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Tested: BMW X1

2010-07-01 08:31
Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer BMW
Model X1
Engine four-cylinder twin turbodiesel
Power 150 kW @ 4 400 r/min
Torque 400 Nm from 2 000 – 2 250 r/min
Transmission Six-speed automatic
Zero To Hundred 7.3
Top Speed 223
Fuel Tank 61 l
Fuel Consumption 6.6
Weight 2 160 kg
Boot Size 420 - 1 350 l
Steering Rack and pinion power steering
ABS DSC incl ABS, ASC, DBC, DTC, Performance Control
Front Suspension Double-joint spring-strut thrust bar axle
Rear Suspension Central-arm axle with longitudinal arm and double wishbone
Price from R335 500

Hailey Philander

The masters of niche have done it again. There’s a new SAV in town, and it bears the X1 nomenclature.  

The glittering name badge purportedly indicates relation to the ungainly 1 Series (particularly the hatchback) range and like the other One, its styling is probably not to everyone’s taste, either.

By around day four of the X1 experience, the unloveable styling started turning sweeter as the bold look begun to appear appreciably more handsome. The front end that at first appeared too bulbous and pointed, was less bloated and more distinctive, the shoulder line sharper, and the generic view from the rear somehow seemed to catch the light differently. Even the more-stylised-than-usual Hofmeister kick is pretty.

Certainly, a lot of the shift in perception is tied to the X1’s cute factor. Two-dimensional images do this car no justice since it is, in the metal, a lot more compact than images would suggest. The “X” prefix traditionally denoting SAV models within the BMW range would imply a bulky carrier.

Not so. X1 rides on what is essentially a hybrid of sorts between the 1 Series and the 3 Series Touring platforms and were you to ignore the numeral one in its nomenclature, it would feel a lot (I would imagine) like an updated, raised-body, slightly shorter (4.45m versus 4.53m )3 Series Touring.

A benefit of this seemingly compact body on a fairly long wheelbase (same as the 3 Series Touring at 2.76 m) is that you can fit a lot more stuff into it than imagined. And rear passengers get sufficient leg room with seatbacks that recline for added comfort. Luggage space is a useful 420 l that swells to 1 350 l when the 40/20/40-split seatback is dropped.


The test unit provided was the range-topping xDrive23d with the Exclusive package (R26 700), which ensured it came with a Harmon Kardon audio system, park distance control at both bumpers with camera assistance for the rear, high-beam assist, cruise control with a braking function, a massive tilt-and-slide sunroof and splashes of chrome detailing. The beautifully different Marrakesh Brown paintjob adds another R1 950 to the sticker price.

The flagship xDrive23d model sees the 2.0-litre four-cylinder common rail diesel unit fitted with TwinPower Turbo that uses a smaller turbocharger at low engine loads while another, larger turbo spools in at higher engine speeds. The words “smooth” and “responsive” are apt as this X1 responds to accelerator mashes with a degree of lag followed by a burst off the line. It’s wickedly entertaining.

This twin turbo diesel powerplant generates 150 kW and 400 Nm and aids in this X1 having a claimed 0-100 km/h acceleration time of 7.3 seconds. Top speed is a quoted 223 km/h. Gear changes are solely via a six-speed Steptronic automatic. One-up, one-down paddle shifters on the steering wheel are optional.  

X1’s suspension uses an aluminium double-joint axle at the front and a multi-link arrangement with double wishbones at the rear. xDrive derivatives come with permanent all-wheel drive with a 40/60 bias to the rear wheels. DSC (comprising ABS, DBC, CBC and DTC) monitors slip and channels the power accordingly to curtail over- or understeer.

To show that one should not take its raised bodywork to heart, the athletic X1 is nimble and agile at speed, while also managing to feel compact and secure on city streets. It is, after all, road biased, which makes sense considering how often most 4x4s get their tyres dirty – and no, clambering out of giant potholes does not qualify as “off-road conditions.”

Navigation of pothole-strewn roads aside, steering through the hydraulic rack-and-pinion system was precise and weighted beautifully at speed, even if it did feel incredibly resolute at low speeds. No slight brushes of the steering wheel to get into tight parking spaces, thank you. The X1 will have your arms’ muscle memory channelling the term “elbow grease” in no time at all.  

All in all though, the X1 is a pleasure to pilot and a much better display of the urban SAV concept than the original X3 ever was.


Its design is definitely more endearing than that of the regular 1 Series hatch with lines and curves that flow better over the surface of the body. Rear light cluster is eye-catching.  


As BMW interiors go, this one is no different. Unexciting, but efficient and ergonomical.

Driving it

It drives and feels a lot like a 3 Series derivative.


BMW throws up a particular conundrum to the current fad of plugging new niches. The X1 name implies it is related to the smallest BMW-branded cars in some way, but it feels more like a high-riding 3 Series Touring than any 1 Series I’ve ever driven. But those who love them, and the BMW faithful, are unlikely to even bat an eyelid.

There’s a lot counting in their favour, though. The X1 is cute. The X1 is cheaper than a silly X3, although the unit tested, at around R490 700, was slap-bang in X3 territory. The X1’s cabin, while generic, just feels beautiful, especially with the new iDrive controller in play. There are many reasons to like the X1. These reasons won’t necessarily be rational, but just look at that little button nose…

The X1 is an endearing take on the urban lifestyle vehicle while at the same time adding an exclusive spin and, although it pains me to type this, could well be considered a real ladies’ car for its ease of use and compact stature. It also comes standard with the pleasure of brushing that BMW badge on its nose at a lower entry point. Now who wouldn’t leap at the chance to do that?

The small premium segment is increasingly seen as an area of growth for luxury carmakers as the demand for bigger, more conspicuous, and less fuel-efficient models contracts. BMW’s German counterparts are all expected to make a play for this segment in the near future, although an earlier start may just give this Munich carmaker the boost its competitors dread.

Add your voice to the discussion in the BMW X1 forum


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