2013 BMW X1 sDrive20d – A versatile luxury compact SUV that handles like a sedan

Out of the three German auto giants, BMW was the first to launch a compact crossover in India. When launched in 2010 the X1 opened up an entire new segment. The BMW X1 had a free run until Audi launched the Q3, which now comfortably leads the segment. Now there is another competitor in the form of Mercedes GLA, which has received a grand reception in India. So, we decided to test the 2013 X1 sDrive20d to see if it can put a check on the growing competition in the segment and regain the lead it once enjoyed. The X1 has always had a not-so-dynamic styling from the onset and questionable fit and finish quality; however, the subtle yet much needed facelift has thankfully replaced some of the ugly bits and cheap plastic cladding. The fit and finish and the quality of plastics on the inside has improved to a great extent. Personally, I never liked the X1 because of its looks. Marred by strong preconceived notions, on the first day I was struggling to review the car with an open mind, but by the end of third day, the X1 was able to impress me.

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bmw-x1-2Styling
Let’s start with the most unsatisfactory part of the BMW X1, its styling. It’s safe to say that the X1 is the most understated car in the whole BMW range. As far as my views are concerned, as I said in the introduction, I never found the X1 good looking from the outside. It just doesn’t appeal to my taste. But, on the inside it’s a completely different story. The cabin of the BMW X1 according to me is the best in the whole segment. Let’s take it up one at a time in detail.

The problem with the styling of the BMW X1’s exterior is that its design looks like a mishmash of different cars

bmw-x1-3Exterior – The design of the BMW X1 was slightly changed in 2013. The newer model looks much better than the previous generation. BMW got rid of the bloated looking wing mirrors. The new ones are much sharper looking and have integrated turn indicators. The headlights have also been upgraded with new LED accent lights and LED light rings. Most of other changes are too insignificant to trace. However, the minor refresh hasn’t changed much. The problem with the styling of the BMW X1’s exterior is that its design looks like a mishmash of different cars. Looking at it from the outside, thanks to its massive bonnet and low height it appears nothing like a crossover and rather seems like an extended hatchback or a compressed station wagon. Now that is a big problem because it has no road presence what so ever. The rear section isn’t as bad as the front end, which looks completely out of proportion. The low ride and long bonnet even makes it difficult to look ahead of the hood while off-roading, and the low seating position makes it worse. The X1’s design is so understated that you’ll end up driving by unnoticed no matter where you go. It is not a head turner, period. The Audi Q3 and Mercedes GLA are both much better looking crossovers any day. That’s one of the main reasons why the sales of Audi Q3 have overshadowed that of the BMW X1. The Mercedes GLA is too new in the market to gauge the threat it poses but the initial reception has been great. In my opinion, BMW has to drastically overhaul the design to meet the competition.

The moment you step inside the car, you’ll forget all about the not so good looking exterior. The interior of the X1 is just as premium as the sedans from the BMW line-up

bmw-x1-15Interior – When it comes to the interiors, here’s where the BMW X1 beats the competitors from the segment hands down. The moment you step inside the car, you’ll forget all about the not so good looking exterior. The interior of the X1 is just as premium as the sedans from the BMW line-up. The quality of the plastics and the fit and finish of X1’s previous generation model was not that great. The German automaker has massively improved it in the current model. There are some minor niggles, the panel gaps are still inconsistent at places, the plastics still aren’t of the quality you expect from BMW. Nevertheless, you won’t complain. Just to put things into perspective, the cabin of the Audi Q3 looks dated, and stands no chance when compared to the X1. The Mercedes GLA on the other hand is a tad bit gaudy for me. The BMW X1’s cabin is perfectly balanced thanks to the handsome looking center console highlighted with piano black accents and wood-finish trim parts. The front seats are comfortable and supportive. Even after driving for more than 1000km in one day, there was no major discomfort except for a slightly cramped right leg. There is enough leg room in the front, but the rear end is cramped. With the front seat adjusted according to person with average height, there is very little legroom for the passengers sitting behind. There is no such problem with the headroom. The massive panorama glass roof, which comes as a standard feature to the BMW X1, makes the otherwise cramped interior appear a little more spacious. The boot space is also pretty big. You can easily fit two full size suitcases with the rear seat upright. With the 40:20:40 split seat folded down, the rear section of the car transforms into a massive storage area. All together, I was impressed with the interiors of the BMW X1 and don’t have much to complain about.

The 4-cylinder unit is refined, but it’s loud and doesn’t sound good. The only good thing is that the cabin is well insulated and the noise from the engine doesn’t bother the occupants sitting inside

bmw-x1-21Performance
The 2013 BMW X1 model is just available in three trim options with a single diesel engine on offer. The petrol engine was taken off the line-up for the current model. We had the top-of-the-line sDrive20d xLine with us for the review which has additional features like navigation system, panorama glass roof and other cosmetic trim bits. A turbocharged 1,995cc diesel unit that turns churns out 184bhp, up by 7bhp over the older model, and a maximum torque of 380Nm powers the X1 sDrive20d. The engine is mated to an 8-speed automatic gearbox which is a big improvement from the previous 6-speed. The 4-cylinder unit is refined, but it’s loud and doesn’t sound good. The only good thing is that the cabin is well insulated and the noise from the engine doesn’t bother the occupants. The 0-100km/hr timing of the X1 stands at 7.9 seconds and it has a top speed of 205km/hr. The best thing about the turbocharged diesel engine is that the power is linear and spread evenly over the RPM range. Comparing the X1 with the Audi Q3, the latter has a very abrupt power delivery and the torque suddenly hits after 2000rpm with a massive turbo lag below that. There is no such problem with the X1, as there is very little turbo lag. The only issue is with the automatic transmission, which sometimes is slow to shift down. There were quite a few instances where I wanted to quickly accelerate but the gearbox was slow to react. Otherwise, the gearbox is not bad at all. With the EcoPro mode switched on, the car becomes considerably slow, but power delivery is much more smoother which makes it perfect for city traffic. The fuel saving start-stop feature is also smooth and isn’t much intrusive and irritating as in the case with some other cars. With the EcoPro mode, the X1 returned a very impressive 18kmpl even while driving at high speeds. With the economy mode switched off, the efficiency dropped below 13kmpl. Performance wise, the X1 isn’t very dynamic, but then it isn’t meant to be one.

As mentioned in the introduction, in the three days we had the car with us, we challenged the BMW X1 in every which way to check if it really is one of the most versatile cars or just plain pointless

bmw-x1-14Ride and Handling
Here is the most interesting part of the review because as far as the BMW X1’s ride and handling is concerned, it is nothing like the other crossovers from the same segment. I have split this section into three parts: X1’s ride and handling on city roads at slow speeds, on the highway at high speeds, and finally its off-road capability. As mentioned in the introduction, in the three days we had the car with us, we challenged the BMW X1 in every which way to check if it really is one of the most versatile cars or just plain pointless. We chose Pushkar, Rajasthan, as our final destination on the map and visited it on a day when more than a million people visit the otherwise sleepy little city. On the last day of the Pushkar fair which is celebrated as Kartik Purnima, it’s considered as the holiest day in the calendar for Hindus and people from all over the country throng to the city for holy dip in the Pushkar lake. It was the perfect setup to test the car’s handling on open highways, moderate off-road and extremely congested back alleys of Pushkar. A separate write-up covers our journey from Delhi to Pushkar in details. Thanks to the low height, the BMW X1 is the best handling car in the segment. There is so little body roll on the corners that it’s guaranteed to impress you. I was literally throwing the car hard at bends to unsettle it, but the BMW X1 managed to sail through with ease. The softer suspensions made the ride butter smooth at slow speeds. The ground clearance is good enough to get you over the most vicious speed bumps without scraping the underbelly.

Then comes its handling in tight city roads, the BMW X1 isn’t small but I managed to maneuver it through the unbelievably tight back-roads of Pushkar without breaking a sweat. The X1 handles like a small sized hatchback. Even in city traffic, stuck at traffic jams, the car’s presence isn’t a bother and it is very easy to maneuver. I was positively surprised and more than impressed by the X1’s ride and handling on city roads. At highs speeds on the highway, I was a tad bit disappointed with it. The steering system with electromechanical power assistance feels inconsistent at high speeds. I had quite a few nervous moments where the car felt unsettled and as if there was no traction. The soft suspension settings only exaggerate it further. After 150kmph, the X1 doesn’t feel sure-footed and lacks composure.

Coming to its off-road capabilities, I had very little hope. This being a rear-wheel-drive car, I expected it to be not as good as the Audi Q3, which itself isn’t a very good off-road machine. The lower ground clearance was another issue. But let me tell you, I couldn’t have been more impressed. Not only did the X1 clear most of the obstacles without scraping the underbelly, it didn’t get stuck in sand even without the all-wheel-drive. The Audi Q3’s suspension is very hard and while off-roading the ride was very bumpy inside, but the X1 in comparison is little better. I won’t say it is an excellent off roader, but to give you an idea, I will not hesitate to take the X1 to Ladakh if I had to.

bmw-x1-5Verdict
I will try to keep the verdict short and simple. All this while, I avoided the BMW X1 because of its looks. The previous generation X1 was terrible inside out. But, while reviewing the 2013 BMW X1 sDrive20d, the crossover has managed to change my opinion on it to a great extent and rather I’ll say I am very impressed with it. It is one of the most versatile cars you can buy in the market currently and as far as the ride and handling and the interiors in concerned, it’s the best bet in the segment. The only major problem with the BMW X1 is its exterior design and styling. With the Mercedes GLA launched in India and the new Audi Q3 coming next year which looks simply stunning, things are only going to get more tougher for the beamer. But as a buyer, if you can live with looks or for some reason you like its styling, the BMW X1 is a very good crossover in that price bracket.

Specifications –

Engine4-cylinder inline, 1995cc turbocharged diesel
Torque380Nm at 1750-2750rpm
Power184bhp at 4000rpm
Transmission8 speed automatic
0 to 100 kmph7.9 seconds
Pricing33.90 lacs (Ex showroom Delhi)

The Luxe Factor Is

6 Looks
9 Handling
8 Comfort
8 Value for money
7.8
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