Estimated reading time 5 minutes 5 Min

Baby Beemer SUV not such a small contender

The third-generation BMW X1 continues to break new ground for its sector, sharing functionality with bigger and electric versions from the Bavarian stable.

BMW X1 The new BMW X1 boasts a two flat-screen dash and wireless upright smartphone charging.
March 18, 2023
By Peter Atkinson
18 March 2023

Not all cars are built the same. Obviously.

It’s not necessarily about aesthetics. More about general design.

And specifically, it’s about the everyday things that most drivers take for granted, but can cause all kinds of frustration, and sometimes embarrassment.

Like that time at the fuel station where a few minutes of unsuccessful poking and prodding at the obstinate fuel flap of a Mazda MX-5 drew a crowd. Fortunately, a central locking switch was discovered in the glove box, which finally freed the pesky flap. Deep sighs all round.

More common is the door-unlock button. And the ignominy of a would-be passenger standing (patiently) in the rain while the driver fumbles to unlock their door.

Start buttons are another bugbear – sometimes to the left of the steering wheel, sometimes to the right. Occasionally on the centre console.

Enter the all-new BMW X1. A car that, after more than a decade with the same basic cockpit architecture, has turned the small SUV market completely on its head.

Not necessarily a bad thing, but a little confusing all the same.

The X1 start button took about a minute to find. It is well camouflaged as one of a handful of alloy-style buttons on the cantilevered centre console, which also houses a tiny gear-change toggle.

On the (very) positive side is the X1’s brilliant storage spot for a smartphone. Instead of just jamming it into a cup holder, the little Beemer offers a beautifully lit, wire-free charging station that stands the phone right-way up while recharging. There’s even a little bracket that holds the phone in place so it can be seen, but not touched. Genius. 

The X1’s whole centre console is a brilliant piece of design – maximising space while also providing a place to rest an arm. It’s got plenty of storage spaces – phone (of course), cup holders, a spot for sunglasses and another for that pesky garage opener.

Being a leader is not always easy, of course. The folks at BMW know that all too well having forever changed the rules for infotainment when they launched their much-derided, but now well-accepted, i-Drive system, first introduced in 2001. 

After years of criticism it’s still being copied and only recently, with the advance in, and growing popularity of touch-screen technology, has i-Drive finally been pensioned off.

Speaking of high-definition screens, this all-new, third-generation X1 has two.

They are central to this futuristic dashboard design that has departed from the very simple architecture BMW has favoured for so long.

Instead the X1 – one of the most affordable models in the BMW range – offers much of the same functionality as the new 7-Series and, significantly, the brand’s electric flagship, the mighty iX.

That tells much of what’s needed to know about this very impressive little X1.

A dozen years since the model was introduced as a compact SUV, it’s now a slightly elevated, impressively spacious urban all-purpose wagon.

The X1 will offer two distinct models for the time being: the X1 S-drive18i and the upmarket X1-XDrive20i.

The former is the entry-level model with three-cylinder engine (115kW, 230Nm), with front-wheel-drive and a starting price of $53,990 plus on-road costs.

The top-spec model, tested here, brings a turbocharged, four-cylinder engine (150kW, 300Nm), all-wheel-drive and a decent bounty of additional electronic, luxury and performance enhancement features. It tips the scales at $65,900 plus on roads – and feels like every penny of it with its premium finishes and ultra high-tech appearance.

It introduces a “features on demand” concept which means some technology, built into the X1, can only be activated by subscribing for one, two or three years. Interesting – and a sales model that’s likely to stick around.

Both models offer an “enhancement package”, adding panoramic sunroof, Harman-Kardon premium audio, electric seats and 20-inch alloys, which costs $6513 in the 118i and, oddly, $8800 on the 20i. It does, however, add a few more features.

The third-gen X1 stands clearly above its predecessors with more space, more size, more equipment and handsomely improved driving dynamics.

It’s stunningly quiet, handles any road imperfections with aplomb and is thoughtfully and carefully designed.

Even with the 2-litre engine, the X1 doesn’t really reflect BMW’s long-term market position as the ultimate driver’s car. This one lacks a little in power, but is one of the best-handling and sharply steering small cars for years.

Among the settings available to the driver is a “mood” setting to choose from a variety of vehicle (and driver) behaviours – a bit gimmicky and won’t be to everyone’s taste.

The X1 will be aimed at young, tech-savvy families and occasionally some young-at-heart empty nesters.

And wow, how well-suited it is to those potential buyers.

Once a smallish machine, the new X1 is comparable in size to the first X3.

It’s nimble and zippy to drive and is well at home in city traffic with its good all-round vision.

Mechanically, it impresses with sharp acceleration and a seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission which always seems to find the right ratio.

And just to think, as good as it is with a 150kW petrol engine, there’s bound to be an electric version just around the corner with more like 250kW.

Won’t that be fun?

Well, as long as drivers can find the start button.


* HOW BIG? It still resides in the compact SUV segment, but really feels and looks bigger than its rivals in that contest. Interior space is ample for a family of five.

* HOW FAST? The turbo four-cylinder tested here will reach the speed limit in a tick over seven seconds. That’s not really BMW-like, but it’s got plenty of zip for around-town driving, and feels quiet and stable on the open road.

* HOW THIRSTY? Official thirst is 7.2L/100km – fair enough for a car of this size.

* HOW MUCH? Prices start at $53,900 for the entry-level, two-wheel-drive model. The more powerful model -as tested – costs $65,900 plus on-road costs.

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