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DRIVING THE BMW X1

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Considering that BMW sold nearly as many X1 models during March this year as they had sold of the popular compact 2 Series, I think it is safe to admit that our prediction of it being a best seller in this market have all but been confirmed. Although not in the same sales league as the ever-popular 3 Series, 213 South African families have given the X1 their collective thumbs up by taking one home.

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Obviously BMW has done something right that has turned the fortunes of the new car right around. For starters, the car looks so much more sophisticated now than before. Gone is the too long sloping bonnet and unnecessarily pronounced overhangs, and in their stead, a much more dynamic stance with sexy rising shoulder lines and wheels that are actually positioned in the general vicinity of the car’s four corners, rather than being twice removed from them like on the old car.

Just about everything on the X1 is bigger, or taller, and it definitely feels roomier. Surprisingly, the car is 15 mm shorter than the old model, but with clever interior space management, BMW has increased legroom and headroom, and have given all passengers more shoulder space. It now comfortably leads in this respect, over segment rivals the Audi Q3 and Mercedes-Benz GLA.  

Regardless of which part of the X1’s personality is being experienced, it is expected of a BMW any BMW to offer levels of comfort, sophistication and safety that are beyond the norm. The driver-focussed cockpit design now features a 36 mm raised seating position, head up display (optional, and virtually non-visible when wearing polarising sunglasses), as well as full high-grade leather seats.

The X1 certainly looks the part, but it must be said that some aspects of the interior left me somewhat disappointed. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until a friend asked me why the exterior of the car had been overhauled so substantially while the instrumentation and other interior controls seemd to have come straight out of some other previous generation BMW. Frankly, I have long since made peace with the fact that BMW will likely stick with the tried and tested design language that has served them well for at least three decades.

Still on the cabin… BMW’s fantastic new 8-speed automatic gearbox has finally opened up legroom for the driver. Combined with the lightweight yet powerful new 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine powering my test car, the overall driving experience is smooth and controlled, as one would expect from a BMW.

Not only is the X1 visually more dramatic and now clearly a family member of the X3 and X5, it has been made structurally stronger, lighter and more efficient in terms of fuel consumption, while the AWD system only kicks in when required through an electro-hydraulic multi-plate clutch which distributes power to the rear when the front wheels start losing traction.

It is not a full-time 4×4, but then it does not have to be, as life for most X1s will likely be limited to conquering the urban jungle.

LAST WORD

In any given month in South Africa, X1 sales are about 12% of the sales recorded by the ever-popular 3 Series. With our country displaying an increasing fondness for SUV-type vehicles, the X1 xDrive is perfectly positioned to increase its market share dramatically not only at the expense of the 3-Series, but also at the expense of other SUVs. Versatility is the name of the game, and the X1’s dual role capabilities will see its sales figures soar. South Africa is SUV country, and BMW is poised to exploit this phenomenon with a quality product in the X1 xDrive range.

Report by BERNIE HELLBERG | Images BMW SOUTH AFRICA

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