Some things are better second time around. Take the BMW X1. The original car was great, though far from being one of BMW's best efforts. The second generation has put right many of the first X1's wrongs. Available since 2015, the second X1 drives brilliantly and is more practical than its small size might lead you to expect.
Some of BMW's recent designs could politely be described as challenging to look at. Fortunately, the X1 is very easy on the eye. There's a definite family resemblance to the larger X3 and X5, For a relatively small car, the X1 packs a big visual punch. The proportions are just right, and the sharp-edged bodywork can look extra moody in dark colours.
A facelift in 2019 added a larger grille, new bumper and redesigned LED lights. You can spot the changes if you see a face-lifted model next to an earlier car, even if it’s only subtle. Either way this is a good-looking car.
The X1 packs a big visual punch.
What’s it like to drive?
If the X1's looks get you interested, the way it drives will have you hooked. There's a choice of rear- and four-wheel-drive models. Either way, the X1 drives more like a sports saloon than a typical SUV. On a twisty road, the X1 is nippy and agile. Whether you go for a petrol, diesel or plug-in hybrid, it has lively acceleration offering good control on motorways and enough zip for city driving.
Some buyers will find the ride on the firm side – the Range Rover Evoque does a better job of smoothing over rough roads. If you enjoy driving, though, you'll get a kick out of the X1.
If the X1's looks get you interested, the way it drives will have you hooked.
Even if it is the smallest of the X cars, BMW's designers have cleverly built in comfort and convenience while ensuring space remains a big feature. You sit lower to the ground in the X1 than in many SUVs, although most drivers will find the position is comfortable.
There's plenty of head and legroom in the front, even for tall drivers. If you have a dodgy back, check any X1 you are looking at has lumbar adjustment, as not all do. There's enough room for adults to travel in the back. Two will be comfy, three a little more of a squeeze. Besties only, perhaps.
The X1's cabin is high in quality, as well as generous with space. There's a premium look and feel to the materials that rivals the wow factor of the Volvo XC40's cabin.
Top-notch infotainment is another highlight. The touchscreen display is as crisp and clear as your new TV, and the iDrive rotary controller makes it easy to find your way through the system's menus. Don’t be taken in too much by its good looks when you’re driving, though – eyes on the road.
Apple CarPlay is standard, along with Bluetooth and a DAB radio. There's bad news if you own an Android phone, though, as Android Auto is not yet available. If you’re a secret muso, and want sounds as well as smooth driving, look out for an X1 with the Harman/Kardon stereo upgrade, which adds more power and extra speakers.
The X1 boasts a generous amount of bootspace. There's more room for luggage than you'd find in most compact SUVs, and the rear seats fold flat for extra space. They also split into three parts, rather than the more usual two, which is really handy if you need to carry something long in the boot and still need space for two passengers in the back. That’s your ‘take the kids flatpack shopping’ dilemma at least partly sorted.
If you go for the xDrive 25e plug-in hybrid, there's slightly less boot space to make room for the added electrics. The difference isn't huge, though, so the hybrid still makes for a practical family car. There's plenty of storage dotted around the cabin, including generous door bins in the front.
Running costs and reliability
For the lowest running costs, go for one of the sDrive rear-wheel-drive models. These tend to have slightly better fuel economy and lower emissions than the xDrive 4x4s. An sDrive 18i will do 44.1-45.6mpg, according to the official figures.
On paper, the plug-in hybrid is the most economical model, achieving around 150mpg in the official tests. Whether you get close to that figure will depend on how often you’re able to recharge the car's batteries.
What we love
The way the X1 drives is what makes it stand out from other compact SUVs. It's so much fun. Even the heavy hybrid corners with poise and agility, and the most powerful petrol and diesel models deliver punchy performance. Other than a firm ride, there's not much to put you off – the X1 is roomy and good value.
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Town and country drivers
Who should buy an X1? It's quite a long list. If you enjoy driving, the BMW ticks all the right boxes. The X1 is also practical enough to make a fine family car. If you value comfort over agility then maybe look elsewhere. Otherwise, the X1 will suit lots of car buyers.
This review was