Whether you like it, or loathe it, BMW’s current craze for enlarging its ‘Double Kidney’ radiator grille signature has found purchase in the latest versions of the firm’s entry-level to its X-Series, states Iain Robertson, although BMW-istes are unlikely to be dissuaded.
The world’s most popular brands are determined by a combination of ethereal and physical attributes. Many of them rely on an established form, or element, that, with time, imparts a message to the consumer. For instance, Ford would be lost without its florid script set into a ‘Blue Oval’. Renault would have difficulty impressing its customers without a distinct lozenge grille emblem. Citroen’s ‘meshing gears’ (the ‘Double Chevrons’) denote the Gallic brand.
For BMW, its ‘Double Kidney’ grille shape has been sacrosanct for its entire existence. In fact, it is almost as recognisable as the ‘Hofmeister Kink’ in the C, or D pillars of each of its cars (named after Wilhelm Hofmeister, BMW’s designer, who first styled it into the rear side windows of the BMW 1500 of 1961). Naturally, as with each of the aforementioned recognition points, these devices become modified, modernised and changed ever-so-slightly over the years, in some cases softened, with others being enlarged. Yet, the engrossment with BMW’s grille outline has now transformed it into one almighty ‘schnozzle’, which has led me to believe that the design team at the Munich-based carmaker has been snorting at something naughty, when management turned its back to concentrate on something else. New model by new model, the enlarged and now conjoined ‘kidneys’ seem to be pinpointing a more diverse image in the firm’s line-up and its latest X1 model wears it like a heavy rap artist’s medallion.
BMW’s first dive into the SUV scene occurred soon after its temporary stewardship of Land Rover (between 1994 and 2000). The German firm, recognising that it had zero representation in the fast-growing SUV and crossover market segments, grabbed the sale of the former Austin-Rover Group assets with both hands. It raped Land Rover and, having dissected all that was great about the marque, sold the remnants to Ford Motor Company. Entitled by ownership, the first X5 was related by lineage to the 5-Series and became an overnight success story for the Bavarian company. It was inevitable that, as the SUV/crossover sector was growing like Topsy, so would BMW’s representation across that segment.
Just as the 1-Series is a post-Mini route into BMW proper, for those car customers climbing the prestige model ladder, X1 is their route to SUV-dom, with a BMW roundel. In typical form for the class, BMW applies the sDrive moniker to its rear-driven versions, while xDrive is the preserve of the stability enhancing four-wheel drive set. However, BMW has determined to differentiate more clearly between its four trim levels: SE, Sport, xLine and the more focused M Sport. Typical of the company, a Plus Pack on the M Sport variants incorporates a number of personalising elements, such as 19.0-inch diameter alloy wheels and an array of M Sport-logoed goodies (steering wheel, gearknob, seats, kick-plates and so on), while the standard wheel is 17.0-inches, upgrading to 18.0-inches on the rest of the line-up.
Also typical of BMW is a choice of punchy petrol and diesel engines, the range starting with the 1.5-litre three-cylinder 140bhp, turbo-petrol unit also used by the Mini. No slouch, it will crack the 0-60mph sprint in a modest 9.4s, with a maximum speed of 127mph, driving through the optional seven-speed, twin-clutch automated-manual transmission. CO2 levels are pegged at a moderate 125g/km, while its official economy figure is given as 56.5mpg. Next up is the four cylinder 2.0-litre ‘twin-power’ petrol unit developing a meatier 192bhp (7.4s, 140mph, 129g/km CO2, 52.3mpg) that is fast becoming the signature version of the range. The familiar 2.0-litre turbo-diesels offer either 150, or 190bhp, but remain a popular choice in the company car sector, while being much-loved in the used market, especially for caravan owners.
BMW’s chassis target is always aimed at maintaining its long-standing driver’s car remit. While firm, the damping and spring rates also provide high resilience, which ensures that crisp, responsive steering is matched to a moderately low centre of gravity, high body roll resistance and exceptionally rigid body/chassis construction. While low-speed handling can sometimes feel a bit ‘nuggety’, especially on some of the UK’s give-and-take road surfaces, the X1 in 2.0-litre petrol AWD form proves to be highly rewarding to drive at the legal limit, smoothing out longer amplitude imperfections and relegating bumps to little more than barely audible hiccoughs. Interestingly, BMW is very adept at developing a ‘standard’ setting across all of its models that serves to impress its dynamic message most coherently and the X1 embodies it succinctly.
Of course, the interior remains a paragon of driver-focused clarity, itself a BMW signature of unswerving excellence that is only gently massaged across successive models. Hop from one BMW to the next and the familiarity is clear. The centre stack carries heating and ventilation controls, a wide, programmable row of popular use switches all topped by a wide and legible LCD screen. The lower console positions electronic parking brake and driving mode switch alongside the transmission shift lever. Column stalks provide most other functions, with cross-spoke switches replicating minor controls for driver safety and convenience. Everything works fluently and in a high-quality manner expected of the marque.
Although unavailable at the test session, early next year BMW will launch an X1 in xDrive25e specification, where the supplemental ‘e’ refers to the incorporation of electric drive technology shared with the i8 sportscar. Armed with a 9.7kWh lithium-ion battery pack, the X1 PHEV (plug-in electric hybrid) powers its front wheels using a 125bhp petrol engine, while the rears are driven by a 95bhp electric motor. This will provide a 31-miles EV range, a low CO2 rating of around 45g/km and exceptional frugality. It will probably obtain free access around congestion charge zones.
Conclusion: BMW is on a positive new model offensive at the moment, which seems to be epitomised by the enlarged radiator grilles and a host of up-market detailing. The list prices for the revised X1 start at £28,795 but be wary of the usual BMW accessories list, which can whack-up the bottom-line to well in excess of £40k very speedily.