My boss drives a BMW 3-Series (E46) which has come to the end of its respectable life and is to be replaced. The problem is that the current 3-Series (E93) costs more than $50,000 and so has priced itself out of the market.
Consequently was I asked to go and test the 3-Series' cousin which sits on the same platform but costs more than $7000 less, the BMW X1 (E84).
Admittedly I am sort of prejudiced against SUVs generally and my first impression of the X1 was the same as most of them; that is, it is a jacked up estate car. However even this is a little deceptive.
The X1 has a boot which is 420L-1350L in capacity; this compares the normal 3-Series estate which is 460L-1385L. Again the question of why not simply pay for the estate and again the answer of $15,000 savings springs to mind.
The engine choices for the X1 aren't as varied as the 3-Series but most people will opt for the 320i anyway and the engines are similar enough to be irrelevant.
If BMW pride themselves on being "pure driving pleasure" then I'm afraid that the 2011 X1 hasn't really done anything different at all to the E46 from 13 years ago.
It is a very smooth car indeed but unlike the Peugeot 206 which I drive or even the Mini which is also built by the BMW Group, it just doesn't feel dynamically exciting at all; certainly does not live up to the "pure driving pleasure" tag. No, this is the car for driving home in traffic in an "I don't care about driving" sort of way.
I didn't bother to put my foot down all that hard because the man from the dealership sat along side me but it did all the normal things you should expect. It takes off smartly as you'd expect from a rear wheel drive car and stops without being jarring.
The grip levels I assume should be excellent in the wet considering that the particular model that I drove sat on 35-spec, 17 inch wheels. Those are the sorts of wheels and tyres which you used to only find on high performance sports cars and yet somehow the engineers at BMW have still managed to give you a smooth ride. I would suspect though that the damper rates must be set pretty soft to do that and it makes me wonder if they'd need replacing more often because of it.
The BMW X1 is probably the best car in the small SUV class as it should be for that sort of price but to be totally honest, it doesn't anything which any competent 2L hatchback can't do for a better price.
The X1 will probably find its market amongst people who either want a small SUV because they like that sort of car, or by people who simply want a car with a BMW badge on it. For those people I would suggest buying a BMW 120i because they'd be getting exactly the same engine in an easier to drive car.
The point is that it doesn't quite confirm my hypothesis that most SUVs in general are jacked up estate cars, because it doesn't even fulfill that role as well.
If you are considering an X1 and don't really care about the badge buy a Volkswagen Golf 118TSI wagon. It will do the job better and will leave a further $13,000 in your pocket.