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BMW X1 review (2012 onwards)
Summary: early facelift for BMW's smallest SUV crossover, the X1. But is this and a powerful new diesel engine enough to keep customers interested in the face of some increasingly tough competition?
We like: smooth new TwinPower engine, well-judged facelift, interior has character, eight-speed auto option boosts efficiency
We don't like: surprisingly dull to drive, occasionally poor fit and finish
The BMW X1 is only two and a half years old - so it seems a little early for a facelift. Especially on a vehicle that has already sold nearly 300,000 examples worldwide; judging by this, BMW has the formula for a successful premium compact crossover SUV already cracked.
So the changes here hardly reflect a market failure. Rather, they coincide with the introduction of the X1 into the United States, while also welcoming some new engines and revised trim levels.
The X1 retains its diesel-only line-up
In the UK the engine update is limited to the new xDrive25d - a Twin Power 2.0-litre turbodiesel that produces a purposeful 218hp. In other countries there are new petrol engines as well - but for us the X1 retains its diesel-only line-up.
A new eight-speed automatic gearbox option is a first in the compact SUV segment and promises increased efficiency. Visible alterations on the outside reduce the areas of non-body-coloured plastic, the interior gets a quality upgrade and there are additional items of standard kit.
Every single X1 available to drive on the launch was finished in Valencia Orange - one of four new exterior colours and, yes, the same outstanding shade that debuted on the 1 Series M Coupé - and every single one was also an xDrive25d.
This becomes the range-topping option in the UK, and is priced from £31,860. It is hardly a surprise that BMW wanted to make a fuss of it - the new 2.0-litre diesel boasts two turbochargers and combines its 218hp with 332lb ft of torque and CO2 emissions of just 154g/km.
CO2 falls to 145g/km if you elect to pay the £1,580 extra for that eight-speed auto. Either way you get active four-wheel drive and 0-62mph in a hot hatch-worrying 6.8 seconds. A trip down an unrestricted autobahn suggests the 140mph+ top speed is no joke either...
It isn't a chest-thumping turbodiesel, though - there's no sudden satisfying wallop as the blowers come on boost. In fact, it feels almost underwhelming at first. But you quickly come to realise this is actually a tribute to just how smoothly the 2.0-litre builds revs.
For not only does this new engine use its turbos sequentially - the big one only comes into action once the small one has got the air flowing fast enough - the small turbo also features variable intake geometry. This enables it to be even more responsive, so you're never left waiting for it to spin into life.
Sounds sweet enough on the inside, too, encouraging you to select manual mode and chase that rev counter needle right round the dial before pulling the paddle to flip up into the next gear. Leave the auto to its own devices and it tends to make better use of the torque; either way, routine shifting is smooth.
Ride and handling
The facelift does without any chassis revisions - but that's partly because the X1 has already undergone some alterations in this department since it was launched in 2009. Following initial feedback, BMW took steps to improve ride comfort about a year into the model's life.
We expect better from BMW
Even on 18-inch alloys it steadfastly refuses to be upset by anything Germany's roads can throw at it - although that's not much of a challenge compared to UK tarmac, it suggests at least a reasonable amount of compliance. Only a slight choppiness at high motorway speeds mars this performance.
However, the X1 doesn't quite live up to BMW's hard-won reputation for building cars that are fun to drive. It is far from dreadful, and the four-wheel-drive configuration provides plenty of grip (rear-wheel-drive "sDrive" X1s are also available, though not with this engine) - it simply feels a bit boring.
Part of the problem comes from a lack of initial front-end bite - the nose wanting to wash wide in tighter turns especially, until the four-wheel drive intervenes - but our bigger issue is with the inconsistent power steering, which tends to weight up rather oddly, slightly after you've turned the wheel.
The resistance at your fingertips never quite seems to match up to how hard the X1 is clinging to the road, which not only means you end up feeling surprisingly disconnected from the driving experience, the vagueness also makes it tiring on the motorway. We expect better from BMW.
We wanted to like the X1 more on the road because we were rather taken with the unusually quirky interior of our test car - featuring a thin orange stripe on beige leather seats and dark, matt-finish wood trim inserts with a kind of mahogany lustre.
Together with the orange exterior paint it had a kind of 1970s pastiche vibe going on - which sounds dreadful but actually kind of worked. Other unusual items include the clip-on cup holder that stashes away below the centre armrest, while a revised centre console arrives alongside a claimed improvement in quality.
These feature unique styling elements
Some of the fit and finish betrays the X1's lower-end position in the BMW range, but the materials generally seem of a high standard. Our car had no less than four 12v sockets, easily repositioned rear seat backs and plenty of handy storage solutions - so it certainly fulfils the crossover lifestyle brief.
In addition to the familiar SE and M Sport trim levels - both of which get more equipment - the facelift also introduces new Sport and xLine options. These feature unique styling elements, alloy wheels and colour choices, and help to give the X1 an extra shot of personality compared to the majority of the BMW range.
Economy and safety
The X1's new Eco Pro driving mode changes the engine's torque characteristics and the automatic's gearshift programming, adjusts the efficiency of the air conditioning and even alters the amount of power consumed by the heated seats.
Torque compensation and braking pulses
Other EfficientDynamics technologies include brake energy regeneration and stop-start. According to BMW this means the xDrive25d returns as much as 51.4mpg combined with the auto (47.9 with the manual). Impressive for the performance, but as ever don't expect to replicate this on the road.
If you really want to drive one of these with a green conscience try the new sDrive20d EfficientDynamics Edition, which emits just 119g/km while returning a claimed 62.8mpg. This despite being powered by a 163hp 2.0-litre turbodiesel capable of 0-62mph in 8.3 seconds and 133mph.
Beyond the usual sextet of airbags and Dynamic Stability Control, the most powerful four-wheel-drive variants are also available with a new Performance Control system that uses torque compensation and "braking pulses" to resist understeer on slippery surfaces.
The MSN Cars verdict
Judging by the X1's sales figures - it's become comfortably the most popular BMW SUV on sale in the UK since it arrived - people are most definitely attracted to the idea of a small, chunky premium crossover. So it's no surprise that other carmakers have since got in on the act.
These new rivals include the Audi Q3 and Range Rover Evoque - tough cookies, both. By comparison we feel you'd have to really like the BMW image to choose the X1; while it does most things well there's nothing about it that's truly outstanding, and in this company that just doesn't seem good enough.
Need to know
Engines, petrol: n/a
Engines, diesel: 2.0
Power, hp: 143 - 218
Torque, lb ft: 236 - 332
0-62mph, secs: 6.8 - 10.1
Top speed, mph: 121 - 142
Mpg combined: 47.9 - 57.6
CO2, tax: 128-154g/km, 22-24%
Specific model rated: BMW X1 xDrive25d xLine
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