Cape Town - Being the youngest sibling comes with its own set of challenges; sure you'll be doted on by your parents (at least initially) but you'll have to contend with older siblings and convincing others that you are just as good - if not better.
It can be tough stepping out of your siblings' shadow, but if success is achieved the taste of victory is that much sweeter. Take the BMW X1 for example.
When it was first launched locally in 2010 it was dwarfed by the already established X5, X6 and X3. It had to fight to remain relevant and its awkward design didn’t do it any favours.
Then came the second-generation in 2015 and on appearance alone it trumps its predecessor. But alas, it still has to stand-up to its popular X-badged family members (including the new X4), not to mention rival offerings.
What’s in a name
Being burdened with BMW’s X-badge comes with its own standards that need to be upheld. For starters, the vehicle must look like an SUV that can actually venture off-road. It needs to have a high-enough ground clearance to transverse gravel roads without concern. It needs have the necessary firepower to propel it forward and an interior that features loads of technology, space and comfort.
Gallery: BMW X1
What better way to put the X1 xDrive 20d sports-auto to the test than a road trip through the some of the Western Cape's best routes.
Road trip commence!
The day-trip would cover in excess of 350km but includes a variety of terrain. Leaving Cape Town on the N2, the X1 made its way through bumper-to-bumper traffic without hassle. At first I thought its eight-speed gearbox would be confused toggling between many gears but it performed amazingly well, effortlessly finding the right gear when needed. Of the three driving modes (Eco, Comfort, Sport), Eco was best suited to navigate traffic. It limits throttle inputs and engine responsiveness and reduces the toll stop/go traffic can have on your fuel consumption.
Just outside Somerset-West, the first mountain pass came up - Sir Lowry’s Pass - and I deliberately continued along in Eco mode. Despite the drivetrain’s sensitivity, the X1 maintained its speed and while saving fuel. It's strange in that, Eco creates a soothing ambiance that lessens the need to go full-out.
Exploring the back roads
A few kilometres before reaching Caledon, I turned off the N2 and onto the R406, headed for the X1's final destinations - Genadendal and Greyton. The R406 consists of both smooth and relatively bumpy sections of road as well as twisting bends that weave through the hills.
It was the opportune time to test the X1’s Sport mode. Once engaged, Sport increases the throttle and the engine’s sensitivity and though the car might not possess the persona of an M-car, it handles bends with surety and confidence.
READ: Escape the everyday in the BMW X1
You can't ignore the SUV’s stiff suspension. Bumps and undulation are felt through the sports seats though you have plenty of feedback through the steering wheel. Even with tough off-road conditions, Sport mode - the stiffest setting - does not deprive from what the X1 delivers; a very involving, enjoyable ride.
What about off-road?
Just because it’s a considered a soft-roader doesn’t mean that the X1 won't be able to go off the beaten track. It's incapable of traversing gravel roads and wet/muddy conditions courtesy of xDrive.
With a ground clearance of 183mm, the X1 can traverse gravel roads, never feeling unbalanced or that you'll be in for scrapes along its undercarriage. If you're looking for a proper off-road SUX/4x4 you're better off purchasing one of its larger siblings. That being said, the X1 is no push-over when it comes to light/medium off-road terrain. And the optional low-profile 18” wheels for this model, owners might not want to tackle anything more than smooth roads.
What this model did not have is electronically adjustable suspension. This feature increases the vehicle’s ride height; not by much, but enough to avoid cringing when dealing with undulations.
Power and economy?
This X1’s diesel engine is anything but lazy. With 140kW/400Nm produced from its 2.0-litre diesel engine, its able to dispatch large portions of road rather quickly. The 400Nm is available from a lowly 1750rpm and the slightest jab with the right foot propels the vehicle forward. The gearbox is one of BMW’s gems and adapts to any driving style.
The trip covered a total 356km with fuel consumption rated at 6.8 litres/100km compared to BMW’s claim of 4.9 litres/100km, though given the harsh and varied conditions it's not bad. Tick!
Gadgets and features for a long trip
The interior of the X1 is laid out with materials that are solid to the touch. Despite being the smallest SUV in the German company’s arsenal, it doesn’t lack in quality. Five passengers and their luggage can be transported with ease thanks to a boot space of 505L (1 550L with the rear seats folded down).
The front seats are kitted with optional features such as electric lumbar support, electric seat adjustment with memory (driver only), electric boot lid, rear camera and electric tow bar. The navigation system and on-board computer are standard.
The (optional) panoramic sunroof stretches the entire roof and allows for the entire cabin to be enlightened by the warm summer sun.
A great addition to the interior is the Harman & Kardon sound system. It produces an as pure as possible sound that fills the cabin without any distortion. And connecting any external audio devices is done on the fly without any issues through either cables or Bluetooth.
The X1 was a revelation on this trip. Not because it is filled to the brim with fancy tech, but because it did what its bigger stablemates can do. It’s not a first-choice option BMW SUV, but it is worth considering. It does what is asked of it and will deliver an experience that is not unpretentious.
The drivetrain as a whole is a gem and will not disappoint. Plus it’s frugal and punchy, without breaking the bank.
The X1 might not have the presence of its bigger siblings, but it can hold its own.