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BMW X1 sDrive 20d SE

Click to view picture gallery“The X-Factor: BMW’s new X1,
  based on the current BMW 1 Series
  platform, completes the X line-up
  of X3, X5 and X6 models. Unlike the
  larger versions, the X1 is available
  in both rear-wheel drive and
  permanent 4WD forms
...”

BECAUSE OF THE DOMINANCE OF DIESEL ENGINES in the SUV/SAC (Sports Utility and Sports Activity Vehicles) sector there is the choice of three power outputs, all using a core 2.0-litre, four-cylinder powerplant.

The 18d, with 143bhp and 236lb ft of torque, and the 20d, with 177bhp and 258lb ft, are available with sDrive rear-wheel drive and xDrive all-wheel drive specification whilst the third, the 204bhp 23d model with 295lb ft of torque is xDrive only. There is one SE level of specification for all models and prices range from 22,660 up to 29,055.

BMW says that it is the only 'premium' compact Sports Activity Vehicle currently on sale in the UK although the Audi Q3 and the baby Land/Range Rover will be competitors in the future. Owners of the current Toyota RAV4, Volkswagen Tiguan , Ford Kuga and downsizers from the BMW X3 are all likely customers although BMW think 65% of sales will be to conquest customers. Just over half will opt for sDrive two-wheel drive models — a pattern already set by other brands of medium sized, 4x4-appearance vehicles who are finding that two-wheel drive variants, because of running costs, are more popular.

The five-door, five-seat X1 certainly takes its styling theme from other X models in the BMW range but to attract a 'car audience' it is less obviously a bulky 4x4 or SAV. It looks very much like what a 1 Series Touring would be like if there was such a thing: more estate with large wheels and a bit more ground clearance. The long bonnet is classic 1 Series, as is the side wedge-shaped profile. The xDrive all-wheel drive versions can be recognised by the additional roof rails and satin finish side sill guards.

Inside, the styling and functionality is evocative of an 'X' family member with semi-command seating positions and 40:20:40 split/fold rear seating. A large tailgate allows access to the load area in a conventional SUV, hatchback or estate manner. Luggage space is 420-1,350 litres and towing weight is a braked 1,800 (4WD 20d/23d versions 2,000kg).

Most of the interior is excellent and reasonably well finished but you can see and feel it is built to a price. For instance, the centre part of the upper dashboard (and home to the optional navigation system) looks a bit cheap.

“All-wheel traction
and real performance
whether the prevailing
conditions are dry, wet,
mud, ice or snow
...”
The great thing about all BMW X models is just how well they drive on the roads under all conditions. There is no evidence of body roll or choppy, hard and non-compliant suspension. Road holding, grip and steering is almost as sharp as most of the brand's passenger cars. And despite it extra height and weight, the X1 drives like a really well sorted sports estate.

During the first UK media test drives at the absolute top of Scotland, lashed by gales and high winds, the on-road driving — in spite of huge amounts of standing water — was safe and sure even in rear-wheel drive mode. Add the xDrive all-wheel drive function and the vehicle was even better, especially when it came to long stretches of rough stone tracks and very wet gravel sections such as you might expect to find on a rally.

In sDrive form, X1 20d with 177bhp and
258lb ft of torque will be perfect for most users who do not need all-wheel drive traction. With 53.3mpg the quoted official figure (actually 38.7mpg in testing) and CO2 emissions of 139g/km — road tax will be 120 a year — this is a sensible choice for most people whether it is for the school run, simply going shopping or travelling up and down the motorways.

For me, a country dweller, the more powerful 204bhp 23d model, with its standard fit automatic transmission, is the one to go for because it offers all-wheel traction and real performance whether the prevailing conditions are dry, wet, mud, ice or snow.

It is only marginally faster and the fuel economy averages 44.8mpg (35.7mpg in testing), and road tax is 175. But the performance feels strong and the grip of its smart all-wheel drive system, which pushes the power to the wheels that need the grip most, makes it handle fantastically well on tarmac or over rougher surfaces.

Do not get carried away though — the X1 is no off-roader. But it will handle tough conditions. Shame this version will cost around 30K with a few options; that's around 9,000 more than an Audi A3 Sport back 2.0 TDI 170 quattro. Tough choice!

So, plenty of reasons to get the X-Factor — practical size, choice of two- or four-wheel drive models, softer exterior styling over a conventional SUV, brilliant on-road handling in all conditions, comfortable and relatively well priced. — David Miles

BMW X1 sDrive 20d SE
| 24,205
Maximum speed: 127mph | 0-62mph: 8.1 seconds | Overall test MPG: 38.7mpg
Power: 177bhp | Torque: 258lb ft | CO2: 139g/km | Insurance group: TBC