Twisted Expectations: Driving the BMW F48 X1 sDrive20i

A few weeks ago, I read with much sadness that a number of old flats along Siglap will soon be demolished and redeveloped into something new and shiny. Once again, onlookers like me, with nostalgia in our hearts took to the interwebs to voice our displeasure with the powers that be for messing about with our traditional ways.

We are seeing this “progress” happen pretty much everywhere. The places we live in, the shops we go to, the food we eat and inevitably, the BMWs we know and love. We saw the signs but we pretended they didn’t exist, so now lo’ and behold, BMWs have now launched yet another front wheel driver with promises of more to come. Should we start churning out our opines on the internets just yet? Perhaps we should drive it.

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Ladies and gentlemen, this is the latest BMW X1. It’s an sDrive20i and although various overseas markets will receive an AWD xDrive model, the sDrive20i’s we get will have power strictly to the front wheels.

But first, a little history lesson, the previous BMW X1 had a bit of a mixed reception the last time it came out, some liked it and some thought it looked a little dumpy. We thought it was pretty good value because it was in essence, a BMW 3 Series Touring Outback without the 3 Series Touring price tag. Nevertheless, BMW did sell quite a number of these little crossovers before crossover even became a thing. 730,000 units were shifted Worldwide over its 6 year lifespan, not bad for a car that a few thought to be not very good. Over the original X1’s 6 year lifespan, the crossover market has also pretty much exploded which is why no real explanation was needed when BMW decided to roll out another one.

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Clearly quite a bit of development has gone into the overall aesthetics of the car as it looks nothing like the previous X1. We now have a proper SUV-styled mini X5 looking right back at us. When we collected the car, we spotted numerous design cues that were carried on to the new X1 from its bigger brother X5. The increased ride height, the massive new corporate grill and big intakes up front gives the new X1 much more road presence and attitude than its predecessor ever had.

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We did think the bi-colored wheels (18s) were not very pretty but thankfully they can be optioned without the black inserts.

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Inside, the overall quality has been drastically improved with a much more premium feel throughout the cabin although some hard plastics are still present in small areas. Worth mentioning is the leather bound portion surrounding the gear selector, really lovely bit of detailing. The seats are now the slightly smaller looking units we first saw on the 2 Series Tourer but they do seem to look better in this car.

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Space has also increased exponentially and though the driving position might be higher than on the previous X1, there is plenty of headroom still available, the generous glasshouse also gives the interior a much more spacious atmosphere and there are plenty of little cubby holes to store everything active people need to store.

With drive now going through the front wheels, there is no more need for a driveshaft running through the middle of the cabin, and that translates to a flatter floor for those sitting in the rear seats. Rear space is thus improved again and when those rear seats need to be put away for load lugging duties, the rear boot space grows from 505 litres to a very impressive 1550 litres. No issues at all for those little trips to Ikea, especially when aided by a powered tailgate.

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Our sDrive20i receives BMW’s forced fed 2litre engine which churns out a respectable 192 horses and a more than respectable 280Nm or torque. Enough to light up the front wheels on quick traffic light getaways.

So how does it drive? Admittedly, i wasn’t a big fan of the 2 Series Gran Tourer, and because of that car’s shared platform, i was expecting myself to hate on the new X1’s driving dynamics. So here’s the kicker, it’s actually not bad. It can actually be at times, fun. Not the same kind of fun you get in a rear-wheel-drive-squat-as-it-powers-out-of-turns fun but a cheerful squeal-the-front-wheels-as-it-pulls-away-from-corners fun nonetheless.

I suspect most buyers in this segment will not be able to differentiate the drivetrain differences but it is good to know that BMW has gone to lengths to maintain a level of driver enjoyment synonymous with their cars.

Steering feel might be vague but goes where you point it and the suspension is able to cope with most road conditions. Bigger bumps on the road might upset the balance a little but the X1 remains planted when you need it to be. Those driving the car with a little more “spirit” might also encounter some torque steer on heavy throttle applications. Personally, i also don’t like the gear shifter. It works but feels a little too chunky when moving up and down the selector. After a spate of brilliant ZF 8-speeders on previous test cars, this does feel a little dated.

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Overall, the new BMW X1 has raised the bar over the previous car by quite a margin and while there are some tradeoffs to be had in the dynamics, the elevation of the car in terms of aesthetics, practicality, ride comfort and overall build quality might just be what it needs to be another sales success for BMW. Sometimes, a controversial progression might not be a bad thing at all. Here’s to the naysayers.

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