BMW X1 sDrive 20d Exclusive: Road test review

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Quite simply put, the X1 today is the most economical way to experience a product that comes from a ‘real’ premium car maker. The X1, owing to its price and suitability to the preferences of the Indian car buyer has proven to be a nightmare of sorts to BMW’s compatriot premium carmakers.

And the party hasn’t been spoiled only for the premium carmakers. You see, 20+ lakh SUVs which sell in respectable numbers isn’t a new phenomenon in India. Honda, Mitsubishi and Chevrolet have been managing to move their inventory out of the showrooms at that price for quite a bit now. Suddenly you have the option of owning a BMW for that price. It’s almost like getting the choice to buy a cake for the price of a pastry for some. It’s things like these which are termed as game changers.

So how BMW-ish is the X1 after all? The base price sure sounds unreal, so has the product been compromised, or is the X1 really the dream that it sounds like. We found out, as we drove the X1 sDrive 20d Exclusive for a good 800km.

Design and exterior

BMW X1 exterior

Let’s get one thing straight before we take this review forward – the X1 isn’t a SUV. It’s a crossover, and a compact one at that. So it doesn’t quite have the presence of its X3 and X5 siblings. However, the BMW design genetics are amply evident in every line of this neatly packaged machine, including the Hofmeister’s Kink . That long, low, bonnet with a chiseled top surface, the strong crease running through the doors and sporty coupe like roofline – it’s sporty, its tight and it’s unmistakably a BMW. My only grouse would be that from certain angles, especially in profile the X1 seems to be missing some mass. The brawny sturdiness of the bigger X3 and the X5 is missing, and that’s what I warned you (and myself) of at the outset. It’s a compact crossover, and it wouldn’t be fair to expect the girth and presence of a full blown SUV from this one. The black plastic cladding below the door sills and fenders does help the off-roader look, but the X1 doesn’t make any bones about the fact that is designed to tread the urban landscape than wade through water.

BMW X1 sDrive 20d (10)

In my opinion the X1 looks best when viewed head on, from a slightly low angle. That prominent kidney grille flanked by those sharply styled ‘twin-ring’ headlamps with a massive air dam beneath lends the X1 an air of wickedness. And that’s exactly what we’d like to identify a BMW for, won’t we?

Engine and transmission

BMW X1 sDrive 20d (23)

The X1 is available with two engine options, a 2.0-liter petrol with 150 bhp / 200 Nm and a 2.0-liter diesel with 177bhp and 350Nm of torque. As you would have made out by now, the 2.0-liter diesel is the pick of the two mills and was also the car we took out for the test drive. BMW claims that the X1 can accelerate from 0-100 km/h in 8.3 seconds flat. While the real world time would be marginally higher, a sub-10 second timing is a surety. The top speed is claimed to be 205km/h, something we experienced firsthand, but more on that later.

The 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder turbo diesel is a potent mill and is quite well-insulated from the cabin. No disturbing diesel noise or vibes as you thumb the start/stop button after slotting the ignition dongle in.

BMW X1 sDrive 20d (13)

As you would expect from one of the best engine makers in the world, the diesel engine is a refined and well sorted unit. Torque in available from really low rpm, arming the X1 with great tractability and pulling power even at low speeds in higher gears. Sure, the real fun truly begins only once you get past the 1800 rpm mark on the tacho, but there isn’t any perceptible turbo lag which plagues many other diesel cars. The X1 will pull neatly, without spluttering from the bottom of the rev range. As the revs build the X1 surges ahead with great linearity and smoothness. Of course, if you want a shove into the seat back, all you have to do is floor the pedal and the X1 will oblige with a heady thrust. Modulate the pedal a bit though and the back benchers won’t have much to complain.

Transmission duties are taken care of by a six-speed auto system which comes as standard on all X1 variants. Reasonably quick and intelligent enough to pick the shift points intelligently, the auto transmission makes the drive a breeze. Gearshifts happen based on your throttle inputs. However, they’re not overly aggressive – the tacho needle doesn’t kiss redline too fondly, and it’s a good thing as there aren’t any unintended shoves for the unsuspecting back benchers.

We drove the X1 in all sorts of conditions. From the stop-start city traffic of Mumbai, to the inviting expressway, going all the way to the twisties of Lonvala and the X1 delighted us with its potent, yet refined engine-tranny combo.

Driving dynamics, ride and handling


The moment you climb into the driver’s seat of the X1, its crossover genes start making themselves obvious. The seat height is neither as low as the 3-series nor as high as, say the X5. You sit reasonably high, with a good view of road ahead. The first time you turn that chunky steering wheel you realize what the Germans mean by the word ‘heavily weighted’. It’s much heavier in terms of feel than most other cars, including the 3-series, the station wagon version of whose chassis the X1 sits on. It’s heavy alright, but never at any point did I find it inconvenient. I personally prefer well weighted steering wheels to those ‘turn with a finger’ units. Somehow it adds to the feeling that the product you are driving is sturdily built. And sturdy the X1 does feel from behind the wheel, right from the word go!

Being a crossover, the X1’s center of gravity, for obvious reasons is higher than its sedan counterparts. And the fact does have some bearings on the handling of a car. The body roll is slightly more pronounced and the 1540kgs of curb weight means that the suspension has more things to handle than usual. We didn’t expect the X1 to match its 3-series or 5-series cousins in terms of handling and dynamics for obvious reasons. And once you realize that basic fact, the X1 comes across as a brilliant handler with great poise and composure around winding roads and fast freeways alike. With 5 aboard, I very quietly made the X1 reach 200kmph, brought it back to 120 and when I asked the passengers whether they felt the speed, the answer was a unanimous NO. The X1 remains unperturbed even at scarily fast speeds lending great confidence and reassurance to those on the wheel. Even with five aboard, the X1 felt perfectly composed while climbing up and rolling down the scenic windy roads leading to Aamby Valley. Turn-ins are precise, the feedback from the steering wheel is true and body behavior is very composed unless you deliberately wish to throw a fully loaded car around and manhandle it. We came away impressed with the X1’s composure even with five aboard and a loaded boot.

However, the same stiffness which is sheer bliss to an enthusiast at the steering wheel, may turn into a vice for those at the backseat. The X1’s ride quality, although slightly better than some of the other family cars, isn’t the most rewarding for the back benchers. Even with a softer suspension setup, it’s more skittish than ideal at low speeds. The ride quality settles considerably as the speed increases but it’s definitely not the best that there is for the price. ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine’ they say, and truly so. There’s nothing you back benchers should get too enthused about with this one. You’d enjoy this machine to the fullest only if you’re at the front, on the right hand side, while in India.

Cabin space, quality, features and comfort


Inside the cabin the X1 is clearly reminiscent of the 3-series, which is a good thing if we are talking quality and ergonomics. Since we were driving the top of the line sDrive Exclusive our car had the Nevada leather upholstery in beige colour, which looked great. The wood inserts, the quality of plastics, the solidity with which the whole equipment is built – there is undoubtedly a premium feel to the interior. The instrument panel is easy to read and understand. The once notorious iDrive too has been sorted to be intuitive enough for an eight year old. Nice!

The quality of the front seats, the support, both for back and thigh is great. Over our drive of more than 800 km we never felt fatigued thanks also to the auto transmission. But the one feature that would really bring a big smile on the faces of your family is the huge panoramic glass roof. Usually the size of the sunroof on most luxury cars covers only the front part. The x1’s Panorama roof covers both the front and rear seats, giving a spectacular view of the sky and enhancing the feeling of space and airiness substantially. Driving through landscapes and urbanscapes is a different feeling altogether for the back benchers with only the glass roof in place.

X1 cabin space

Talking of the back bench, the space is sufficient only for two occupants. Putting three in there is a bit of a squeeze, especially with the transmission tunnel troubling the center occupant’s foot position. Except for the slightly stiff ride, and the lack of space for five at the back bench, there isn’t really anything to complain about the X1’s interiors. It’s a great place to be with a number of storage spaces surrounding you. The features list for the occupants is very liberal. Here’s what you get

•    Steering wheel with mounted controls
•    Windscreen with grey shade band
•    Panorama glass roof (0.75 m2)
•    Rain sensors
•    Xenon lamps for better visibility
•    Automatic air conditioning
•    Luggage compartment separating net
•    Spectacles compartment
•    Sliding front arrest with storage
•    Retaining straps in door pockets
•    Nets on front seat backrests
•    Rear armrest with two cupholders
•    Storage tray under luggage compartment
•    RVMS with automatic anti glare function
•    Electric seat adjustment with memory
•    Park Distance Control at the rear
•    iDrive with 8.8” display (1280 x 480 resolution)
•    8 speaker, 180 W audio system
•    USB in jack
•    Hard Disc with 12 GB memory for media storage
•    Make / receive calls using iDrive
•    Pictures of contacts
•    Display calendar, contacts, notes etc from phone
•    Bluetooth audio streaming from phone
•    Read messages and tasks etc via audio system

X1 glass roof

Safety and security

As we mentioned earlier, the X1 is planted on the road as a hungry leech would stick to your skin for blood. While the extremely well sorted suspension and the wide foot print goes a long way in making sure that the x1 behaves in a very predictable and sure-footed manner, there are plenty of other active and passive safety features to ensure maximum safety for the occupants. Here the list

•    Driver and front passenger airbags
•    Head airbags for front and rear
•    Side airbags for driver and front passenger
•    ABS with BA
•    Crash sensor to disengage central locking and shut off fuel pump
•    Bumper system – replaceable deformation elements
•    Dynamics Stability Control (DSC)
•    Dynamic Traction Control (DTC)
•    Electronic Vehicle Immobiliser
•    Runflat (low tyre pressure) indicator
•    Side Impact protection
•    3 point seat belts for 5 occupants

Summing it up


All in all, the X1 makes for a great all-rounder which delivers on almost every front while also presenting itself at a great price. We love it for its affordability, its versatility and of course its performance. There are, however, a few common questions that people ask about the X1. Replying those questions should be a good way of summing this review up

1.    Is the X1 a good replacement for your usual 20+ lakh SUV

The answer is a yes, in most cases. Even the basic variant comes loaded with more technology than your usual SUV. And it really is the technology that counts. It is a tad more expensive than your CR-V or Outlander though, and we recommend a buy only if a 20+lakh SUV comfortably fits into your budget. If you’re stretching your budgetary limits, than we’d recommend you stay away from BMW as a brand, as the servicing and spares for such premium brands is much higher than your usual auto brands. Also, if you are overly concerned about the backseat comfort for the passengers, probably you should make them sit in the car and have a long test drive. It’s not the most comfy back bench out there.

Besides that, there is no doubt that the X1 offers superior driving pleasure, better technology and pleasure of ownership than your regulation SUVs. It’s a definite buy if you love driving yourself and want a big, practical car with the ability to devour curves every once in a while.

2.    Is the sDrive Exclusive worth the extra money

As we pointed out earlier, the BMW isn’t a brand you should go for if a few lakh rupees is a stretch for you. The sDrive indeed is the real deal. A superior music system, panoramic glass roof, headlight washer system, xenon lamps, an advanced communication package with iDrive, a proper 6-CD changer, leather upholstery, superior dashboard and door trim – these features really take your experience with the car to a new level. If you have the money, we would recommend you go for the Exclusive edition, as it really has the good to bring a big smile on not just your, but your family’s face as well.


X1 sDrive 18i    Rs 22.4 lakh (ex-Delhi)
X1 sDrive 20d    Rs 24.2 Lakh (ex-Delhi)
X1 sDrive 20d Exclusive Rs 30.4 lakh (ex-Delhi)

Here’s a detailed features and specification list of the car


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