BMW X1 hits the spot

BMW expects big things from its new and compact X1 SAV... with very good reason, says ANDY RUSSELL.BMW has again proved it's got the X Factor. The company created a new, desirable breed of car a decade ago with the X5 sports activity vehicle (SAV), and it hasn't looked back.

BMW expects big things from its new and compact X1 SAV... with very good reason, says ANDY RUSSELL.

BMW has again proved it's got the X Factor. The company created a new, desirable breed of car a decade ago with the X5 sports activity vehicle (SAV), and it hasn't looked back.

The smaller X3 followed in 2004 and the sporty, coupe-like X6 a couple of years ago. Now BMW moves into new territory with its first compact SAV - the X1, the first X range offered with rear-wheel drive as well as four-wheel drive with sDrive and xDrive models.

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The X1's launch is very timely, with sales of big 4x4s on the wane in the current economic climate with some owners looking to downsize while others want better fuel economy and the less taxing choice that comes with lower emissions.

BMW has not escaped this downturn with annual UK sales of its X5 and X3 tumbling in recent years. Enter the X1, which opens up a new niche as the only premium compact SAV currently on sale in the UK, although that will change next year when Audi launches its Q3. Until then BMW is looking to take advantage and sell about 6,500 X1s in the UK to make up for some of those lost X men and women.

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Despite its size - about the same as a BMW 3 Series Touring estate with which it shares some of its underpinnings - it's clearly part of the X family but looks more sleek and sporty with bold styling that is muscular but athletic.

With diesels dominating this sector, BMW offers the X1 in the UK with three versions of its acclaimed 2.0-litre turbo diesel - 143hp 18d, 177hp 20d (two and four-wheel drive) and a 204hp twin-turbo 23d, available only with all-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic gearbox.

I had planned to drive the two-wheel drive X1 sDrive 20d SE - expected to be the big seller - but the range-topping xDrived23d arrived. This twin-turbo 2.0-litre diesel won its category in the International Engine of the Year and it's not difficult to see why. With its wide spread of pulling power it picks up willingly from low revs, while 400 Newton metres of torque between 2,000 and 2,250rpm means strong mid-range urgency.

The six-speed automatic gearbox, optional on 20d, is a seamless shifter and can be used manually via the gearlever or paddles behind the steering wheel. Economy hovered around 40mpg but manual models fare far better - up to 54mpg and emissions of just 136g/km from the two-wheel drive 18d - thanks to auto start-stop technology which cuts the engine in stationary traffic.

The ride is firm travelling slowly but evens out as speed builds - it's a price worth paying for the agile handling for this is no soggy 'soft-roader' and feels agile and stable through corners. The four-wheel drive normally puts 60pc of the power to the rear wheels but can redistribute it in a tenth of a second to the wheels with the most grip. Steering is noticeably heavy when parking but has a well-weighted, responsive feel in normal driving.

It may be a compact SAC but the X1 seats four large adults with decent legroom in the back, unless the front passengers have their seats well back, and loads of headroom. Unfortunately a middle rear passenger has to straddle a chunky drivetrain tunnel. The rear seats are set quite low but the 40/20/40 back rests recline individually for extra comfort.

With the rear seats up there's a 420-litre boot - not as big as some rivals - but easy to load with a low sill and a storage tray beneath and a cubbyhole each side for nick-nacks. Those three-way split rear-seat backs make it particularly useful if you want to carry two passengers and a long load up the middle - drop all the seat backs flat and you have 1,350 litres of load space.

If you've driven a BMW you'll feel at home behind the wheel with unfussy white on black dials and user-friendly controls and, if you're new to BMW, the logical layout means you soon will be. The top of the dashboard and door cappings have a quality feel with soft-touch surfaces but, while the build cannot be faulted, lower down some of the plastics are not so tactile.

In true BMW style the driving position is first-rate - apart from the driver's seat height adjuster which means having to lift your weight off the seat before it will raise rather than crank-up, push-down ratchet adjustment which is now the norm.

Available only in SE, the standard kit includes 17in alloy wheels, six airbags, stability control, front foglights, rear parking sensors and dual-zone climate control. Four-wheel drive models also get hill descent control, aluminium roof rails and the xLine package of aluminium trim panels for the bottom of the bumpers and sills.

I had my misgivings about BMW's 'baby' X model but it's no gimmick. With or without four-wheel drive this is a very creditable alternative to a compact estate car and that BMW badge makes it even more desirable.

BMW X1 xDrive23d SE

PRICE: �29,900 (from �23,325)

ENGINE: 1,995cc, 204hp, twin-turbo, four-cylinder diesel

PERFORMANCE: 0-62mph 7.3 seconds; top speed 127mph

MPG: Urban 36.2; extra urban 51.4; combined 44.8

EMISSIONS: 167g/km



WARRANTY: Three years/unlimited mileage

WILL IT FIT IN THE GARAGE? Length 4,454mm; width (including door mirrors) 2,006mm; height 1,545mm

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