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The family’s favoured tot

S. Muralidhar | Updated on August 17, 2011 Published on February 16, 2011

BMW X1   -  BUSINESS LINE

BMW X1   -  BUSINESS LINE

BMW X1   -  BUSINESS LINE

BMW X1   -  BUSINESS LINE

BMW X1   -  BUSINESS LINE

BMW X1   -  BUSINESS LINE

BMW X1   -  BUSINESS LINE

BMW X1   -  BUSINESS LINE

BMW X1   -  BUSINESS LINE

Despite tracking the Indian automobile market for years, some changes in tastes and preferences still catch me by surprise. With the kind of brands that have been bitten by the bug of the Indian growth story and have subsequently been launched here, surely, there will be the inevitable compression of the maturity curve in buyer preferences.

Yet, the response to the recent launch of the BMW X1 is a classic example of the sudden change in preferences that, sometimes, catch you unawares. You see, even luxury car buyers here have shown a marked preference for big sports utility vehicles. They have sought diesel SUVs, with a muscular road presence, a butch stance and with loads of interior space.

But the BMW X1 is a babe in comparison to its siblings (the X3, X5 and the X6) and in comparison to the competition’s best selling models such as the Audi Q7 and the Mercedes M-Class. So, it does seem like buyer preferences have changed and more and more are willing to consider compact SUVs too.

Or is it the fact that this is an affordable BMW, which makes it such a big draw. Priced within range of Rs 22 lakh to Rs 30 lakh, BMW has managed to set the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons with the X1. Pricing it aggressively has also been made possible since BMW choose to assemble the X1 at its Chennai plant.

Design

Whether the new X1 has gotten a boost from the attractive pricing or not, it still represents a promising change in preferences that the other brands will also want to benefit from.

For now, the X1 is the sole representative of a unique niche in the luxury car segment. It has been designed to look and behave neither like a sport utility nor like an estate. Despite some innovative body styling work, the X1’s DNA is all too evident to see…and that was the way it was meant to be.

The X1 shares its platform with the BMW 3 Series Touring, the estate version of the 3 Series, and in fact, the X1 and the 3 Series Touring have same wheelbase too, though other dimensions differ. In terms of design, the X1 has a number of features and characteristics of a BMW X model. Yet, its design is very unique and hints of the 3 Series can be seen and felt, particularly in the design lines that define X1, such as the roofline.

The new BMW X1 doesn’t seem so small as you walk up to it and when it is parked alone. The height of the X1 does give you a sense of it almost being a sedan and yet there is no mistaking the fact that it is intended to be a sports activity vehicle (SAV), as BMW calls it. Yet, when you park it alongside other full-size sedans and SUVs, the X1 suddenly seems very petite.

There is a strong SUV character that comes through when you look at the almost square-contoured, flared-out wheel arches, the high ground clearance and the silver coloured under-floor. But, there are also features such as the short overhangs, sleek engine compartment lid that sports sharp contour lines, and the low rake of the rear window etc., which contribute to the X1’s very estate-like appearance. The X1’s drag coefficient (Cd) is also a very sedan-like low of 0.32.

In the X1, other BMW trademark styling cues can all be found – the headlamp rings, the L-shaped design of the LED tail lamps, the kidney bonnet grille and the ‘Hofmeister kink’ in the character line.

Interior

The moment I step into the X1 and take the wheel, the semi-command position typical to BMW SUVs is immediately evident, helping improve the visibility for the driver. The dashboard layout is simple and special design of the centre console ensures that the aircon and audio controls are all slightly tilted towards the driver to allow easy access.

Fit and finish quality was excellent and very much like a BMW sedan. In fact, a few of the controls and knobs are being shared with the 3 series. But, in the X1 sDrive18i that I was test driving, which is the base variant of the model, I found the interior to be a bit Spartan. However, in the top-end X1 sDrive20d Exclusive, in the place of the flip open storage at the top of the centre console would be the display of the iDrive control system and in place of the cubby hole next to the automatic gearbox’s lever will be the iDrive Controller.

The interior of the X1 I test drove came with premium Sensatec upholstery and black high-gloss inserts. The top-end sDrive20d Exclusive is offered with Nevada leather and real wood trim. BMW says that the rear seat of the X1 can accommodate three persons comfortably, but when I tried it out with a few friends, it was a squeeze for the trio of adults at the rear. The backrest angle can, however, be adjusted by up to 31 degrees. The luggage compartment capacity is about 420 litres and with the rear seats folded this can go all the way up to 1,350 litres.

Performance

The new X1 also shares the petrol engine with the 3 Series. The four-cylinder, four-valve, two-litre engine has been slightly tweaked to generate a marginally lower 110 kW or 150 bhp of peak power at the same 6,400 rpm level (in the 3 series it is 115 kW). Incidentally, the petrol and diesel engines in the X1 are both 1,995cc units and seem to be sharing the same block too with identical bore and stroke numbers.

I test drove the sDrive18i with the petrol unit. BMW’s nomenclature for its petrol cars are indicated by the inclusion of ‘i’ and ‘s’ in sDrive indicates rear wheel drive, in contrast to the presence of the ‘x’ in xDrive, which represents all-wheel drive. The long tested and loved 1,995cc petrol engine in the X1 was as delightful to drive, reviving the feeling that I was actually driving a sedan.

Refined and quiet, but with considerable power available (each bhp has to power only 9.7 kgs), the X1 accelerates with ease. The free-revving engine is ably supported by a quick shifting six-speed automatic transmission. The automatic is the transmission of choice for the diesel variant too. Though the X1 is offered with a six-speed manual also in other markets, it is not available here.

But, the six-speed auto gearbox gets a triptronic and sports mode too, though there are no paddle shifters behind the steering wheel. Despite being the smallest member of the X series family, the X1 manages a top speed of 200 kmph. During my test drive, I was regularly clocking over 170 kmph in clean stretches of road. The X1’s straightline stability is excellent and its ability to take on corners is very confidence inspiring. The overall driving dynamics are very BMW in character and the very steering instantly obeys every input from the driver. The only gripe is that the steering wheel can feel heavy at very slow speeds.

Aiding the driveability of the X1 are the 17-inch alloy wheels and the 225/50 run-flats that it is offered with. The suspension is again very much like BMW’s sedans – agile and rigid enough to offer a sporty drive. Though there was much of a jarring ride over rough patches of road, the overall choice of suspension is oriented towards a tarmac existence. And the choice of a rear-wheel drive only set up for the X1 (unlike all-wheel drive for the other X models) also means that any attempts at off-roading will not be recommended.

BMW’s standard focus on safety features is also reflected in the X1’s long list. The sDrive20d Exclusive is also offered with an optional panorama glass roof.

Bottomline

The X1 could be the first of many to come in this fledgling compact luxury sports utility segment. But until the competition has a vehicle that can match the X1 in its class and versatility, this BMW will be the uncontested numero uno. In the meanwhile, thanks to its aggressive price, the X1 will wean away buyers from the likes of the Toyota Fortuner, the Chevy Captiva, the Honda CR-V and the Mitsubishi Outlander…and maybe a few from even BMW’s own stable.

muraliswami@thehindu.co.in

Published on February 16, 2011
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