BMW X1 abandoned the station wagon style and the dynamics it used to offer in its new generation

The expectation with respect to the second generation of the BMW X1, internally call F48, was huge. In addition to being the first launch event in which MotorChase took part, it also marked a major change of philosophy for the brand. BMW was one of the few companies that remained faithful to rear-wheel drive in its models. It even produced commercials making fun of the ones that adopted front-wheel drive models (see more below). The X1 is the second BMW car to say “that’s not quite right.” It follows the 2-Series Active Tourer minivan (!) on the proposal and on the platform, the UKL2, with longer wheelbase. We already spoke about prices on its launch day in Brazil. But what about the dynamics? And rear-wheel drive? How does the new BMW X1 behave, after all?


BMW, quite correctly, provided a long test drive opportunity, throughout 86 km, going from Tamboré 2, in Barueri, São Paulo, until Catarina Fashion Outlet, in São Roque, also in the same Brazilian State. With small groups of automotive journalists, each one of them driving a vehicle by themselves until the driver change pit stop. We have evaluated the two engine options the SUV will offer in Brazil, the 2.0 4-cylinder TwinPower that produces 141 kW, offered on the sDrive20i versions, and the same B48 engine, but with its power increased to 170 kW, exclusively under the hood of the xDrive25i trim.


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For a brand that has always boasted about its rear-wheel drive models, it’s very strange to see their executives defend the advantages of the absence of the transmission tunnel for an expansion in load capacity, or to praise front-wheel-drive as it saves space because of its transversely mounted engine. It’s always been that way, but the BMW always despised these alleged advantages, as the above advertisements clearly state. BMW was never a fan of cars with high H-point, using long wheelbase project so that drivers could sit as close as possible to the floor. In cars that did not present such a generous wheelbase, space for rear passengers was sacrificed in order to keep the driving position low, as in the 1-Series.

All these changes were possible thanks to the UKL2 platform, which has the disadvantage of providing a weight distribution worse than the traditional 50/50 BMW used to be so proud of. The X1 xDrive25i presents 57% of its weight over the front axle and 43% in the rear. Bear in mind that the xDrive features four-wheel drive. This distribution must be much worse in sDrive units, which are front-wheel drive.


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Yes, the F48 X1 can be more spacious and versatile. It can also look a lot more like an SUV now than before, as BMW was keen to point out, and even bear a better aerodynamic coefficient of 0.30 (0.31 on xDrive) instead of the 0.33 of the first X1, but, again, what about the experience behind the wheel? MotorChase went to Catarina Fashion Outlet with a xDrive25i X1 and returned with the sDrive20i, a sequence that turned out to be really good for comparing both versions. And the answer to the original question will depend on the exact version you choose to purchase. Or that you can afford.


BMW X1 xDrive25i

Accommodated in a convoy of 10 cars, with 141 kW and 170 kW alternating in line, in order to make driver change simpler, we left Tamboré 2 early in the afternoon in a xDrive25i. This version of X1 showed right off the bat those exact things that make BMW cars really lovely to drive. The steering wheel fits nicely into the hands. The seats have great lateral and lumbar support, including support for the thighs. There are two electric adjustment memories for seats and rear-view mirrors. Finally, the B48 engine moves the model without the slightest effort. At least in the urban leg of our test drive.


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With the Eco Pro driving mode on, the X1 doesn’t stretch the gears, exchanging them at low revs. The priority is to keep the lowest possible fuel consumption. At traffic lights, the start/stop system shuts down the engine and the air conditioning system. Albeit briefly, it may penalize the occupants in a typically hot day, especially if the panoramic roof is open. Curious piece of info: despite using run-flat tires, the BMW X1 comes with a spare unit. We’re glad it has pressure sensors to warn when the a run-flat tire has a hole. This allows you to change it and fix it instead of throwing it away, as was the case in the models that did not have the spare wheel. Many customers must have complained…


Soon we arrived at the first road. Free of traffic ahead, the leader of the convoy increases the pace so we can feel how the car behaves. We change the driving mode from Eco Pro to Sport. Trying to keep up with the rest of the cars, you can feel that, even if minimal, there is a delay in throttle response. Would it be the 8-speed automatic Aisin transmission? To respond that, all we had to do was touch the paddles behind the wheel. And they are standard equipment, probably a must, since the kick-down has a late response. Even reducing gears quickly, the engine takes a while to fully charge. This phenomenon is called turbolag, which is the time that the turbocompressor takes to blow and do its magic on the engine. To make matters worse, just reach the maximum engine revolution and the transmission will call the next gear to the party. Even in manual mode. Even in Sport mode.


Full of bends, the road shows quite a stable vehicle, despite its 1,540 kg. The seats offer great side supports keep the driver steady and give him confidence to force the SUV towards its limits always a little more. The car ahead of us starts to get behind the rest of the convoy, slowing us down, and we begin to wonder what is going on. The order is that no one passes anyone, just so that the sequence of versions that was created is the same through all the way.


In bumps and ditches, the X1 shows that it can be considered an SUV, but it has a suspension setup made for smooth European roads. The suspension is stiff and the potholes and gullies that appear along the way give us more sorrow for the car than that typical SUVs invulnerability feeling. The X1 accuses the bumps, even though they not necessarily imply future maintenance problems. The case is what they really seem to hurt, what shows that BMW’s speech that the X1 is more of an SUV than a crossover doesn’t exactly match reality.

If there is a classification X1 deserves to receive is crossover, rather than SUV or even SAV. This acronym is an attempt BMW has made to highlight its models from the competition’s, as if they belonged to another market segment. It started at the launch of the X5 in 1999 and remains to this day. Nonsense: SUVs and crossovers from BMW defend themselves very competently from their opponents. X1’s ground clearance is 18 cm, in line with that of most crossovers sold in Brazil. Jeep Renegade, which offers proper SUV versions, has a ground clearance of 21 cm.


In roads with several lanes, like Castelo Branco, one of freeways we took in this test drive, the X1 shows that it has got more than enough stamina to achieve the maximum allowed speed, 120 km/h, with no difficulties. And it would keep on accelerating a lot more if there were no speed limits. We dare to say that the X1 comfort speed is around 160 km/h. In other words, that the SUV would keep such speed effortlessly, with the driver still comfortable at the steering wheel. BMW says that the xDrive25i maximum speed is 235 km/h and that it is able to go from 0 to 100 km/h in 6.5 s.


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There is enough room in the rear seats, due to the wheelbase of 2.67 m and to the seat’s high H-point, besides a trunk of 505 l. It’s not huge, but it stands up well compared to the luggage compartments of similarly sized SUVs, around 4.5 m in length. The X1 is 4.45 m long, 1.82 m wide and 1.60 m tall.

With a price tag of R$ 199,950 (US$ 51,300), it faces the competition of Audi Q3 Ambition, which has a 2.0 engine that generates 162 kW, but costs more (R$ 203,990, or US$ 52,300), Volvo XC60 T5 Momentum, which is more powerful, at 180 kW, but is not four-wheel drive and costs R$ 15,000 less (R$ 184,950, or US$ 47,500), Land Rover Discovery, more powerful (177 kW) and not much cheaper (R$ 199,100, or US$ 51,100) and Lexus NX 200t, also more powerful (175 kW), but more expensive (R$ 216,300, or R$ 55,500). The Mercedes-Benz GLK 220 CDI Sport is the underdog. It is no longer produced, having been replaced by the GLC elsewhere, but not in Brazil, so far. At R$ 222,900 (US$ 57,200), it is also the most expensive competitor, which makes it a bad choice for more than one reason.


BMW X1 sDrive20i

We returned from Catarina Fashion Outlet with a sDrive20i. The comparison impact between the two versions happens as soon as you get into the SUV. The seats are much simpler, even if they still have two electric adjust memories, but not the same side support. Neither the adjustable thigh support. By the way, the seat’s base is well shorter. And all these features are greatly missed, especially in the narrow winding roads back to Barueri. The steering wheel is thinner, what makes grabbing it less comfortable. Like in lesser luxurious cars. It’s a shame that pictures of the interior of this version were not made, nor by BMW’s PR department nor by us, so that we could show what we are talking about. We had to leave quickly to get back to our news room and we didn’t have time.


At Castelo Branco, at 120 km/h, the weaker X1 also has no difficulty to maintain the maximum permitted speed, but it is clear that its limit is lower. This impression is confirmed as soon as we get to the simple two-way, single lane roads that meander up to Tamboré. There is noticeably more body roll and, when the front-wheel drive SUV is forced into turns, the front wheels slip out of the way the steering wheel points out. This X1 stands no abuse whatsoever. Now we are the ones blocking the way of a xDrive25i. And we can see what was happening to the X1 in front of us when we were driving the xDrive25i: the sDrive20i does not inspire the same sort of confidence. On the contrary: it requires more prudence. Checking its technical data, the sDrive20i’s maximum speed is 225 km/h and acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h takes 7.7 s. Bingo.


The impression that the simpler version of the X1 gives is to be an ordinary car with the BMW badge, not the typical car the company builds, such as the 3-Series or even the 1-Series. It seems less solid, less robust and less inviting to drive. For many people, it will be more than enough if it holds the white and blue badge of the German brand and if it looks just like the X1 xDrive25i, but we dare to say with no fear of being unfair: the two versions seem to be completely different models. Four-wheel drive is a necessity for the X1, as well as the better seats and the thicker steering wheel.


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If you are only after the status the brand provides, the sDrive20i GP, which costs R$ 166,950 (US$ 42,800), is the best choice. It offers standard LED headlights, 18-inch wheels, cruise control, start/stop system, GPS with a 6.5-inch screen, six airbags, rear parking, rain and crepuscular sensors, traction and stability controls and three driving modes: Sport, Comfort and Eco Pro. Just remember to run it like any regular car. If, on the other hand, you are searching for the driving experience that BMW normally offers, the only X1 which can provide that to you is the xDrive25i. In addition, of course, to the models that we have already mentioned (if only the 3-Series station wagon was sold in Brazil…). If you are into SUVs, a model that deserves your attention is the X3, built over the same platform of the 3-Series. It keeps rear-wheel drive as standard in its sDrive versions, but the only ones sold in Brazil are xDrive, or four-wheel drive.


They say that BMW has started to consider the adoption of front-wheel-drive in its cars when it figured out that many customers had no idea if their models were pulled by their front wheels or pushed by the rear wheels. We just hope that this does not make the brand dilute the traditional values by which it is currently known. The ones that make many of their models objects of desire among the people who actually like to drive. Turning a BMW into an ordinary car would be like considering Anita Ekberg or Monica Bellucci as beautiful as Kim Kardashian. Don’t do that with us, gentle buyers… Don’t mess it up!

Gustavo Henrique Ruffo

I have been an automotive journalist since 1998 and have worked for many important Brazilian newspapers and magazines, such as the local edition of Car and Driver and Quatro Rodas, Brazilian's biggest car magazine. I have also worked for foreign websites, such as World Car Fans and won a few journalism prizes, among them three SAE Journalism Awards and the 2017 IAM RoadSmart Safety Award. I am the author of "The Traffic Cholesterol", a book about bad drivers that you can buy at Hotmart, Google Play, Amazon and Kobo.