Good: high quality, driving experience
Not so good: really expensive once you start adding options
We expect change and progress. It's part of our genetic makeup, a legacy of our evolution from single cells to shaved apes. We assume that tomorrow will be better than today, and that things will, in general, get better. But somehow, I just never thought that the BMW X1 could be this much better...
To be fair, improving on the old X1 was never going to be especially difficult. It looked as if it had been styled to resemble a stroppy teenager - all slumped shoulders and downcast mouth, and inside the cabin was definitely representative of a teenager's mind: dark, fragile, not a pleasant place to be. Worst of all is that here was a BMW that didn't drive like a BMW should - in spite of what was underneath being largely a mix of 1 Series and 3 Series bits, the X1 didn't handle all that well and its steering was so heavy and over-weighted that parking put you in danger of bursting a blood vessel.
Somehow, BMW managed to sell 730,000 of the damned things, which is indicative more of our lemming-like rush to buy any (a) SUV and any (b) premium German product than of any actual excellence on the part of the X1 itself.
Right, enough with the past, in with the future and, in a move that will keep Darwinists happy, evolution has driven improvement.
The new X1 ditches the 'bitsa' 1 Series/3 Series chassis of old and instead rides on the same platform as the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer and the MINI Clubman. This means that, primarily, it's front-wheel drive, but the xDrive four-wheel drive fitted to our test car handily disguised all that. The most obvious benefit is to the styling - the new platform means that the X1 can now be taller, squarer and far more handsome. It may be a touch 'conventional modern SUV', but it's no worse for that, and I think it's actually better looking than the larger X3.
Inside, space has benefitted from the platform switch. It's taller so you sit up higher - 36mm higher in the front seats and 64mm higher in the back. That does mean you feel a little bit perched up, but it's much to the improvement of overall space. Rear knee room is, at minimum, 36mm better than before, and the 505-litre boot makes the X1 really practical, and even able to mix it with SUVs from a class up.
The cabin layout is a massive improvement. It's all very familiar - from the buttons and the handsome main dials to the iDrive infotainment screen (the optional 8.8-inch one here, a 6.5-inch version is standard) and it's all basically lifted from the 2 Series Active Tourer, but that's fine. What's crucial is that everything works well (BMW still seems to have a better innate understanding of how ergonomics really work than most) and the quality level is excellent - the memory of the old X1's cast-off 1 Series cabin is forgotten. It's comfortable too, although some may find the front seats a little narrow across the back.
Power comes from the familiar BMW 2.0-litre diesel four-cylinder, this time turned through 90 degrees so that it sits east-west across the nose. It makes 190hp and a very decent 400Nm of torque. That means that the X1 will clip along at a good pace, breaking the 100km/h barrier in a hot-hatch-like 7.6 seconds, but it still manages to be frugal. BMW quotes 57mpg overall, and we got just over 50mpg in our time with the car. Refinement is also good, but there is some wind and tyre noise to deal with. The xDrive four-wheel drive system gives you some pleasant reassurance when the rain comes sheeting down, but I doubt the X1 would get very far off road. Those big alloys and low-profile tyres would have it beached pretty quickly...
Best to keep it on a sealed road, then, and there the X1 frankly excels. Shorn of the pointless weight of the old X1's rack, the steering is delightful. It's fast and very accurate, and while there's not much actual feedback coming back through the rim, the way the X1 responds breeds tremendous confidence. Basically, it feels like a slightly taller 2 Series Active Tourer and there's nothing wrong with that. The ride quality is excellent, and yet another demonstration that BMW has discovered the art of making cars that handle well without knocking out your fillings. It's still a touch firm over urban ruts, but the way it deals with bigger, long-wave obstacles, with a defiant shrug of its front struts and multi-link rear, is very impressive.
Which brings us to the price, which is not so much impressive as it is positively heart stopping. Look, I know a German premium car is always going to be on the pricey side, but this test car cost €62k. That's inclusive of options in fairness, and a front-drive, 18d model, which is what most people will order, is cheaper, but for the price of this one you could have a seven-seat Kia Sorento and still have change left over for a MINI Cooper. That's just madness.
Even so, it proved impossible not to like the X1, and perhaps there's some succour in the lofty price tag when you consider two things - first, it totally leaves its closest competitor, the Audi Q3, in the dust. Secondly, it actually compared favourably when I drove it back to back with the Mercedes-Benz GLC, supposedly a larger and grander car entirely.
But I can still think of a lot of things I'd rather spend €62k on...