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BMW X1 xDrive23d SE Review

BMW X1 xDrive23d SE in the snow

BMW X1 xDrive23d SE

BMW X1 xDrive23d SE

Model/Engine size: 2.0-litre
Fuel: Diesel
Fuel economy combined: 44.8 mpg

Green-Car-Guide rating: 7/10

Everyone wants the traction of a 4×4 at the moment, but 4x4s are perceived as being completely unacceptable from a green point of view, so surely the new BMW X1, with four-wheel drive and low emissions, sounds like an ideal solution – however can it cope with snow and ice?

The BMW X1 is a new car. You’ll probably get the idea from its name that it’s something to do with a 1 Series, but with the X factor, ie four-wheel drive. Well you’d almost be correct.

It’s actually based on the four-wheel drive 3 Series Touring. If you didn’t realise such a car exists, that’s because it doesn’t in the UK, but it does in Europe. So that must automatically mean that the X1 is the size of the 3 Series, not the smaller 1 Series.

But hang on, what about the X3. Isn’t that a four-wheel drive 3 Series? Confused?

The X1 is actually a similar size to the X3, just slightly smaller. However the X3 is due to be replaced soon, and no prizes for guessing that the new one will be larger than the existing model, to make more space between the X1 and X3.

So all X1s are four-wheel drive, right? No. Two models are available in rear-wheel drive form only, and they’re called sDrive. There are three versions available in four-wheel drive form, all are called xDrive. And all are only available with diesel engines, as BMW doesn’t see any market demand for petrol powerplants in this sector in the UK.

As it’s a small SUV – or as BMW describes it, the only premium compact Sports Activity Vehicle currently on sale in the UK – and all models come with BMW’s EfficientDynamics energy-saving technologies, you’d expect that economy must be class-leading. In the case of the most efficient 18d two-wheel drive version, with 54.3mpg mpg and 136g/km CO2, you’d be right, but a two-wheel drive car is obviously not allowed in our four-wheel drive category. The two-wheel drive 20d (predicted to be the biggest seller in the range) comes close to these figures with 53.3mpg mpg and 139g/km CO2.

There are three engine options for the four-wheel drive versions, a 18d (143hp), a 20d (177hp) and a 23d (204hp). Emissions of the xDrive 18d are 150g/km, the 20d emits 153g/km, and the 23d emits 167g/km. So the xDrive18d can be described as class-leading, but unfortunately this doesn’t quite apply to the 23d, and it was the 23d that we tested.

The X1 comes as standard with a six-speed manual gearbox, but the 23d comes with BMW’s six-speed automatic transmission with Steptronic function, which can also be changed manually with the help of flappy paddles on the steering wheel (there’s some debate about whether they change up and down as you’d expect by pulling/pushing). But it’s still basically an automatic.

The test car also came with a number of extras, including BMW’s Business Advanced navigation system (£1,400), Design package (£1,575), and Y-spoke alloy wheels (£640), resulting in the basic price of £29,055 becoming £34,230 with the optional extras. The price of the cheapest X3 is £28,685. So already we have a problem. This X1 is hardly a small, affordable 4×4, and in 23d form it’s even more expensive than its bigger brother. The better news is that the X1 range starts at £22,660 for the sDrive 18d SE model.

There’s more good news. The X1 drives very well. It’s a BMW, so you’d expect it to. The X3 receives less than rave reviews about how it drives, especially about its overly-firm ride. This is a subjective area, and we liked the X3 that we tested . But the X1 is agile and enjoyable through corners, whereas the X3 just feels too big to drive in an enthusiastic way, even though, as we’ve already established, it’s not that much larger than the X1.

The 23d’s four-cylinder in-line diesel engine with common-rail technology comes with twin-turbos and won the International Engine of the Year award, and is well-suited to the car. Performance is good, reaching 62 mph from rest in just 7.3 seconds, and the car is reasonably quiet at speed. However in our view the automatic transmission does spoil the driving enjoyment of this engine. the driving enjoyment. The xDrive four-wheel-drive system has power split to a default rear bias of 60:40, however it also has fully-variable torque split which theoretically should assist with traction both on and off the road.

The X1 also comes with a Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) system that regulates power to each wheel. The Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) function of DSC allows for a greater degree of wheel slip before the traction control safety net intervenes.

As part of the EfficientDynamics technologies, Auto Start-Stop is introduced on an X product for the first time, and is available on all manual transmission cars (so not our test car). The X1 also has Brake Energy Regeneration, optimised aerodynamics, optimum shift indicator and on-demand use of ancillary units.

Predictably our economy figures didn’t match the official stats; we averaged 38.2 mpg on motorways and A-roads when driving carefully. This isn’t bad compared to most 4x4s, and when compared with the official combined figure of 44.8mpg, especially bearing in mind that the winter weather doesn’t help with economy. We’d like to see a more prominent fuel economy read-out on the dash.

Inside the X1 is a perfectly nice place to be. It does feel like a shrunken SUV that’s on a budget, which from one perspective is fine, because that’s the idea. Until you remember that the test car costs £29,055, or £34,230 with the optional extras. The car came with leather trim, and the seats had too many adjustments to know what they all do, but the verdict of our testers was that the seats were comfortable. Lack of storage space was a criticism, and the flappy paddles and indicator stalks behind the steering wheel are all rather close together. The SatNav fitted to the car was the latest version and worked well. The SatNav is one of the functions controlled by the iDrive, which is also the latest system, and is impressive.

The X1 is a five-seater, room in the rear seats is good, and the boot also offers a fair amount of space. The interior temperature warms up quickly for a diesel.

On the exterior styling front, it looks good but we’re not wild about it. Our main issue is with the slightly droopy headlights, which bear a slight resemblance to the 1 Series, and we feel that’s one of the worst elements of the 1 Series styling. Other than that, the X1, while having certain chunky SUV styling cues, has a long bonnet, helping it to look sporty, which is a different styling approach for a small SUV, and it has the typical BMW short front and rear overhangs.

So overall we think the X1 is a good car. But there was one critical factor in this road test: it took place in the midst of the UK’s ‘Big Freeze’. So all the normal factors associated with everyday driving go out of the window. The hard fact was that the X1 was driven every day on snow and ice, ie. conditions that many cars in the UK have been driven in for a number of weeks now.

We like the X1, for being a small 4×4 that is good to drive and that has relatively low emissions, and we really want to report that the X1 performed well in its snow driving test. Unfortunately, driving in snow is not one of the X1’s strengths. There is one main reason for this: its tyres. Like most BMWs, the X1 comes with low profile tyres that have grooves running around the circumference of the tyre, but hardly any tread cutting across the tyre. This may be acceptable for a road-going 3 Series, but we really do question the point of fitting such tyres on a car that is supposed to offer more traction than a non-4×4. The result is a car that has more chance in the snow than a two-wheel drive vehicle, but it’s ultimately compromised by its tyres, resulting in it struggling to find grip in a flat car park covered in a few inches of snow.

But worse than the lack of traction from the tyres is the frankly dreadful braking performance on ice and snow. We acknowledge that most cars find it difficult when braking on snow and ice, as witnessed by the huge number of insurance claims over recent weeks, but we tested the X1 against the outgoing Subaru Outback diesel, which has been the low emission 4×4 class-leader until recently, and the braking distances of the BMW were well over four times longer than that of the Subaru. The Subaru had standard factory-fitted tyres, but intelligently for a 4×4, the Yokohamas have a tread pattern that works both on the road and off it – and very effectively in snow. Under gentle braking the Subaru didn’t skid at all, whereas the BMW locked up and would have slid into any oncoming object in the event of an emergency.

The extreme weather conditions may have resulted in a particular focus on the performance of the X1 in the snow, but we would really invite BMW to give thought to the tyres it fits to cars that are supposed to offer improved grip in all conditions. Offering owners the opportunity to fit winter tyres for them would help.

The automatic transmission doesn’t help with control in the snow, and the traction control is also worth a comment. In standard mode, traction control limits the amount of wheel slip, which is a good thing, but can also mean that the car won’t budge out of snow. Pressing the DTC button allows a small amount of slip, which can help in gaining progress in certain snow conditions. Pressing in the DTC button and holding it results in much reduced electronic management of the traction control systems and results in huge fun in the snow, but this should obviously not be tried at home…

The rationale behind the X1 is understandable. Like it or not, people want SUVs; their image is sexier than a boring people carrier or estate. However large SUVs are not socially acceptable, so small SUVs are the way forward. The BMW X1 drives well and is an accomplished all-rounder. However in 23d spec the X1 isn’t class-leading in terms of economy and emissions, and for a small SUV it’s very expensive.

But as our test in the big freeze has revealed, although the concept of a small SUV may be more acceptable, it does raise questions about its purpose. A more aspirational vehicle for the school run it may be, but as a car that is intended to do what a 4×4 is supposed to do, ie. offer greater grip and safety in any conditions, it doesn’t work. As we’ve stressed, this is primarily due to the tyres fitted to the car, and is not helped by the automatic transmission, and all this results in the car dropping a mark to achieve a Green-Car-Guide rating of 7 rather than 8 out of 10.

So we’d suggest that if you want a small 4×4 that does what a 4×4 is supposed to do, with a BMW badge, go for the cheaper 18d or 20d model, with manual transmission, and fit tyres that have some tread.

If you’re not actually interested in the added traction of a 4×4, but like the looks of the X1, then buy the cheaper-still rear-wheel drive version and put up with the standard tyres.

Or just buy a 3 Series Touring. We think it looks better, it’s better to drive, you’ll be able to get one at a lower price, and it has lower emissions. Just hope there’s not as much snow next year, and if there is, buy a set of snow tyres to fit in winter.

Fuel economy extra urban: 51.4 mpg
Fuel economy urban: 36.2 mpg
CO2 emissions: 167 g/km
Green rating: VED band H – £175
Weight: 1670 Kg
Company car tax liability (2009/10): 24%
Price: £29,055 (From £22,660 to £29,055)
Insurance group: 26
Power: 204 hp
Max speed: 127 mph
0-62mph: 7.3 seconds
DPF: Yes