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Rating 9 9

2010 BMW X1

16th Feb 2011 8:00 am

BMW’s baby SUV does not have the stance of an SUV


  • Make : BMW
  • Model : X1

The X1 is instantly recognisable as a BMW, and a modern one at that. Using design cues first seen on newer cars like the 7- and 5-series, the X1’s skinning is fluid and cohesive rather than sharp. However, traditional BMW details remain. The double barrel headlamps, the large ‘kidney’ grille, the ‘Hofmeister kink’ in the shoulder line and the big squared off-wheel arches; they’re all there. But this ‘youngest’ of BMWs has other interesting bits as well. The long bonnet is heavily sculpted, the wide front splitter gives the X1 a square jawed look and the design of the rear is very fluid. But while it’s long and wide, the X1 is not tall or chunky enough to be a convincing SUV. This is especially true in the flesh where it looks more like a tall estate than an off-roader.

Under the skin, the X1 is a 3- series; slightly raised and differently tuned but otherwise identical. Built on the 3-series touring (BMW for estate) wheelbase, this car inherits all the 3-series’ driver-focussed hardware. The long wheelbase, the super-stiff chassis, the double- jointed aluminium front struts, the double-wishbone five-arm rear axle and of course the rear-wheel-drive architecture. For India, as yet, there is no four-wheel-drive version of the X1, and that’s smart. This car, despite its 194mm ground clearance is not likely to be taken over challenging or wildly undulating ground. The chin is too low slung, the wheelbase is too long and the X1’s wheel travel is also pretty restricted. Boot space at 420 litres however is just about adequate, but the seats can be split 40/20/40, which is very useful. And BMW has used clever rubber banjo cords in the rear to keep small objects secure.

The X1 looks more old-school BMW on the inside than on the outside. There are plenty of bits carried over from the 3-series and this gives the cabin a familiar look. The steering wheel, dials, gear lever, central console and even the front seats are lifted straight off the 3. But that’s no bad thing. Each of these are well designed and solidly built, and they manage to compliment the fresher parts of the interior perfectly. New bits include a swoopier dash, angular vents, and some tastefully placed pieces of faux wood. Look closer however and you can tell BMW has cut corners. Some plastic bits like the glovebox, doorpad handles and lower part of the central console aren’t built to the same quality standards, and this is a bit of a shame, because the rest of the car is actually very impressive.

 The front seats are typical BMW – generous with lots of legroom and very comfortable. You get a good view of the road ahead from the slightly elevated cabin and the adjustable seat and steering allow you to find the perfect driving position too. There are also plenty of cubby holes to store odds, ends and cell phones, and this ‘Exclusive’ version of the car gets BMW’s very impressive iDrive interface as well. If there’s a niggle, it’s that shoulder support in the front seats that could have been better.

Space at the rear however is at a premium. There isn’t enough legroom when you place a tall passenger behind a tall driver, and sitting three abreast is very cramped, the tall transmission tunnel doesn’t make life easy for the middle person. What eats into passenger room is BMW’s unflinching belief that driving manners take priority over everything else including extra space and comfort. The car’s longitudinally aligned engine is placed well back in the chassis for perfect weight distribution, the low stance of the car means a lot of horizontal space is eaten up for legroom, and the big transmission tunnel leaves very little room for your feet. The seats themselves however aren’t too bad and comfort is pretty good for two passengers sat behind a short chauffer.

The X1’s handling is somewhere between a saloon and an SUV, which is to be expected from what is essentially a raised 3-series. On its taller springs, the X1 rides quite comfortably as well and feels a touch more compliant than a 3-series. The suspension works silently for the most part and the X1 takes poorly surfaced sections quite easily in its stride. Sharp ridges and expansion joints though do catch out the suspension which can’t soak up jagged surfaces that easily. Also, there is a fair amount of vertical movement and on an uneven surface, the X1 doesn’t have as flat and consistent a ride as we would have liked.

There is a tad more body roll in corners than a 3-series, but the X1 turns in keenly and hunkers  down, making it a delight on a winding road. Few cars, let alone SUVs can offer the same level of engagement. Grip from the 225 wide tyres is simply phenomenal, allowing you to corner with astonishing speed. The torquey engine which drives the rear wheels lets you balance the X1 on the throttle through corners but even with the traction control completely switched off, it’s hard to break traction. With its decent clearance, the X1 can be driven quite easily on dirt roads and it’s on loose surfaces that you can put the X1 sideways and truly enjoy its brilliant chassis balance.

The steering is surprisingly heavy and at low speeds, it feels there is no power assistance. It’s not effortless to steer like a CR-V and this may bother buyers on the lookout for an urban runabout. Also, the steering feels a touch wooden about the straight-ahead position and it’s only when you’ve given it a flick of the wrist that it comes into its own and delivers the pin-sharp accuracy that has made BMWs special. The brakes are utterly brilliant too and just add to the joy of driving.

2010 BMW X1
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