Home / car buyer / Latest BMW X1 sDrive18i has Nailed the Brief

Latest BMW X1 sDrive18i has Nailed the Brief

BMW’s small SUV surpasses the competition

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Things we like

  • Generous standard kit
  • Impressive cabin tech and design
  • Lots of space
  • Improved ride and handling

Not so much

  • No spare wheel
  • Increased price
  • Electric will have to wait

In typically controversial BMW style, the introduction of the X1 in 2009 caused a bit of a splash.

Some hated it, others were more admiring but said a premium compact SUV would never work. Either way, BMW’s rivals immediately followed suit and the segment took off.

Also in classic BMW form, the pioneer didn’t necessarily become the victor. But that was three generations ago and the innovator is having another crack at small SUV domination, this time bringing a gun to a knife party.

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Styling has grown up and is more handsome in alignment with other big BMW high-riders

An all-wheel drive, four-cylinder X1 looks after the pointy end of the new range, straying close to $70K territory when hopped-up with the M Sport pack but at the entry point, the X1 sDrive 18i tested here is $53,900 before on-road costs. That’s still about $6000 more than the most affordable second-gen version but the new model brings a lot to justify its inflation.

For a start, it’s bigger with exterior dimensions growing as much as 53mm (in length) while a 22mm stretch of the wheelbase has helped increase interior space including the boot which, at 540 litres, is 35L bigger – although you’ll not even find a space-saver spare in there.

Styling has grown up and is more handsome in alignment with other big BMW high-riders, and it’s filled with more technology.

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Step inside and you’ll immediately want to jump back out to check the badge and make sure this really is the ‘baby’ of the family.

A beautiful curved central display measures 10.7 inches and lifts the entire space into new territory, enhanced by and connected to a 10.3-inch fully digital instrument cluster and head-up display – very uncommon at the entry point of this segment.

The impressive displays offer access to BMW’s very cool augmented reality navigation technology that works brilliantly, a suite of effective voice-controlled functions, and a system start-up sound that is reminiscent of an early 2000s Mac laptop.

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Retro sounds aside, the various screens are deeply attractive with the My Modes feature enabling you to change the way the X1 drives and feels.

Our favourites are the Expressive and Digital Art modes that use works by artist Cao Fei and are endlessly mesmeric.

While the impressive new technological interface works a treat in practice, there is a virtual fly in the pixelated ointment as this OS8 operating system is among the first to introduce subscription services, which BMW says allows better “comfort and flexibility” but will also be a handy earner for the German giant as well. Want heated seats in the entry-level X1? That’ll be from $29 a month or $589 for life.

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The wireless phone charging dock has a clever strap to brace the device visibly upright and against a cooling fan

What is included in the price is a comprehensive suite of safety gear, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity, native navigation, DAB+ digital radio, 18-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry and start, adaptive LED headlights and cruise control, power tailgate, and wireless phone charging, which has a clever strap to brace the device visibly upright and against a cooling fan.

This particular test vehicle has been treated to $4615 worth of Enhancement Pack, which adds niceties such as a panoramic roof, Cape York Green paint (normally $1385), electric adjustment for the front seats and a nicer Harman Kardon stereo.

Our car also has a $1539 set of 19-inch alloys with P Zero rubber. If this version is looking pretty and premium it’s because it has a pretty premium price of $60,415 (excluding on-road costs) as tested.

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Unchanged with the significant options however is the way the X1 drives (perhaps aside from its larger wheels).

A 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo-petrol engine produces 115kW and 230Nm, which is not exactly M-territory but thanks to a surprisingly light kerb weight, translates to more meaningful performance than expected. Sprinting from rest to 100km/h is said to take nine seconds but thanks to peak torque delivery between 1500rpm and 4600rpm, the entry X1 feels more urgent than the figures suggest.

Its engine is eager and sounds sweet with a classic three-pot hum and makes a nice pairing with the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, although the latter does need a bit of waking up when pinning the throttle from a standstill.

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When up and about though, the pairing works well to produce pace and for not much investment of fuel either. BMW claims its X1 asks for just 6.5L/100km, although we managed a still-respectable figure closer to 7.5L/100km.

BMW’s littlest SUV has also been given a good ride revision, with most of the suddenness distilled out of the previous generation model despite this one running on the largest wheels available.

There’s a bit of crash on larger imperfections but its cabin remains quiet and the steering well insulated for bumps without removing the light but pleasant feedback.

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Completing the veritable X1 maturation process is a cabin design and execution that stands out for all the right reasons.

BMW really is nailing the alternative materials game without looking too try-hard or tacky and its X1 continues the advance into beautifully bohemian and sustainable.

With soft-touch and interesting textures, an interior of this calibre would be expected at the pointy end of the line-up, not at the most affordable point. It’s bolstered with practicality and clever storage under and in the centre console and armrest along with the usual USB-C modern car calling cards.

BMW’s third-generation X1 comes at a cost, but what the German car-maker has identified is that beating its rivals to the top of a premium pile required a premium fight. By avoiding a cheap entry-level version that’s hard to recommend, the new X1 is more money yet better value than ever.

It has finally beaten the others at its own game.