BMW X1 sDrive20i Review: Back To Front

Derryn Wong


Hey that looks like a small BWW X5! 

True, but it’s actually the new X1, and it’s radically different.BMW’s smallest sport utility vehicle (SUV) has undergone major changes as the brand introduces a wider range of front-wheel drive models to its line-up.

That’s a result of an architecture switch at a group wide research and development level. CLAR (Cluster Architecture) is the new rear-wheel drive platform that debuted in the 7 Series (read more about it here) and will provide the basis for the new 3 Series and X3.

As reported earlier in CarBuyer, UKL (or Unter Class, aka small vehicles) is BMW’s new front-wheel drive architecture that first appeared in the new Mini three-door. UKL1 is the version that drives that car, and the Mini five-door, while the larger UKL2 underpins the 2 Series Active Tourer (AT) and Gran Tourer multi-purpose vehicles (MPVs, the BMW brand’s first front-wheel drive vehicles).

New 7 Series Tested – Should the S-Class be worried about its luxury crown?
BMW’s first MPV driven, and also the seven-seat version of the new ‘family’ Beemer

Wait, I’m confused, stop it with all the unter-see-booten…
Okay, just know that the new X1 is now front-wheel driven, just like the newest, small BMWs. And the X1 really is smaller: At 4,439mm, its 15mm shorter than before. Although it’s also wider and quite a bit taller too (23mm and 53mm respectively).

That explains why the styling is very ‘BMW X-like’, since the styling has also been updated with huge kidney grilles and a chunky, bulging front end that looks like the X5’s. If SUV market research is to be believed, that’s good news indeed since most people buy SUVs for the high seating position and the rough-tough looks.

Does this mean it’s more cramped inside?
Not necessarily. The advantages of FWD shine through in the amount of space the X1 packs. Despite there being less space between the wheels (the wheelbase shrinks from 2,760mm to 2,670mm), the cabin is actually quite roomy, no surprise given the amount of space the 2 Series AT has.

There’s a tremendous amount of headspace for a vehicle in this class, and in contrast to the low-topped Mercedes GLA. If you’re six-foot tall and have a hipster quiff, presumably to go with your hiking boots and lumberjack shirt and SUV, everything will still fit nicely without painting hair wax on the roof.

The second row can fit Real Adults™ easily and the 505-litre boot is conspicuously roomy as well. It’s 85-litres larger than before, and trumps both the GLA and Q3 as well. Other practical additions include an electric seat back release in the boot and an electric tailgate. All seats fold down (40/20/40) for a total of 1,550-litres.

So it’s good for small families and tall people with tall hair…
It’s quite practical too. The driving position is reassuringly high, and visibility is good too, thanks to the relatively thin A-pillars. Like the 2 Series AT, the cabin has a tiered operating concept plus lots of space to stow things. Standard on-board are electric seats, the lesser version of BMW’s iDrive with navigation (it has a smaller 6.5-inch display compared to 8.0-inches on the bigger BMWs) but all the functions are there, including BMW’s useful ConnectedDrive suite of services.

But does it drive like a BMW should?
Yes, and no. Under the hood lies the same 2.0-litre new-generation turbo engine as found in the Mini Cooper S (the Clubman version we’ve also tested recently), and it makes nearly 200bhp. As a result the X1 does a pretty good impression of a hot hatch. There’s enough power to chirp the front wheels (this is the sDrive20i which denotes FWD, all-wheel drive may be available later on) and the steering is unaffected by the huge torque as well.

The X1 feels most in its element on tight turns and sweepers, but ironically, it fares quite badly with bumpy stuff. Our test car came with 18-inch wheels (as standard) but they transmitted almost every imperfection on the tarmac directly into a shudder in the cabin. Going over speed humps results in a resounding thump and excess body movement while it settles with the after-effects.

READ MORE: How about a small SUV that does 0-100 in less than five seconds and has the personality of a snarling beast? Enter the GLA monster…

Can you live with it?
As drivers, sure. But everyone else in the car might complain, so it’s best to get a second opinion from a passenger first. We drove more than 150km in the X1 throughout Singapore, but never quite reconciled ourselves with the ride quality, primarily because it never quite settled down either. It’s not bad enough to put you out of your seat, or to make high-speed cornering scary, but it’s noticeable enough, especially since SUVs are supposed to make bumps go away.

Our own SUV must -have is the ability to shrug off the large number of speed humps and tarmac lumps on Singapore’s deteriorating roads. But as mentioned, there are a lot of things the X1 still has going for it, as a tough-looking, practical and high-riding machine.

BMW X1 sDrive20i
Engine                          1,998cc, 16V, inline 4, turbocharged
Power                                 192bhp at 5000-6000rpm
Torque                         280Nm at 1250-4600rpm
Gearbox                         8-speed automatic
Top Speed                         225km/h
0-100km/h                         7.7 seconds                &n
Fuel efficiency                 6.1L/100km
CO2                                 136g/km
Price                                 $191,800 with COE
Availability                         Now

Also Consider: Mercedes-Benz GLA 200, Volvo V40 X Country


5 seat 5-door bmw petrol sDrive20i SUV X1

About the Author

Derryn Wong

CarBuyer's former chief editor was previously the editor for Top Gear Singapore, and a presenter for CNA's Cruise Control motoring segment. An avid motorcyclist and photographer, he is the Chief Slave of two cats. Follow him on Instagram @werryndong

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