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In-depth reviews

BMW X1 SUV - Engines, drive & performance

The latest X1 is one of the most entertaining compact SUVs on a twisty road, especially with one of the more powerful engines

Carbuyer Rating

4.2 out of 5

Owners Rating

3.0 out of 5

Read owner reviews
Engines, drive & performance Rating

4.0 out of 5

BMW’s SUV models have, for a long time, gone against the idea that large cars aren’t fun to drive. The latest BMW X1 is no different – despite its front-wheel drive setup. The finely-tuned chassis and strong engine range provide a driving experience that is much more involving than the equivalent Audi Q3 or Volvo XC40.

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The X1’s lack of steering feel may not be exactly what drivers of BMW sports cars and saloons may have come to expect, but it remains direct and is nicely-weighted whenever the car is placed into its ‘Sport’ drive mode. It feels more like a hatchback to drive than an SUV, with a nose that quickly dives into corners, very little body lean and lots of grip. However, the trade-off is a firm ride, particularly in the M Sport version with large alloy wheels. While adaptive dampers are fitted, these react automatically and the driver can’t choose a softer setting.

BMW X1 SUV: diesel engines

The entry-level sDrive18d diesel is the only model in the X1 range that doesn’t come with any kind of mild-hybrid assistance, and is one of just two engines – the other being the 20i petrol – that doesn’t get xDrive all-wheel drive. Instead, the 18d (and 20i) send their power via the front wheels only, quite unlike rear-driven BMWs of old.

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The 18d produces 148bhp from its 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine and is best suited for around-town driving; 0-62mph takes an uninspiring 8.9 seconds. This version, like all others, comes fitted with an automatic gearbox as standard.

Topping the diesel lineup is the xDrive23d. This uses a tuned version of the entry-level car’s engine, alongside 48-volt mild-hybrid technology – including a 19bhp electric motor – to produce a total of 222bhp. This cuts the 0-62mph time down to just 7.4 seconds, but it should feel even faster thanks to the instant torque from the electric motor.

Petrol engines

Those wanting a petrol X1 have two mild-hybrid engines to choose from since the 23i was joined by the entry-level 20i. The 20i is the cheapest route into X1 ownership, but the 168bhp three-cylinder engine isn’t as weedy as it sounds – 0-62mph takes just 8.3 seconds.

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Those wanting a bit more poke and performance should look at the 215bhp xDrive23i. The 0-62mph sprint takes just 7.1 seconds, which not that long ago would have been the preserve of sports coupes and hot hatchbacks. Power arrives in a linear surge, and while the gearbox can hesitate slightly as you’re setting off, it’s more responsive once up to speed. 

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There are shift paddles on the back of the steering wheel if you wish to change gears yourself, though it isn’t as smooth as BMW’s eight-speed units and sometimes has trouble juggling the power under harsh acceleration. The way the mild-hybrid system switches off and restarts the petrol engine is impressively seamless, however.

Midway through 2023 BMW also released a high-performance petrol M35i version of the X1 geared towards those after a sportier drive. We’re yet to drive it, but this version gets a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine with 296bhp and can get from 0-62mph in 5.4 seconds with a 155mph top speed. 

It also has a limited-slip differential, larger brakes, adaptive M suspension, a 15mm-lower ride height and a sportier steering setup. An M Sport Boost function unique to the model also puts all power delivery and chassis settings into their sportiest configuration at the pull of a paddle shifter. An uprated M Sport twin-pipe exhaust also features, with BMW promising an improved soundtrack as you drive.

Plug-in hybrids

As well as a pure-electric iX1 which we’ve reviewed separately, BMW offers a pair of plug-in hybrid models – badged xDrive25e and xDrive30e. Both will utilise the three-cylinder petrol engine found in the 20i, alongside an electric motor to produce 242bhp and 322bhp respectively. 

That’s a lot of power for such a small car – the xDrive30e will reach 62mph in under six seconds – but the added weight of the batteries means the plug-in X1s won’t be as nimble on a twisty road as their petrol and diesel-powered siblings.

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Which Is Best?

Cheapest

  • Name
    sDrive 18i SE 5dr
  • Gearbox type
    Manual
  • Price
    £28,335

Most Economical

  • Name
    xDrive 25e Sport 5dr Step Auto
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £41,765

Fastest

  • Name
    M35i xDrive 5dr Step Auto
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £46,685

Charlie writes and edits news, review and advice articles for Carbuyer, as well as publishing content to its social media platforms. He has also been a regular contributor to its sister titles Auto Express, DrivingElectric and evo. As well as being consumed by everything automotive, Charlie is a speaker of five languages and once lived in Chile, Siberia and the Czech Republic, returning to the UK to write about his life-long passion: cars.

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