Cars > Driven

BMW X1 sDrive 18d (U11): Confident, practical, ‘entry-level’ Sports Activity Vehicle

Classy and high-tech, with some caveats

Nails that confident look without being too arrogant, wouldn't you agree? PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

It’s been ages since I last drove an X-series BMW, and that was an X3 circa 2005 or thereabouts: lovely suspension, syrupy in-line-six, a six-speed automatic, and all-wheel drive.

BMW’s lineup of Sports Activity Vehicles has grown significantly since those relatively early days, and typical of these Germans, they’ve always been at the forefront of integrating newfangled technologies and design philosophies.

The giant kidney grille grows on you, and at least ensures the engine gets lots of airflow. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

BMW’s X1 is the entry-level model—if you can call a nearly P4-million-plus car ‘entry-level’—and is roughly the same size as an early-model X3: 4,500mm long, 1,845mm wide, and 1,642mm high. Big enough to afford decent room for five, but compact enough for squeezing into narrow spaces.

Its 2.0-liter diesel in-line-four churns out a modest 150hp, but makes up for it with 320Nm of twist. Coupled with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, the drivetrain is a pleasure to manage in urban traffic and has enough juice to power through some hills without much effort, although, of course, you won’t be going especially fast.

There is no all-wheel drive for this model as it’s strictly front-wheel-drive, and that’s just as well. It’s simpler to maintain and is lighter, and nobody who buys crossovers these days will ever take it to anything rougher than a dirt road anyway.

Newfangled ‘shifter’ is this tiny clicker here by the volume roller and a couple of buttons. PHOTOS BY ANDY LEUTERIO

Now that it has been a while since the “new look” BMWs came out, I’m warming up to the gigantic kidney grille.

It’s big, toothy, and has that typical Teutonic confidence, but the overall treatment of the front fascia with the slim, wraparound LED headlights and those faux air intakes by the side with the satin silver trim all look rather nice and distinctive.

The profile is a bit slab-sided, though the throwing-star design of the 18-inch alloy wheels is a pleasing contrast.

Chunky proportions and nice black-and-white contrast with a little bit of silver for accent. PHOTOS BY ANDY LEUTERIO

Familiarizing with the cockpit takes longer than it used to with the old BMWs, mainly because BMW has fully embraced the future by integrating as many features as possible into the “glass cockpit” theme à la modern fighter jets.

Figuring out the settings for the climate control, the stereo, and the driver-assistance tech takes around 10 minutes since you have to shuffle through several screens, and remembering how to get back to that display you were at a minute ago also takes some rewiring of the brain.

Instead of the pistol-grip shifter I loved so much in the old X3, there’s this little switch on the center island console sharing space with the e-brake, the stereo volume, and the camera button. And this being an entry-level X, there are no paddle shifters, which means you will have to rely on the transmission’s brain to always find the right gear for you.

The cockpit integrates many functions into the widescreen display—for better and worse. PHOTOS BY ANDY LEUTERIO

In everyday driving, there’s little to fault with the car. The diesel does the job quietly and efficiently, and once you’ve figured out how everything works with the touchscreen panel, it’s remarkable how roomy and airy the cabin feels for a relatively small vehicle.

There’s a storage space under the center island armrest, two big cupholders, and a wireless charging station. The side panels have these sculpted door pulls that may as well be a work of art, neatly hiding the fact that there’s a fair amount of recycled plastic in here along with the leather.

Sharp, precise steering feel and a lovely tiller to work with. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO
That's a great-looking door pull. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

Ride quality has always been a BMW strong suit, and the X1 delivers with a solid yet supple ride that somehow takes out some of the roughness of our crappy roads without feeling harsh. The steering is light in urban gridlock and parking-lot maneuvers, then firms up nicely once you get up to highway speeds. It has that lane-keeping assistance tech, too, vibrating the wheel if you’re veering off center.

Brakes are another plus—strong and linear. This is one of those cars that make you want to pack the kids and the bags, and go off on a road trip, preferably one with a lot of twisty roads for entertainment.

Sport seats with ‘Sensatec’ perforated upholstery deliver great support and breathe well in our tropical climate. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO
Good legroom and headroom at the back, with a high hip point, too. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

The back end has no magic tricks when it comes to cargo carrying. The seat backs fold flat, and that’s it: no fold-and-tumble here. Even so, the cargo area is rated at 540L with the seats up, and 1,600L with the seat backs down. Enough for a big supermarket run or a trip to the hardware store, though you may want to bring a tape measure if you plan to haul some big plywood sheets for your gentleman woodworker project. An automatic tailgate will ease some of the heavy lifting, too.

You have 540L cargo volume with the seat backs up. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO
And 1,600L with the seat backs down. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

Curiously, the X1 is listed as P3,890,000, while the bigger X3 (with the same engine) starts at P4,190,000 for the Business trim. The X3 is around 200mm longer, and a few centimeters taller and wider, too, which translates to a little bit more usable space inside.

Is a P300,000 difference in “savings” going to swing a customer to the X1, or would you rather get the bigger car and cross the P4-million threshold? I don’t presume to know how wealthy buyers think, but BMW seems to be covering all the bases here.

Purists will decry how BMWs these days are getting more and more complicated and digitized, but that’s the march of progress for you. Still, the proof is in the pudding: A modern-day X1 is still a rewarding car to drive. And quite practical as well.

BMW X1 sDRIVE18D (U11)

Engine2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo diesel
Transmission7-speed dual-clutch automatic
Power150hp @ 5,500-6,500rpm
Torque360Nm @ 1,750-2,250 rpm
Dimensions4,500mm x 1,845mm x 1,642mm
Drive layoutFWD
UpsideSolid chassis, supple ride, smooth and economical drivetrain. Brimming with the latest in comfort and safety tech.
DownsideWidescreen display is a dust and smudge magnet. No way to manually shift.

Andy Leuterio

Andy is both an avid cyclist and a car enthusiast who has finally made the shift to motorcycles. You've probably seen him on his bicycle or motorbike overtaking your crawling car. He is our motorcycle editor and the author of the ‘Quickshift’ column.