2023 BMW X1 review: premium SUV shoots to the head of the class
Latest version of BMW’s compact SUV has the space, versatility and performance to have rivals worried and even has a brilliant all-electric option
The BMW X1 is one of those cars that’s pleasingly easy to define, even if you’ve never seen one.
Thanks to BMW’s simple naming structure where the X denotes an SUV and the number tells you where it lies in the model spectrum, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that this is BMW’s smallest SUV, positioned squarely to do battle with the likes of the Audi Q3, Mercedes GLA and Volvo XC40.
Of course, it’s been doing that for many years now but after six years of the second generation car, BMW has just launched this all-new version of its baby crossover.
And it really is all-new. A new platform (shared with the 2 Series) means it’s longer, taller and wider than before. Externally, BMW has responded to customer demand for a more rugged appearance with a squarer design and chunkier proportions which work well and even manage to accommodate the huge kidney grille fairly well.
The bigger external proportions and longer wheelbase translate to more space inside, where there’s generous leg, head and shoulder room for the class whether you’re in the front or rear. Boot space is equally impressive, with up to 540 litres thanks to a sliding rear bench.
As well as its underlying platform, the X1 shares much of its interior with the 2 Series Active Tourer. That means a practical and family friendly arrangement that makes great use of the space and boasts a minimalist design with a floating centre console and the same pair of screens curving gently in towards the driver. These house the instruments - supplemented by a head-up display in higher spec cars - and BMW’s latest Operating System 8 with a huge breadth of customisation and connectivity but some frustratingly fiddly menus. The centre screen also features augmented reality navigation that overlays direction commands on live video footage. This is only worth mentioning as a pointless and distracting answer to a question nobody asked.
The X1 is offered with two petrol, two diesel and two plug-in hybrid models. These range from a 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel to the 322bhp xDrive30e PHEV with around 50 miles of EV capability. We drove the xDrive23i which is a punchy but gruff 2.0-litre petrol with 48V mild hybrid assistance producing 215bhp and offering low-40s economy. It’s mated to the standard fit seven-speed auto and all-wheel drive, which is standard on all but the base diesel and petrol models.
We tested variants with and without the M Sport adaptive dampers and while the adaptive units did a better job of managing the ride, especially at higher speeds, there was an unwelcome firmness and unsettledness across the board. The XLine’s smaller wheels only helped improve this marginally.
Steering through the comically thick wheel is quick and light but not blessed with the kind of feel or feedback that other BMWs like the 3 Series enjoy. The all-wheel-drive X1 feels composed and controlled, with plenty of grip, but it’s not going to put a grin on anyone’s face.
We also got a chance to drive a prototype of the new iX1 - the full electric variant that will join BMW’s burgeoning electric line-up in 2023. This brings some pretty impressive numbers - 309bhp, 270-mile range and 130kW rapid charging for its 64.7kWh battery.
Acceleration is predictably rapid, with 0-62mph taking just 5.7 seconds and the usual welcome slug of instant torque under throttle at any speed. This can be enhanced by pulling the “boost” paddle, which replaces the usual gear or brake regen paddles and unlocks the motor’s maximum performance for 10 seconds. The way the iX1 loses speed is as impressive as how it puts it on, thanks to smart adaptive regenerative braking which uses nav information to help meter its performance.
The iX1 will be BMW’s entry point EV but still clocks in at just over £50,000 for the iX1 xDrive 30e. The rest of the X1 range starts at £33,775 for the 2.0-litre petrol Sport, while the predicted big seller will be the MSport, which starts at £38,525 and brings sportier styling and bigger wheels as well as the adaptive suspension and Alcantara upholstery. All versions of the X1 get the twin-screen setup, reversing camera, parking assistance, LED lighting and a powered tailgate, as well as the latest driver assistance systems.
Previous generations of X1 have felt a little like BMW fulfilling an obligation to have a car in every conceivable segment. The latest one, however, feels like a far more serious prospect, with class leading space and practicality and a breadth of strong drivetrains including a very impressive all-electric option.
BMW X1 xDrive23i M Sport
Price: £42,445 (£48,999 as tested); Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol, 48V mild hybrid; Power: 215bhp; Torque: 267lb/ft; Transmission: Seven-speed automatic, four-wheel-drive; Top speed: 145mph; 0-62mph: 7.1 seconds; Economy: 40.9-42.8mpg; CO2 emissions: 157-148g/km