Test Drives

2019 BMW X1 review: Meet on the grille



A facelift for the BMW X1 makes it look recognisably new, but will that be enough to keep buyers interested in the face of fresher competition?

MUNICH, GERMANY – As with all BMWs, the X1 has been given a mid-life facelift to keep it fresh. As with only some facelifted BMWs, however, you can actually tell. 

There’s a dead giveaway with the double-kidney grille, which has now merged in the middle.

Another easy sign? New LED headlamps that have cut-off hexagonal elements inside them, along with a new blinker position atop them.

The X1 facelift (or “Life Cycle Impulse” to use BMW’s term, because why use one word and two syllables when you can have three words and five?) will deliver a refreshed X1 to Singapore… this week, actually. Having cleared the Land Transport Authority’s approval process unexpectedly soon, the new BMW X1 goes on sale here on October 4th, this Friday.

You get three models to choose from. The engine lineup remains the same with the X1 sDrive18i (powered by a 1.5-litre, three-cylinder turbo) kicking off the range at S$171,888 with Certificate Of Entitlement.

Pay S$10,000 more for the “xLine” package of styling and equipment enhancements, or how about S$182,888 for the more powerful sDrive20i M Sport version (which gets a 2.0-litre four)? Go on, live a little. And besides, the sDrive18i xLine and sDrive20i M Sport are so close in price because the three-cylinder engine incurs a S$10,000 pollution tax and the four-cylinder doesn’t.

READ MORE
Here’s our run-down of Singapore pricing for the new BMW X1 range

Mind you, the X1 arrives at a feverish time for the premium small Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) market.

The Mercedes GLA is old but still popular because it has the Category A COE corner of the market to itself. Savvy buyers know a new one is around the corner, and that the seven-seat GLB might be worth waiting for

The new Audi Q3 is an excellent offering, with a sexy sibling on the way in the form of the Q3 Sportback

Heck, even BMW’s own X2 is a worthwhile alternative, being less spacious inside but better to drive.

Can an LCI keep the X1 selling well in the face of all that? It’s worth reminding ourselves what made it a hit in Singapore and elsewhere in the first place. Matter of fact, it has a habit of being BMW’s best-selling X car worldwide

For starters, it’s a big car, so much so that it forced Audi to upsize the Q3 dramatically.

Family men are bound to appreciate the roomy interior, particularly in the back — an easy sell to the wife, if ever there was one.

As before, the rear seats are a show of versatility. Split 60/40 on our test car (but 40/20/40 in Singapore-spec cars), they slide forward up to 12cm and the seatbacks are adjustable, which lets you expand the already big boot and take the load area anywhere from 505 litres to 1,550 litres.

Sitting in the back of the X1 is a revelation, too. It’s actually not all that far off how much room you get in the rear of the bigger X3, since its transverse engine configuration (in which the engine is mounted across the frame) leaves more space for the cabin.

The engine sits cross-wise because the X1 is a front-wheel drive car, and exclusively so in our market. No shame in that, since the vast majority of cars are pulled along by their front wheels.

But that results in some un-BMW-like driving behaviour at times. The sDrive18i gets by with a creditable 140 horsepower, and the engine puts out 220 Newton-metres of torque once the turbo is in full swing, but because there’s quite a lot of X1 to haul along, the sprint to 100km/h is more like a jog. It takes 9.7 seconds, and that’s if you wring the engine.

The sDrive20i’s 2.0-litre turbo produces 192hp and 280Nm, thus shaving the 100km/h time to 7.7 seconds. The engine is less thrummy and revs more smoothly than the sDrive18’s, too. But if the road’s a bit wet from rain, trying to drive with urgency in the X1 sDrive20i means the front wheels scrabble for traction.

For the record, we drove xDrive25d xLine and xDrive25i M Sport versions of the X1, both of which are endowed with all-wheel drive and thus, largely immune to traction problems.

In any case, the X1 is generally a surefooted car. That might be why the LCI models don’t come with any suspension or steering changes. Sure enough, you can tip the BMW into corners at a pretty hot pace, and it’ll lean on its springs and carry you through with aplomb. The Pirelli P Zeros on our test car helped with that.

Yet, while the X1 does tackle a single corner admirably, it feels as if the suspension would struggle to keep up if you strung a series of rapid switchbacks together. There’s a high centre of gravity, and the car totters a little when it transitions from one direction to another.

Small matter, if you ask us, because no one in Singapore is buying an X1 for its cornering abilities.

The real question is whether the facelift can keep would-be buyers tempted. It helps that the changes are noticeable, but in case you’re having trouble spotting them, here’s a shot of the pre-facelift X1.

Notice the front bumper on the new car, which now incorporates slim, rectangular foglamps instead of the big round ones set into the last car’s bumper.

Apart from new wheel designs and three new colours, one of which is the Storm Bay (or just grey, to my eyes) on our test car, there are also new taillights and fatter tailpipes.

Inside, the instrument cluster has a deeper black panel, and Singapore gets the 8.8-inch touchscreen iDrive system as standard and not, alas, our test car’s fancier 10.25-inch item.

Wireless Apple CarPlay connectivity is now available, as is a wireless charging cradle built into the centre armrest.

It’s all fairly neat and easy to operate (the analogue instruments are much easier to read than BMW’s cluttered digital efforts), and there’s plenty of space for odds and ends in the X1’s cabin.

But things are starting to look dated in the face of fresher competition; the Audi Q3’s virtual instruments and wide touchscreen look more contemporary, and the next Mercedes GLA will get the bright, fancy dual 10.25-inch screen setup that the new small Mercedes models have.

It’ll be interesting to see whether the xLine version of the car here, with its more classical BMW styling cues such as the chrome grille and satiny window surrounds, will do better than the sDrive20i M Sport (pictured below, in Misano Blue, another new colour for the X1).

In our view, the latter gives better value for money, but it’s worth test-driving both locally to asses their ride quality for yourself — we drove both versions in Germany but the test cars sat on the same suspension (M Sport badge notwithstanding), unlike local cars, which have the sDrive20i M Sport on lower, stiffer springs. Our past experiences with BMWs on M Sport suspension showed a noticeable difference in ride comfort, and not for the better. Just to complicate things, you can specify your sDrive20i M Sport without the sport suspension. 

Even without a lowered stance, the blacked-out chrome elements, bigger brakes and aggressive front bumper of the M Sport pack give the X1 a surprising amount of meanness.

Our guess is that the more traditional looks of the sDrive18i xLine will help it sell better in Singapore, but if you’re buying a BMW X1 to turn the neighbours’ heads, the xDrive20i M Sport is the one. A facelift does its share for the car, but to really make it stand out you should accessorise.

(As available in Singapore)

BMW X1 sDrive18i xLine

Engine 1,499cc, inline 3, turbocharged
Power 140hp at 4600-6500rpm
Torque 220Nm at 1480-4200rpm
Gearbox 7-speed dual-clutch
0-100km/h 9.7 seconds
Top Speed 203km/h
Fuel Efficiency 6.3L/100km
VES Band / CO2 C1 / 144g/km
Agent Performance Motors Limited
Price S$181,888 with COE
Available Now

 

BMW X1 sDrive20i M Sport

Engine 1,998cc, 16V, inline 4, turbocharged
Power 192hp at 5000-6000rpm
Torque 220Nm at 1480-4200rpm
Gearbox 280Nm at 1250-4600rpm
0-100km/h 7.7 seconds
Top Speed 226km/h
Fuel Efficiency 6.5L/100km
VES Band / CO2 B / 149g/km
Agent Performance Motors Limited
Price S$182,888 with COE
Available Now

 

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about the author

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Leow Julen
Leow Ju-Len is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 25 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.