It wasn't easy classifying the first generation BMW X1. Yes, it's a crossover but it didn't quite have the ride height, nor did it have the looks. Despite that, it's been a good seller for the marque since it was introduced in the range back in 2009. However, the cramped rear quarters and an interior feel that wasn't quite up to par to the brand's standards were common points of criticism. In a nutshell, it didn't quite feel like a BMW. The men and women from Munich say they have since addressed this with the all-new model.
To prove their point, Asian Carmakers Corporation (ACC), the official distributors of BMW cars in the country, invited us to take the 2017 X1 for a drive up to Subic. We convened at Autoallee BMW and in front of the dealership was a row of X1 units in xDrive 20d form. That means it is powered by a 2.0-liter turbodiesel engine and is paired with all-wheel drive.
Unlike the xDrive found in the X3, X4, X5 and X6, the system here sends more power to the front wheels. The previous sentence might have just brought out pitchforks from the brand's biggest fans. However, there is method to this madness which I will explain later on.
First impressions? It looks far more substantial than its predecessor. Where as the previous generation model looked like a 1-Series wagon, the new X1 looks like it belongs to BMW's crossover range. Longer, wider and taller than the old model, it's a (slightly) shrunken X3 than a stretched 1 Series.
When we hopped in the cars, there was noticeably more room inside when compared to the previous generation model. The reason for that is because it's based on the 2 Series Active Tourer, a pretty spacious car in itself. Also, the front-wheel drive platform means it allows the engineers to play around with the interior space. There's also no need for a legroom-robbing transmission tunnel anymore and you can thank the front-wheel drive oriented chassis for that.
For the first part of the drive, I rode shotgun and soaked in the interior features and details. Cabin materials are much better than before and BMW has mostly rid the X1 of hard plastics that plagued the old model. It's much better equipped too with power seats for both driver and front passenger, as well as an upgraded iDrive infotainment system. Out on the road, it's noticeably quiet and, dare I say it, a little more hushed than the current 3 Series. So far it feels like a BMW with its heavy doors, consistent quality and a fair amount of equipment on board. It even comes with front and rear cameras.
It's safe to say that BMWs are built for long distance trips in comfort and the second-generation X1 does not disappoint. When it comes to ride, it's less firm than the outgoing model, making for a serene, if eventless, trip on the expressway. Thanks to that 2.0-liter turbodiesel, it delivered outstanding fuel economy with an average of 19.3 kilometers per liter.
Our first stop was at Pradera Verde and there we had our first activity. It would be a photo challenge that would put out remote control skills to the test. We would fly drones to take the perfect shot of BMW's newest baby. Let's just say there were quite a number of crash landings and fortunately, none of them on the car. I'll take fiddling with the iDrive than fly a drone any day of the week.
After our hearty lunch, it was time to see if the X1 still feels like a true BMW and that means taking on the back roads from Pampanga to Subic. Just in time too as it was now my turn at the wheel. As a BMW enthusiast, I was expecting a lot. The old X1, despite its shortcomings as a crossover, offered a spirited drive thanks to a rear-wheel drive biased xDrive system. Perhaps the burning question on BMW fans' minds is will this new X1 still be as fun?
I jumped in the driver's seat, turned the wheel and felt more feel from the steering wheel. I'm glad to report that BMW recalibrated the electronic power steering system to provide more feedback to the driver. So far, so good then. Also, no surprises that the engine is a sprightly unit as it has enough grunt to power even the 5 Series. Overtaking in the X1 is as easy as squeezing the throttle and breeze past slow moving traffic. But what I really wanted to experience is the X1's dynamic abilities.
Finally, a set of twisty provincial roads and with the turn of the wheel, it offered feedback that was missing in some BMWs of recent years. To be honest, I was expecting typical crossover dynamics but despite delivering most of its power to the front wheels, it still felt engaging. If anything, the twisty sections of Olongapo quelled doubts of BMW giving up driving experience for the sake of sales. Kudos to BMW for still giving the X1 a fun to drive nature and more steering feel. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised as it's also based on the Mini Countryman, another premium crossover that's fun to steer.
We ended the first day at the newly-opened ACEA hotel, followed by a ride on the yacht to live the luxury car lifestyle. There, I pondered on the X1's abilities and at the way the car surprised me. The X1 has grown up in a way that it's no longer a bit of a niche car. Instead, with its versatility and much improved design, I reckon that it can take on its rivals and give them sleepless nights. Yes, it sacrificed the rear-wheel drive design but it paid dividends in practicality.
Granted, you don't take a crossover for corner carving but it's reassuring that the X1 still boasts a dynamic edge. Couple that with high levels of refinement and BMW's baby crossover has matured into a great product. The next day, we headed off to Meat Plus for a pretty solid lunch and it was time to hit the road going back to Manila yet again.
The drive back pretty much reinforced my reflection from the night before. If I were to sum up the all-new X1 with five adjectives, it would be surprising, mature, versatile, flexible and, of course, dynamic. I will admit that I stick to the belief that BMWs should always send more power to the rear wheels. However, after this drive, I have fully appreciated the all-new X1's abilities and how it still felt like, well, a BMW. While it won't convert the die-hard fanatics, all the changes made to the X1 has made it a serious challenger in the fiercely competitive world of premium compact crossovers.
As for me, just keep the 3 Series, 5 Series and 7 Series rear-wheel drive and we'll stay friends, BMW.