How BMW’s baby crossover X1 sets a hot pace for rivals

I’m regularly shocked to discover just how long it has been since I drove the first edition of a current model.

n the case of this week’s review car, the BMW X1 crossover, I was amazed to find it debuted in 2009. So much has happened in the meantime, but let’s not dwell on that – today is all that matters.

In the course of those intervening years, the X1 has undergone many changes, not all of them entirely successful. Certainly, the early versions were a bit dowdy looking.

Right now, there is a new one on the market, and I couldn’t wait to see what they’ve done with it.

The X1 has been a more-than-decent seller here. In such circumstances, you wouldn’t blame the top people at BMW if they decided to stick with the tried and trusted formula and merely sprinkled nuances of ‘new’ to distinguish it from its predecessor. I’m happy to report they haven’t taken the easy route with this one – not that I can see anyway.

I think it’s a substantial step forward. For what it’s worth, I think it will have potential buyers of close rivals such as the Audi Q3 and Mercedes GLA taking a second or maybe third look.

The X1 has had a lot of growing up to do since it was first introduced. In 2009, it was viewed as something of a cramped baby BMW, created to offer wannabes a first step into something larger, more alluring and, of course, more expensive. The name of the game is profit after all.

The original baby has grown, and with this latest version it can rightly stand on its own as one of the best of its kind.

It looks so much better than its forerunner. They didn’t hold back when it came to the grille – it dominates the front of the car. But I’m glad they didn’t go too mad with it, like they have with some other models.

If previous X1 versions stand accused of lacking an extra bit of the presence you need with a car of this type, this one has it in abundance without the need to have recourse to a big, blaring grille.

Large wheel arches and long roof spoiler play their part in adding to muscular, improved looks.

It comes across a lot better on the inside too, thanks to extensive upgrading of dash/instrumentation, which is unashamedly and almost totally based on the 2-series Active Tourer MPV.

If it works well in the MPV, you can hardly blame them for transferring it to its sibling.

There was a sense of open plan about the cabin, partly generated by the new curved touchscreen area (it brings together the 10.25-inch information display and control display with 10.7-inch screen) and the removal of cluttering switchgear. Minimalist with function, I call it.

We need more of that. Too many marques are doing away with anything that resembles a button and expect you to chase down through a raft of menus to find what you want.

Front-seat occupiers are well looked-after. There’s plenty of space – loads of leg and shoulder room. The good news extends to the rear seats. Quite often in cars such as this, back-seat passengers don’t fare that well. I’ve had reminders from marques basically pointing out to me that children are most likely to be the sole occupants. In other words, smaller frames can squeeze in.

There’s no cramped feeling in the back of the new X1, especially now they have added to the wheelbase. For what might look a small extension on paper, the effect is surprising. This is really roomy now – adults can travel in comfort back there.

Some larger SUVs would be happy to have that sort of space at their disposal.

Making it particularly practical is the facility of being able to slide the rear seats forwards or backwards by as much as 30mm in petrol and diesel versions. That means extra room for rear-seat occupiers or more room for luggage.

But as is nearly always the case with BMWs, the drive factor is key. I had the xDrive23i M Sport xDrive (all-wheel-drive) and enjoyed the experience, given how long it has been since I last drove a car like this with a two-litre petrol powerplant.

It was a bit thirsty – there are diesels, plug-ins and an EV version here or imminent in case you want something more frugal.

It was up to the mark on handling and ride, opting for a slightly softer suspension basic setting than maybe I would like.

I think – and it is a personal preference – that Audi’s Q3 is a sharper drive (although it doesn’t have as much back-seat room).

There’s no doubt this X1 is a well-thought-out package and one I would buy if I had the need and money.

Fact file

BMW X1 xDrive23i small Sports Activity Vehicle (SAV), 2-litre, 4cyl petrol, 218bhp, automatic.

Prices start from €48,200; €69,110 for xDrive 23i M Sport, a version of which is reviewed here.

Major additions to standard equipment include several safety technologies: driver assist, front-collision warning; parking assistant includes Reversing Assist Camera; voice control, two-zone auto climate control.

Curved screen embraces infotainment and controls’ displays.

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