Thursday 8 December 2016

Cars: Why BMW X1 is much better 'back to front'

Just watch out for pricey options

Published 13/03/2016 | 02:30

Front wheel drive: BMW X1
Front wheel drive: BMW X1

It's amazing what can happen when you turn things back to front. I know from personal experience it usually ends in a chaotic mess. But with BMW's new X1 Sports Activity Vehicle (SAV), it wasn't a case of getting something wrong. They really meant to do it.

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Which means we get this 'baby' SUV, sorry SAV (they are sticklers about distinguishing it from SUVs), with front-wheel drive instead of the long and venerated tradition of Beemers driving the rear wheels.

The turnaround arises from a new platform which allows front-wheel-drive. So they switched. It is an important milestone technically and from your point of view, it brings several benefits. Among the more immediately discernible is the additional space for passengers at the back - and boot room.

But here I am, jumping ahead again - and stand accused of putting the cart before the horse - because I should explain more about the car first. So let's start at the beginning.

The X1 is the smallest SAV in the Beemer line-up. The previous generation was most un-SAV like. Indeed, I have compared it many times to an estate. It was okay but in a limited fashion. I think this is far more like what people are looking for. Indeed, if it hadn't been transformed, I would have feared for its ability to impact on a buying public going through an intense phase of 'Crossover' mania - especially with competitors such as the Audi Q3 and Mercedes GLA around.

This X1 is tall, burly and immediately recognisable as a member of the upmarket club. With all the intruding paraphernalia associated with rear-wheel-drive removed, the designers and engineers were free to exploit the extra space.

And they did so with some gusto. The rear seats can slide back or forwards (optional) to give more, or less, room for passengers or luggage.

I went back there and sat in to see how a big old frame like mine would get on. I wasn't bathing in spaciousness but I had enough. Knee and leg room are up 37mm and with the seats fully pushed back there's 66mm more.

The 505-litre boot - that's a decent number for a car of this size - expands to 1,500 litres when you fold the rear seats. The front passenger seat folds, too, if you need to carry something long and awkward.

I think this is all the more impressive because the car itself is 15mm shorter, though 53mm taller and 23mm wider.

The driving position is much better, too, (the seating is 36mm taller) and the car's compact nature suited me grand for lots of trekking around town.

Yet the driving itself is where I think it has improved most over the old one.

There are cars you like driving and there are cars you just steer around.

This had the sort of feel to make you want to drive, to enjoy the feedback of chassis and steering - and the pull of a decent engine.

It's a difficult thing to achieve in a car of this nature - and not necessarily what yummy mummies are going to be boasting about - but I think they've got it spot on.

Incidentally, my test car had all-wheel-drive (denoted by 'x' - those with front-wheel-drive only have an 's'). The additional traction was welcome but never seriously in demand on good roads.

More people want this facility on their cars and the X1 lineup reflects that.

The new motor also reflects a step-up in price but BMW say that is more than justified by the array of new technology and equipment. Be that as it may, and allowing for all sorts being added to my test car, paying north of €50,000 for the likes of this is really pushing things. I know people like their comforts and bits and pieces, but for most buyers I think this needs to be around the €45,000 mark in total. Otherwise, you'd be as well off getting into something bigger - which defeats the purpose of these small SUVs/SAVs in the first place.

And that only serves to show that while sometimes getting things back to front can be a good thing, it isn't always the case.

Facts & figures

BMW X1 xDrive20d xLine SAV, 2-litre diesel, 190bhp, 4.9l/100km (57.6mpg), 128g/km (€270 road tax).

Prices start €38,400 (sDrive 18d SE). Test car €53,520; with options €62,298.

Standard equipment includes 6.5ins iDrive control display, sat nav, air con, auto tailgate, front fogs, electric windows, electric/adjustable/heated exterior mirrors, rain sensor, auto headlights, forward vehicle collision warning, city collision mitigation.

Options: Park Distance Control (PDC), cruise control, Technology Package, reversing assist camera, Harmon Kardon hi-fi, panoramic glass sunroof.

My side of the road

I can't wait for the day when all cars have reversing cameras and alerts as standard. Seeing people back into and out of parking spaces gives me the chills. It is not so much the several close calls to damaging a vehicle. It is more the risk to pedestrians. Especially the reversing out part. Especially when there are people walking behind. And especially when there are children in tow. 

ecunningham@independent.ie

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