same to insure it, with even the cheapest, slowest models getting expensive premiums. So it's a good thing that BMW has clearly focused on keeping the X1's day-to-day costs to a minimum. The most efficient model is the rear-wheel drive sDrive 20d EfficientDynamics, which returns 62.8mpg in fuel economy and emits only 119g/km of CO2. That's pretty decent for a chunkier car that can still go from 0-62mph in 8.3 seconds. But even the entry-level sDrive 16d can manage to return 57.6mpg and emit 128g/km. The petrol engines are a different story, however, and we’d recommend avoiding them, as the four-wheel-drive 20i returns just 37.7mpg and pumps out a hefty 176g/km of CO2.
Interior & comfort
While it doesn’t have as high a driving position as a Q3, you’re still elevated and the tall suspension gives the driver a great view of the road ahead. There's plenty of adjustment in the seat and pleasingly chunky steering wheel so it's easy to find that sweet spot just for you, too. In the back, legroom is bit tight, and the steering wheel is quite hard work to turn so driving around town can get tiring quite quickly. Likewise, the heavy clutch gets a bit wearing, particularly if you’re caught in the stop/start of a traffic jam. Once out on the open road, matters improve a lot, with the firm suspension keeping body roll in check around the bends. However, the trade-off is a hard ride that gets uncomfortable on all but the smoothest surfaces. In fact, we’d avoid fitting larger alloy wheels and have a long, hard think about getting the M Sport model over the standard SE.
Practicality & boot space
So, the ride is often uncomfortable to keep the car in control and interior comfort is slightly compromised by the interior layout, but what about the X1's 420-litre boot? Well, that's 40 litres less than an Audi Q3 and a substantial 155 litres behind the Range Rover Evoque. Fold the back seats down, and the X1's luggage capacity expands to 1,350 litres, which is still 15 litres less than the Q3 – but then the X1 is shorter overall anyway. Inside, there are lots of storage cubbies dotted around, plus useful load protectors, while top-spec models have roof rails fitted as standard. The back windscreen is a bit small, so seeing out the back for reversing and parking can be a bit tricky.
Reliability & safety
BMW dropped a place in the 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, making it the lowest ranking premium car manufacturer in the survey. The X1, meanwhile, placed 58th in the top 100 – held back from a higher ranking because owners found the ride uncomfortable and it hard to drive. However, it ranked 14th for reliability, so drivers dead set on an X1 can buy with some peace of mind. Coming equipped with traction control, electronic stability control, a full range of airbags, ISOFIX child seat anchor points and seatbelt reminders as standard, it's also stuffed full of safety equipment. It also boasts the maximum five-star rating from the Euro NCAP crash safety tests, with an excellent 87 per cent for adult protection. Inside, the quality was improved by a 2011 facelift, especially in the xDrive, but the standard of material used under the dashboard and for the door trims are still not class leading. But this is a case of BMW not meeting its own particularly high standards rather than that of any other manufacturer, to be honest.
Engines, drive & performance
It's worth bearing in mind that the four-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive versions of the X1 do offer two marginally different driving experiences. The 4x4 model has improved off-road ability (although it's still more at home on the tarmac), while the rear-wheel drive car is naturally sportier and more agile on-road. The rear-wheel drive model also has better fuel economy thanks to less energy being used turning the wheels. Both models can be competent cruisers, but anyone expecting the same razor sharp handling of the 1 Series and 3 Series will be disappointed, as the high-riding X1 just isn’t in the same class. Unfortunately, the heavier controls preventing it from engaging in the same way, while the weighty steering make it hard work in town. There's very little body roll and it has lots of grip, however, and the eight-speed automatic gearbox is surprisingly superior to the already-excellent six-speed manual version. Combined with the 2.0-litre diesel engine, the automatic is powerful and great for overtaking.
Price, value for money & options
If you’re considering buying an X1, make sure you’ve weighed up the low running costs against the car's purchase price. The cost is certainly competitive with its nearest rivals, but even the cheapest X1 does represent a significant investment of funds. And when it comes to time to sell, the X1 has nowhere near the resale value of the Q3 in the used car market. However, there's no doubting that the car comes well equipped – whichever model you choose – with electric windows, air-conditioning, climate and cruise control, and an MP3 stereo with Bluetooth connectivity all offered as standard. Just be wary of the options list, as extras like sat-nav can send the final cost of an X1 through the roof.