Tuesday 20 February 2018

this bmw beats the hype

Sometimes only you and the car are all that matter. All the talk, the mechanics, the hype mean only so much. It is easy to be taken in by it all. Easy to congratulate yourself as you reflect on the glowing words that praise your purchase while you take it on its maiden voyage. What an endorsement of your judgment; what a clever buy.

Good for you if that's what keeps you happy.

Someone somewhere agrees with you.

Of course, if you look long and hard enough, you'll find as many who don't.

I tend to steer clear of much of the 'waffle' that shrouds motoring in general and cars in particular. Maybe that leaves me in blissful ignorance but I prefer to risk that than feel pressurised into 'liking' something because it is the 'in' thing to do.

I can use the vast array of facts and figures at my disposal to make the BMW X1 I had on test seem like an outstanding new arrival. I can use the same set of statistics to systematically undermine its credentials.

The fact of the matter is that most cars these days have a lot in common.

They are far better engineered, built and equipped than they were 10 years ago; and in the main they are much more economical, more reliable and last longer.

So you are looking for something that appeals to you so long as it falls within the boundaries of your general needs and budget.

The X1 has its failings. Some of the plastic low down in the cabin is not what you'd expect from a prestige marque; there is an awfully shallow rear window, and while the handling and ride are sharp and to the point, road bumps could knock it out of its stride a bit.

Despite that, and more, I liked it because it is more like a large estate than a compact SUV. It is easier to manage and drive than many a saloon and it clips along at a really decent pace without any fuss. It engages you. Sorry, it engaged me.

This is seen as the motor to replace the current X3 (the bigger brother SUV that hasn't exactly lit up the suburban driveways) and to woo those of you lucky to have a 3-series Touring (estate). It shares the latter's wheelbase but is 80mm shorter and 20mm narrower, as well as being taller and lighter.

But I wouldn't limit my thinking on this to being an alternative to these. I do feel it a bit more relevant than that. I can see it filling a lot of roles.

That is primarily due to two factors. It has enough room for the average family and a cracking two-litre diesel. Unless the children are more than six foot they'll be alright in the back.

So with the essential bases covered, I think the bit that won me over was how sprightly it was.

By sheer coincidence, I had been rooting through some performance figures for cars that would not under any circumstances be seen as alternatives to this.

Yet it has exactly the same acceleration time as the Golf GTD (the highly rated diesel alternative to the Gti). Not only that, but it has much the same power, price and emissions. So we are talking seriously nippy baby BMW SUV here.

There's more. The price came down by more than €6,000 some time back so it now nestles in the mid €30,000s. Yes, it's still a lot of money but a much more realistic asking price.

And with a fine six-speed gearbox to help the diesel consumption, it nudges into the €156 annual road tax bracket.

Thankfully they also realise that we don't all want 4x4 technology in our smart SUVs so they have versions with rear-wheel-drive as well. These are denoted, as was my test motor, with an 's', while the 4x4s get a 'z'.

Because the 's' has a different front axle, the steering is crisp, taut and responsive. That's where most people really interact with their car and over 800km or so I enjoyed the liveliness of this package.

It manages to look well, some would say smart, and I found it especially easy to park (rear sensor comes as standard), though I found the shallow rear window is a curse for visibility overall.

But you might not, because the steering can feel heavy and take a bit of work. Now I like that, but you may not and it is something we often overlook despite being the one point of the car with which we are in most frequent contact.

I wouldn't go proclaiming it as having the easiest boot to use. It is quite spacious but there's a high-lip entry point.

And they certainly need to look at suppressing engine noise a bit better.

The Nissan Qashqai, a potential rival, has a much lighter feel, is less expensive and can be fun.

But there is the undoubted snob value of the BMW logo and a real sense of liveliness about this.

I think it will be around for quite a while because it has that little 'something' to make you feel good. Now isn't that something to say in these grim times?

ecunningham@independent.ie

Irish Independent

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