BMW X1 xDrive23i (2023) review
BMW's X1 grows to original X3 size. Is it the premium SUV of choice?
Neil Briscoe
Neil Briscoe
Pics by Paddy McGrath

Published on March 30, 2023

BMW X1 overview

BMW's X1 is kind of the perfect representation of the modern car market. It's a premium-badged compact SUV, so it should be a big seller. It's - relatively - affordable at the lower reaches of its range, which makes it seem less of an indulgence than it might be, but you can quickly and easily spend many multiples of the base price by digging into the options list (as has happened with our test car). There is also a fully-electric version, so it's all geared up for the future.

The original X1, launched in 2009, was honestly one of the worst cars ever in the BMW canon, as lumpy to drive as it was to look at. The second generation, launched in 2016, was a massive improvement but seemed to get overshadowed in the market by more attractive competitors. Will this generation, the 'U11' model if you're into BMW internal number codes, be the smash hit that it should be?

It certainly looks sharper than before. That original X1 was an awful hodgepodge of design cues, and the second-gen version was much cleaner looking, but arguably a little bland. This X1 looks more like a BMW X5 that's been shrunk in the wash, and gets the deep, 3D rear light design used by the larger X3. I say larger, but the X1 has grown to the same overall size as the original BMW X3, so it's now a much more practical and useable everyday proposition.

Our test car was also wearing €3,214 worth of Frozen Pure Grey paint and €1,063 of 20-inch M Sport alloy wheels, so combined with the blacked-out grille and exterior trim, it was looking pretty attractive - certainly more so than the somewhat apologetic-looking Audi Q3. The Audi is not the X1's only rival though. The excellent Mercedes GLB matches it closely on price and also can be had as the electric EQB, and if you're looking at electric power there's also the Lexus UX 300e and Volvo XC40 and C40 Recharge models to consider.

The BMW X1 model range

The X1 range kicks off with the Sport model at €47,325. That gets you the 170hp sDrive20i (which means front-wheel drive in this instance) powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine, with CO2 emissions of 134g/km. You can also have the sDrive18d, featuring a 150hp 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine with CO2 emissions of 129g/km for €48,095. Rounding out the Sport line-up is the xDrive25e plug-in hybrid with four-wheel drive, which gets up to 245hp from its combination of 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine and electric motor. It officially emits just 15g/km and has a fully-charged electric range of up to 88km. It costs €51,570.

Standard equipment for Sport models includes 17-inch alloy wheels, LED front and rear lights, an electric tailgate, the striking curved display screen for the dashboard that includes both driver's instruments and infotainment, two-zone automatic air conditioning, an automatic gearbox, selectable driving modes, parking assistance including sensors and a reversing camera, and cruise control with brake function.

Next up is the X-Line trim, which is €50,115 for the sDrive20i, €51,775 for the sDrive18d and €54,030 for the xDrive25e plug-in hybrid. There are additional engine choices at this trim level - a second plug-in hybrid called the xDrive30e gets 326hp, emits 17g/km and officially has the same 88km electric range as the lesser model, all for €56,7554; a mild-hybrid 2.0-litre xDrive23i emits 148g/km of CO2 for €57,835; and a mild-hybrid 2.0-litre diesel xDrive23d with 211hp and 128g/km is €55,615.

It's in X-Line trim that the all-electric iX1 also becomes available, priced from €65,395 with 313hp, a range of up to 440km and optional AC charging at up to 22kW.

Standard X-Line equipment includes 18-inch alloy wheels, contrast door mirror caps, grille in aluminium trim, perforated 'Sensatec' synthetic leather upholstery, high-gloss black interior trim and 'luxury' trim for the instrument panel.

At the top of the range is the M Sport, which starts at €54,735 for the sDrive20i; €55,615 for the sDrive18d; €59,375 for the xDrive23d; €61,925 for the xDrive23i; €57,410 for the xDrive25e PHEV; €60,135 for the xDrive30e PHEV; and €68,775 for the iX1. Standard kit includes 19-inch bi-colour alloys, Alcantara and Sensatec suede and leather trim with blue contrast stitching, aluminium cabin trim and an M Sport body kit.

BMW currently has two finance offers in place for the X1 - you can get a basic sDrive20i for €471 per month, or a plug-in hybrid xDrive25e for €506 a month. Check the BMW Ireland website for the most up-to-date prices.

It's worth mentioning safety at this point, and the X1 gets a full five-star rating from Euro NCAP for crash protection, with an 86 per cent score for adult occupants, 89 per cent for child occupants and 76 per cent for vulnerable road users. As standard, the X1 comes with active emergency braking that can detect pedestrians and cyclists, as well as a pop-up bonnet to cushion an impact should the worst occur. It also gets lane-keeping assistance as standard.

The BMW X1 interior

The first thing you notice when you sit into the new X1 is the distinct ramp up in quality compared to the previous model. Not that the old X1 was especially Lada-like inside or anything, but this generation looks and feels far more distinctly premium than previous versions managed to.

Atop the dashboard is the now-familiar large, curved screen that is actually two screens - a 10.25-inch digital instrument display and a 10.7-inch infotainment screen. Both of these look largely classy and work well, but there are a couple of 'buts'.

The graphics on the instrument panel have the faint whiff of PlayStation game about them, and the screen is neither as classy to look at nor as adjustable in layout and information shown as the rival MBUX system in the Mercedes-Benz GLB. Equally, while the menu layout in the infotainment screen is generally very good and easy to use, the moving of almost all the climate control functions to the screen is not a welcome step. The temperature controls for both sides of the cabin remain on the screen at all times, no matter what other menus or screens you have selected, and they are responsive to use, but anything more complex than turning the heat up or down means going to a separate screen (accessed, in fairness, by an always-on shortcut button between the temperature controls) and that just means taking your eyes and attention off the road for too long. Equally, the steering wheel buttons are now multi-function, so do different things at different times and frankly they're rather tiresome to learn.

On the upside, getting rid of the physical temperature controls means that the driver gets a large central air vent to use, and the neat optional head-up display projected onto the windscreen is good to use.

Seat comfort in the front is excellent, and there's lots of storage in a wide and deep tray under the 'floating' centre console. That console houses the engine start/stop button, the electronic parking brake, the physical volume control for the stereo (which is fiddly to use), the switch for the selectable driving modes and the activation switch for the parking cameras, as well as the little toggle switch that is your drive selector.

Behind these is a very shallow lidded tray, which annoyingly is hinged on the wrong side for right-hand drive, and which along with the decently-sized glovebox is the only covered storage in the cabin. Ahead of the floating centre console there's a pair of cupholders, two USB-C sockets and an upright wireless phone charging pad with a little physical clip that holds your phone in place. There are also well-sized door bins, and the bottle holders in those are capable of taking chunky drinks bottles.

In the back, space is very good with six-footer-behind-six-footer legroom and little to no impact on headroom from the optional panoramic glass roof. There's not quite enough space in the centre of the rear seat for a third adult to get comfortable, added to which there's a substantial transmission tunnel, but there's just enough space for that person to be squeezed in for a short hop. The outer two rear seats get ISOFIX anchors for child car seats, and so too does the front passenger seat, which also of course includes an airbag cut-off switch.

The back of the X1 is also commendable for its view out. The rear window line isn't too sharply raised up, leaving a large, square glass area, plus the front-seat headrests are relatively slim, so you can see easily out the front too. Rear-seat passengers get their own matching pair of USB-C sockets, nets on the backs of the front seats and useful door bins.

The rear seats split-folds in three sections, 40:20:40, so you can carry long, narrow loads with passengers in the outer two rear seats.

The boot is big, at 500 litres, and because the rear seats slide back and forth, you can stretch that to 540 litres if those in the rear seats sacrifice some legroom. The boot floor is flat and unobstructed, and there's no loading lip. There is some useful under-floor storage, but sadly you can't stash the rigid luggage cover under the floor when you don't need it. There are also no useful handles in the boot for tipping the rear seatbacks forward, but at least they lie flat when you do, and that opens up a very handy 1,600 litres of cargo space. One note is that, unlike the BMW 3 Series Touring estate, the X1 doesn't get a separate opening window in the tailgate, which is a bit of a shame.

There's one odd thing - the driving position, almost no matter what you do with the seat, feels quite bolt upright and high-set, and if you're tall, you might find that the windscreen pillar is a little close to your head. It possibly shows the limitation of trying to package as much space as possible into a relatively compact shape.

The BMW X1 driving experience

If I say that the new X1 is the best X1 to drive yet, well that's not exactly a high bar to leap over. The original X1 was horrible. The second gen was fine, but just a touch insipid. This new one improves the breed, but taken in the broader sweep of the whole BMW line-up, it's nothing special.

The engine is sweet, though. Few Irish buyers are likely to go for this turbocharged petrol and four-wheel drive combo (have you seen the CO2 emissions?), but it's a delightful engine to drive. Keep it in Efficient mode and it manages to be less than disastrous in terms of fuel consumption - a 6.5 litres per 100km average is relatively easy to achieve, although if you're using the 218hp much you'll soon creep over the 7.0 litres/100km mark.

Put it in Sport mode and the responsiveness of the engine improves quite a bit - as you'd expect - and the engine's aural performance improves too, thanks to a growly sound effect piped in through the stereo that is largely convincing. Nonetheless, if you're driving in Efficient mode but need a quick burst of extra performance, you can pull and hold the left-hand gearchange paddle behind the steering wheel, which accesses a ten-second - complete with on-screen countdown - burst of Sport mode. Once the eleventh second clicks in, it reverts to fuel-saving Efficient mode. It's a handier function than you might think.

It's not that the X1 xDrive23i is in any sense lacking in power, but... well actually it kind of is. A compact car with a 218hp engine and four-wheel drive really ought to feel livelier than this, but to be honest the X1 just feels a little too languid for its own good. Then again, as noted, this particular one is unlikely to be a hugely popular model in Ireland, not when you have a choice of plug-in hybrids and the all-electric iX1.

The X1's steering is light, but well-weighted and very direct, although it's a little short on ultimate feel and feedback, not helped by the pillow-like, over-stuffed M Sport steering wheel. Take it on a properly twisty road and it feels poised and sure-footed, but I'm not sure it actually feels all that much out and out fun. Is that too much to ask from a compact SUV? Possibly, but then this does wear the BMW badge, and I think that still ought to mean something.

In terms of ride comfort, the firm M Sport suspension and large 20-inch alloys of our test car exact the kind of penalty that you might expect, but the slick control exerted by the suspension's dampers keep it from getting too harsh. Mostly, it's just the right side of fine, but lower-spec versions will likely be more comfortable.

Refinement is excellent, though. Even with the big wheels, there's not too much in the way of tyre noise, and the wind noise suppression is very good. BMW has certainly moved along in terms of overall driver comfort from where it was a decade ago.

Even so, I think from a driving point of view, I'd be looking elsewhere in the BMW showroom for something a bit more fun behind the wheel. The 2 Series Gran Coupe gets unfairly maligned, in my view, but it uses the same basic platform as the X1 to better effect, and if you can live without the more versatile boot of the X1, it's a better choice as a driver's car. Higher up in the X1 range, you start to get into the same price bracket as a 3 Series Touring estate, and frankly for me at that point there's no contest - the 3 is sharper by far to drive, and just as practical.

Our verdict on the BMW X1

It's not hard to understand the appeal of the X1. It takes all of the traditional BMW values, and packages them up in an appealing-looking SUV shape, complete with roomy back seats and a spacious boot. Frankly, if this doesn't sell well then there's something wrong with the car market. That said, other BMW models are definitely more fun to drive, so if that's your priority, have a look around the showroom before you decide.

What do the rest of the team think?

My thoughts on the BMW X1 xDrive23i mostly echo Neil's, though I found the 'Boost' function a little pointless and I don't like the synthetic engine sound - thankfully it can be switched off easily. I really like the curved screen display, though would of course prefer physical switchgear for the climate control. In summary, the new X1 looks great, has a really practical interior made of high-quality stuff and is on the cutting edge when it comes to its technology. This one isn't cheap, but it feels worth the price of admission all the same.

Shane O' Donoghue - Editor


Tech Specs

Model testedBMW X1 xDrive23i M Sport Premier Pro
Irish pricingBMW X1 from €47,235; €76,272 as tested
Engineturbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder mild-hybrid petrol
Transmissionseven-speed 'Steptronic' automatic, four-wheel drive
Body stylefive-door, five-seat SUV
CO2 emissions154g/km
Irish motor tax€280 per annum
Fuel economy43.4mpg (6.5 litres/100km)
Top speed233km/h
0-100km/h7.1 seconds
Max power218hp at 5,000-6,500rpm
Max torque320Nm at 1,500-4,000rpm
Boot space500 litres (seats up), 1,545 litres (seats down)
Max towing2,000kg braked, 750kg unbraked
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