Drive Review. The BMW X1 M Sport is a fun to drive asphalt hugging mini beast

The entry level luxury SUV segment is one of the most important categories for luxe auto manufacturers in India, as a lot of first time luxury car buyers step into the category through this segment. Gone are the days when marquee brands could provide cut-price versions of their more expensive cars as their entry level offerings, and the segment has grown to include some stellar models of late. Enter BMW’s baby SUV, the X1, which for long has been one of the company’s best selling cars in India. Now in its second generation, the X1 has fixed the issues that riddled the car when it first launched in 2009, and has become a worthy contender for the title of the best entry level luxury SUV in the market. We spent some quality time with the top of the line BMW X1 xDrive20d M Sport variant, to find out if it has what it takes to challenge the newer offerings in the segment, especially the new Volvo XC40.

In terms of design, the new X1 is a departure from the first generation, and we mean that in the best way possible. While the original X1 looked like a jacked up hatchback, the newer version is designed to look like an SUV and fits perfectly into the stable. It’s actually hard to tell the difference between the X1 and the X3 now, and that’s a good thing. The X1 has a proportionate design reminiscent of BMW’s larger SUVs, and the blacked out kidney grille on the M Sport variant guarantees a second glance. The bulging bonnet, angular front fenders and the daytime running lights give it a mean gym-sculpted look from the front. The sporty aesthetic is carried on to the sides as well, and the sharp lines running from the front wheel arches to the tail lamps give it a strong profile. At the back, BMW has kept things clean with sleek tail lamps, coupled with a subtle rooftop spoiler and twin exhausts. The M Sport version comes with custom 18″ alloy wheels as standard, which fit in well with the SUV’s dynamic character. The M logo on the sides and door sill add a nice sporty touch.

Overall, the X1 looks sleeker than the Volvo XC40, which has a much more boxier but well sculpted design in comparison. It is a hard choice to make, but in terms of styling, the BMW X1 does retain an edge with its sporty appeal.

Inside, you are greeted with a familiar BMW design which has been updated to include some new tech features and creature comfort. The iDrive system has a touch screen as well, but the omission of Apple CarPlay in the M Sport xDrive version is a disappointment. When the entry level X1 has it, there is no reason for the top of the line version to be deprived of this seamless piece of tech integration. Other than that, the X1 has all the features you would need, including bluetooth compatibility, dual zone automatic climate control, a huge panoramic sunroof, and a cool heads-up display. The X1 also has electrically adjustable front seats, and sliding rear seats that offer ample leg room and cargo flexibility with a 40:20:40 split.  The misses include keyless entry and cruise control, but then, who cruises in a BMW MSport?

In terms of safety, the X1 gets six airbags, EBD, stability control and traction control. However, as expected, the Volvo XC40 trumps the BMW on that front, thanks to its radar guided features. The Volvo also has a much better sound system, and the BMW’s 7-speaker system is no match for the 13 speaker Harman Kardon unit in the XC40. However, while the XC40 comes with a more extensive feature list, the BMW makes up for it in terms of cabin comfort. The Dakota leather upholstered seats offer much better bolstering, and ingress and egress is easier as well. Rear headroom and legroom is better in the BMW X1. It can comfortably seat three adults in the rear, the high transmission tunnel notwithstanding. It also offers more boot space, and the sliding rear seats can make more room for luggage when you need it. The fine-wood trims with pearl chrome finishers and ambient lighting are comparable in terms of fit, finish and overall cabin atmospherics.

Under the hood, the BMW X1 has almost identical specs to the Volvo. The X1 is powered by BMW’s familiar 2.0L diesel motor, producing 190 BHP and 400 Nm of torque. The engine is mated to an 8-speed Steptronic Automatic Sport Transmission, with launch control and gearshift paddles. The turbocharged motor propels the X1 from 0-100 km/h in 7.6 seconds, which is a commendable figure for a compact SUV in this segment. But the numbers tell only one part of the story. The X1 really comes into its own when it’s pushed a little. While it’s an able and tame city cruiser, the BMW pedigree surfaces the moment you push that right foot down. If you can get over the slight turbo lag, the BMW X1 offers a mighty driving experience. A road hugging mini beast, it brings the legendary BMW driving dynamics into the entry SUV segment with elan. With three driving modes – ECOPRO, Comfort and Sport it can be adjusted to driving styles and conditions. While the Sport mode is the sweet spot where you have all the fun, the ECOPRO mode for once, doesn’t feel as compromised as one would expect, unlike others in the segment. The engine offers enough grunt to hit the 100 km/h mark in no time, and the large and tactile paddle shifters on the M Sport version make the gear shifts immensely satisfying. The ‘Drive’ mode is the default transmission mode, but flick it to ‘Sport’ mode with a gentle nudge, and the engine instantaneously revs higher and the sound enhancers make it sweeter.

More than sheer grunt though, the BMW provides a fantastic handling experience. It actually feels like being behind the wheel of a 3-series, albeit from a higher position. With a fairly decent ground clearance of 179 mm (not segment leading through), and a super turning radius, it is ready to go anywhere. Well, almost. The steering feels nicely weighted under hard cornering, and the 50:50 weight distribution makes it extremely stable around tight bends. The intelligent xDrive all-wheel drive system methodically distributes power between the front and rear wheels, and keeps the car in check. The DSC system, coupled with a sharp shifting transmission and well weighted steering, makes the X1 feel more car-like, than an SUV. While the ride does suffer a wee bit due to the suspension being on the firmer side, it’s a price we would gladly pay for the enhanced driving pleasure.

During our review, we returned fuel efficiency figures of 13.2 km/l over a 600+ km run around the city, though the claimed company figures are north of 20 km/l under test conditions.

While the X1 in its M sport avatar does miss out on some basic features which are standard across the segment, it more than makes up in terms of driving dynamics. When it comes down to everyday utility, we would surely miss Apple CarPlay and the keyless entry feature. Therefore, if an extensive feature list remains a top priority, the BMW X1 has some catching up to do with the XC40. But if you are looking for a thrilling everyday driving experience, there isn’t another quite like this one in the segment.

Prices for the base sDrive version start at INR 35.2 lacs, and go up to INR 45.7 lacs for the range topping xDrive M Sport. While it is a shade higher than the Volvo XC40 Inscription trim, the driving pleasure of the BMW X1 makes it well worth it. While the XC40 had more Gen Z appeal, the X1 is a spirited millennial in character.

We extensively drove both the Volvo XC40 and BMW X1 back to back. While the former appealed to us as a cerebral and intelligently crafted package with immense character, the latter excited us each time we stepped into it. And that’s something you can’t put a price on. The BMW X1 M Sport is an  immensely ‘fun to drive’ baby SUV – an asphalt hugging mini beast that will pull at your heart strings each time you see it.

Here are some more images of the BMW X1 xDrive20d M Sport.

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