Review: Serene BMW X1 is hard to beat

BMW celebrates its centenary this year on the back of record sales last year. Group sales rose six per cent to just shy of 2.25 million. Of these, 1.9 million were BMW cars and 3,785 were Rolls-Royce '“ down nearly 7 per cent as sales in China fell. The Mini models contributed 338,466, enjoying a gain of 12 per cent since 2014. BMW's two bespoke electric hybrids, the i3 hatchback and the i8 high performance 2+2 coupe sold almost 30,000 and the new 2-series added 157,144. The Motorrad bike division sold almost 137,000. In the United Kingdom BMW-badged cars reached a record 167,391.
Prices start at £26,780 for the BMW sDrive 18d diesel X1Prices start at £26,780 for the BMW sDrive 18d diesel X1
Prices start at £26,780 for the BMW sDrive 18d diesel X1

The X1, seen here, and its recently facelifted smaller “sports activity vehicle”, has sold almost three quarters of a million since its launch in 2009 of which 40,000 have come to the UK. It is made in Leipzig.

The first X1 never appealed much, but this second version does. The styling, while still SUV generic, is sharper and more imposing and taller. The BMW badge on the back confirms you are not looking at a (cheaper) Ford Kuga. The face is all massive “kidney” grilles, this time with active anti-drag vents. Various other blades and spoilers and underfloor panels improve airflow and reduce turbulence.

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There are the latest four cylinder petrol and diesel engines, new gearboxes, new “xDrive” 4x4 traction and energy scavenging to improve efficiency. It is a couple of inches higher and roomier. The controls have been redesigned and in line with all BMWs in the UK, navigation is standard. It is a responsive system but the mapping does not include speed cameras – always worth knowing about.

There are many permutations of specification, based on front-drive sDrive and 4x4 XDrive. Prices start at £26,780 for the sDrive 18d diesel and £28,280 for the xDrive 18d. The xDrive 20d opens at £30,630 and the xDrive 25d, as tested, is £36,060 plus whatever kit you can afford to add. The petrol offer is the XDrive 20i from £31,225. All these engines are 2-litre turbos, with power ranging from 148bhp for the 18d to 228bhp for the twin turbo 25d. The torque is 332 lb ft and this is the most powerful four-cylinder BMW diesel to date. All but the 18d have eight automatic gears as standard.

The 25d is a road scorcher, charging to 100kph in 6.6 seconds and rated, on paper at least, at 56.5mpg and 132g CO2. On test, driven normally, the tripmeter suggested 43mpg commuting and 47mpg on the motorway, down to 34mpg on shorter local drives. It was an almost serene experience, devoid of road tremor, with the main intruder being roar from the 225/45/19 Pirelli P7 tyres. Sliding rear seats, remote release to fold them and a blipper to open and close the tailgate were user-friendly gear on the XLine demo car, from £35,150 or £45,005 in its fully loaded state here.

The X1 is in the shortlist for World Car on the Year, announced March 24, three weeks after the European title. The only contenders on both lists are Audi A4, Mazda MX-5, Skoda Superb and Jaguar XE.

BMW has now launched its first electric/petrol hybrid based on a current model rather than bespoke built. The donor car is the X5 SUV, a big seller all over the world.

Like other hybrids, it combines power with economy and therefore lower emissions than you would get from a conventional power unit. The prospect is lower fuel bills, lower car-related taxes. Like all hybrids, some of this promise is hard to replicate. For this X5 xDrive 40e (which actually has a 2-litre engine) BMW quotes 83mpg and 78g CO2 in the combined test cycle and this is what you will pay business user tax on, and why it is exempt from UK annual road tax.

BMW says it can travel up to 19 miles when the battery is fully charged (taking 2.5 to 3.5 hours from the mains) and can cruise at 75mph solely on electric power. Further, that you can achieve 94mpg using mixed power, or around 42mpg in “workaday” driving. Well, on what was in my mind a gentle “commuter” type drive of 13 miles – the range where this X5 is at its best on e power – the trip computer showed just 25mpg. Ergo, less than one third of its official average, not much more than half that “workaday” figure and with corresponding increases in carbon and other toxic emissions. On the plus side, this 4x4 is quiet and peaceful and can be rapid when you need power, managing 0-62mph in 6.8 seconds. It has all-wheel-drive and can, in theory, run in 4x4 using electric power only. In practice the petrol motor will kick in unless you are trickling along.

As tested in M Sport trim it cost £56,000. The SE is the cheapest X5 hybrid at £52,105 – matching the price of the 47mpg diesel 40d. The X5 catalogue opens with the front-drive 53mpg s25d SE at £44,574 and at £46,860 for the 4x4 xDrive version.

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All BMWs can be equipped with a “smart home” monitor using Samsung and Yale systems which will, for example, tell you if your house is on fire or has been burgled, whether you have locked the doors, and if smart-linked people are inside.