BMW X1 sDrive

The daily school run gets a little bit cheaper

BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

PURISTS may bemoan BMW’s newfound fascination with front-wheel drive, but a stint in the cheapest X1s – the fresh sDrive18d diesel and its petrol-powered sDrive20i sibling – suggests we’re way better off because of it.

Blame the original X1. Launched in 2010, and based on the E91 3 Series Touring, it was a weirdly proportioned and angry-faced wagonoid with oddly unsatisfying packaging. In other words, the company’s attempt to create a BMW-worthy compact SUV was as compromised as the cruddy ride.

Clearly, Munich’s brains trust knew it too because in every vital way the second-gen outshines the first.

Shorter yet taller, bigger and airier inside, there’s at last space to move. A regular BMW dash layout and ambience, commanding driving position, deep side windows, and the flexibility of a sliding rear bench to boost an FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE already usefully bigger cargo area all tick the correct crossover boxes. And that it no longer looks like Cinderella’s ugly stepsister alongside the X5 – take a bow, Aussie designer Calvin Luk – is literally a sight for sore eyes.

Anyway, 70 percent of X1 buyers are expected to be BMW virgins.

And if they’re moving up from more pedestrian fodder, they will likely revel in either of the 80kg-lighter front-drivers’ energetic performance – the 141kW/280Nm 2.0i is terrifically sweet and lively while the 110kW/330Nm 2.0d feels forceful yet refined – as well as light yet flowing handling and reassuring roadholding. It takes some determination to induce the understeer inevitable in these SUVs. With such an athletic vibe, the sDrive models are actually on-brand.

Also on-brand, on the other hand, is the at-times unyielding ride on the standard suspension.

Wearing (at times quite noisy) 225/50R18s, the MacPherson strut front-end and multi-link rear seems sufficiently absorbent on smooth stuff, but wilts once the going gets rough. Luckily, for about $900 you can get the adaptive dampers that more effectively cush your tush.

Equipment in the base X1 might surprise cynics, with a powered tailgate, LED headlights, auto selfparking, satellite-navigation, a reversing camera, front and rear sensors, lane-departure warning, forward collision warning and pedestrian warning with light city braking function all included. The charmless vinyl trim needs to go, but there are endless options to lift things further if your pockets are deep enough.

Which of course all add up to the quintessential modern BMW experience. The X1 sDrive may be a front-driver, but it’s also as true to the brand as today’s 3 Series.

Tradition be damned.

Mainstream aspirations

Family-friendly packaging is behind the F48-series X1’s switch to the transverse engine architecture, first seen in the current Mini and shared with the 2 Series Active Tourer. Compared to the original X1, and despite a 90mm-shorter wheelbase, there is 57mm more rear legroom while luggage capacity jumps 20 percent to 505 litres, or 1550L with the 40/20/40-split backrests folded. Consequently, BMW hopes to attract more buyers of up-spec mainstreambranded compact SUVs like the Mazda CX-5 Akera.