First drive: BMW X1 20d sDrive

When Nissan launched the Qashqai, many people questioned what it was for, and who would buy it. Now it has blazed a new trail through sales charts and started a new market niche, everyone wants in – even BMW.

Or so it seems, for the 'not quite a hatchback not quite an off-roader' category seems to be the best in which to place the BMW X1.
As most owners buy BMWs for their on-road ability rather than mud-plugging skills, we felt the two-wheel drive sDrive version was the best model to spend a week in to get a feel for what new owners would get for their investment.

And it is a significant investment – around £25,000 is needed to put the X1 on your driveway, but looking at it from the outside you wouldn't think it. There was a significant swathe of black plastic (silver in the picture below) that sat under the rear bumper that lent a distinctly cheap feel to the car that you wouldn't normally expect from either a BMW or a £25,000 price tag.

This impression continued inside as well, with the cabin feeling austere in its layout – no satnav, no toys to speak of and the same sort of atmosphere that you would expect from the entry-level 1 Series hatchback.

To give the X1 some credit, it did feel like a big car, and didn't suffer from the cramped rear space associated with the 1 Series. The boot easily swallowed the large suitcases we threw at it, and provided an easy, lip-free entry point.

Despite being dwarfed by every X3, X5 and X6 we came across on our travels, the X1 still had enough road presence to provide a decent vantage point. Sadly this was not the only SUV characteristic that the car shared with its bigger brothers. It also offers the slightly harsh ride that comes with making a high-sided car handle like a saloon. That said it did corner very well, with the steering delivering the responsiveness and accuracy we've come to expect from a BMW, without any unwanted SUV wallow.

By this stage we weren't really sure what to make of the X1. We wanted to hate it – the Qashqai and its rivals are all sold on their value for money and practicality, and here is something that strips away both of those assets. It is expensive, even it doesn't look it, and not stuffed full of the little cubbyholes you would expect from a car in this class.

As a result it is tricky to see who the X1 is really appealing to. If you want a big 4x4, then this is not really going to fulfil that requirement; it is just not big or practical enough. Nor is it practical enough to justify over the 3 Series estate – an altogether better-looking car.

But despite these major misgivings, we still couldn't write the X1 off entirely. It drives nicely and was relatively frugal – returning fuel consumption in the mid 40s according to the trip computer. This may not be enough to justify buying one over a Qashqai or a 3 Series estate, but it does say that even when BMW makes a bad car, it's still pretty good.
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