“When your junior crossover sells in numbers approaching a million units per generation, best not to get too radical with it – so here’s the BMW X1 LCI.”
It might seem odd, and perhaps even counterintuitive given that people supposedly buy SUVs because they want to feel like they’re sitting up high in something big, but the best-selling BMW X model of all is this one – the X1. The smallest. And most car-like. Despite the fact the X5 and X3 twins had the jump on the X1 by ten and six years respectively, and despite the fact the E84 first-generation X1 was a real ‘bag o’ bits’ car that purloined components from elsewhere in the BMW canon – resulting in a crossover that, while intriguing for its longitudinal engine layout and rear-drive status as a two-wheel drive model, was nevertheless a long way off the prevailing class standards of quality for a vehicle of this type – more than 800,000 units of the X1 Mk1 were shifted worldwide during its time on sale.
The F48 second-generation X1 has been a wholly different proposition for BMW, with its underpinnings shared with the MINI family (meaning any two-wheel-drive models are now front-led, rather than pushed from the back) and the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer. This means a transverse engine layout and the sort of interior space and boot capacity that this type of family crossover/SUV requires. Throw in a much better cabin in terms of finishing, and neater exterior styling too, and it’s easy to see why the 2015-launched X1 Mk2 is such a hit. For the first six months of 2019, the X3 managed to outsell the X1, but that’s only because customers got wind of the very vehicle you’re looking at here – the Life-Cycle Impulse (LCI) version, or the facelift, if you will.
This is modest stuff, because there’s precious little need for BMW to radically redraw this vehicle. The main visual revisions occur at the front of the F48 X1, where the formerly round foglamps have now become LED strips in reshaped air intakes, this one alteration requiring a new bumper design as well. Higher up, there’s the option to go for fancy LED illumination in the main lamps, the top spec being Adaptive Icon units with the four ‘cross-cut’ hexagon motifs as the giveaway. BMW has also re-sculpted the kidney grilles of the X1 to look more like those found upon the related X2 coupe-crossover, while three fresh colours (Jucaro Beige, Storm Bay and Misano Blue) and some additional designs of 18- and 19-inch alloys can be found on the customer-choice list. The eagle-eyed might also spot the X1 now has larger exhaust exits, at 90mm as opposed to 70mm previously, while the rear lamp clusters make the switch to LEDs.
Again, inside BMW hasn’t done much, but this is a good, comfortable cabin with quality appointments and just about enough space for four adults onboard (so kids should be fine in the back), while the boot stands at a useful 505-liters with all five seats in action.
Changes wrought here amount to black-panel illumination for the analogue instrument cluster, a larger 10.25-inch infotainment screen atop the dash, the inclusion of six-colour ambient lighting and a selection of three new upholsteries for buyers to go at.
This lack of sweeping changes for the X1 carries over to the drivetrain options, where all the pre-LCI units are employed. A plug-in hybrid model badged the xDrive25e is on the way, with a peak output of 220hp from its petrol-electric resources combined, but for now it’s the usual mix of three- and four-cylinder turbocharged ‘Twin Power’ engines. Weirdly enough, BMW AG only laid on the two most potent for our LCI test drive, in the form of the 231hp/258lb ft xDrive25i and the diesel equivalent, the xDrive 25d – which matches that 231hp but lobs in another 74lb ft for a muscular 332lb ft peak.
Sadly, neither of these two ‘25s’ are confirmed for the UK, which is a pity because both offer truly robust performance. They can both attain 62mph from rest in the mid-sixes, they’ll run on to the far side of 140mph where legal and they are both mated to the superb eight-speed automatic Steptronic auto. Neither sounds particularly appealing, of course, given that they both use four-cylinder turbocharged motors, but they’re quiet and refined throughout their whole range of operation by way of compensation.
However, if only one of these two could make it to the UK’s shores, we’d be hoping it was the 25i. Undoubtedly, the 25d has its measure on the motorway, where its colossal mid-range punch makes it feel subjectively the quicker machine, but the lighter, fizzier 2.0- liter petrol – which was used in the MINI John Cooper Works models, remember, until the recent shift by the JCWs to the 306hp/450Nm 2.0-liter motor as found in the X2 M35i – better preserves the X1’s sharp handling.
Granted, the steering on the xDrive25i is a little too hefty in Sport mode and somewhat down on outright feel, but there’s enough accuracy and consistency there to make it a good companion for the 25i’s keen turn-in, impressive body control, and abundance of both mechanical grip and mega traction.
Yes, you can fair stoke the X1 xDrive25i into a fast-fl owing groove on the right roads and it’ll be moving at a pretty decent clip, too. But it is fun? Does it feel stand-out? That’s tougher to say. The whole X1 experience, from where you sit in the cabin, to the way it drives and its physical size too, is almost keyed to make you think you’re not even in a crossover; as we said at the top, it’s a very car-like machine to be in. And that just makes you wonder whether a 1 Series wouldn’t be a better bet.
Not that BMW will worry, though; if the X1 LCI sells as well as it has in the past, 800,000 units and more will be easily on the cards. And that, in BMW’s eyes, makes this subtle LCI program a complete success.
Watch this video for First Drive BMW X1 LCI