It’s take two for BMW’s compact SUV rival to the Audi Q3. Pleasingly, it’s more than twice as good

2015 BMW X1The new second-generation BMW X1 is the sporty, well-honed Audi Q3-rivalling compact SUV BMW should have launched from the start. The contrast with the outgoing model could not be more stark. Along with the 5 Series GT, it’s a black sheep of the range: ill conceived, rather ugly and disappointingly shy of BMW’s usual impeccable standards. It sells extraordinarily well overseas: goodness knows why.

Take two, an all-new model that launches in the UK in October with prices from £26,780, is immeasurably more convincing. Visually for one, there’s no comparison. Taller, wider yet shorter than the current car, it looks like a squat, sporty baby brother to the X5. It’s now really well proportioned and has way more attitude and presence.

Despite being taller and more SUV-ey, it’s more aerodynamic and considerably more economical. Based on BMW’s adaptable UKL platform used in the 2 Series Active Tourer, future 1 Series (and also, believe it or not, the MINI), the bulk of cars feature latest-gen xDrive all-wheel drive, but there’s also a fuel-sipping front-wheel drive model (the old two-wheel drive X1 turned the rear wheels).

Such a clever new platform, that lends itself so well to practical MPVs, means interior space and practicality has leapt ahead on the new X1. This in itself will make it an interesting similar-price alternative to the 3 Series, and could help BMW UK’s X1 performance match last year’s global stat that 1 in 10 new BMWs sold was an X1.

Yes, it’s a key launch for the firm, that begs the question: if the sorely compromised old car sold so strongly, how well could this one do? It all depends on whether it performs as well as it looks. To the road, then, in a 231hp, from-£36,060 xDrive25d launch car in Austria, then.

On the road: 2015 BMW X1

2015 BMW X1

BMW’s multi-flexible UKL platform is a star draw in anything using it, and this is no exception. We drove the top-spec xDrive25d version, with xDrive, and found it a neatly-handling delight compared to the old car.

It has a tightly-honed crispness to it that fully feels ‘premium’. As you’d hope from a BMW, it’s not soggy or wallowy (particularly with the test car’s optional Adaptive Dynamics suspension), giving it the attitude to match its good looks. Yes, it really is a ‘sporty’ SUV.

Steering, while not boasting 3 Series-like feel, is well weighted and very accurate, and the athleticism it shows through twisting sequences is pleasing, particularly with the reassurance of BMW’s typically brilliant xDrive all-wheel drive system. Whenever you do sense it working, you feel it’s working for you, both your safety and engagement.

The 2.0-litre diesel is, well, a 2.0-litre diesel – but a jolly good one at that. Part of BMW’s modular family, it’s got little of the gruff breathing of older 2.0-litre BMW diesels, revving surprisingly freely and performing much more quietly at lower revs. The spread of drive is impressive and fast-acting, and it still out-performs pretty much any rival.

Needless to say, our test car’s optional eight-speed automatic was excellent, and those clever Adaptive Dampers smoothed off the corners of the reasonably sporty-setup suspension. Flick a toggle to convincingly make it firmer and sportier without destroying the ride, where the reduction in apparent roll helps enhance control (and the feeling of control for passengers) away from the motorway.

On the inside: 2015 BMW X1

2015 BMW X1

We never thought we’d be praising this with a BMW, bit it is so: you sit high, much higher in the new X1 compared to before, and it’s better to sit in as a result. The old one felt like sitting in an estate fitted with tall chairs – the fact you step up into this one and sense much more of the ‘command’ feel ((c) Land Rover) immediately positions the car correctly.

You will also sense the model’s MPV roots, mind, but this isn’t altogether a bad thing. It’s really roomy in there for one, with a deep windscreen further benefitting from a dash that falls away from it to enhance the roominess. The driving position is a bit MPV-like (fractionally close pedals and perched feel atop firm seats particularly) but the overall SUV sensation overcomes this; besides, it’s way roomier than the annoyingly impractical old one.

It’s particularly impressive in the rear. You even get split-slide rear seats there. There’s an abundance of leg and headroom, and three abreast shouldn’t be a problem. In terms of passenger practicality, it betters a 3 Series here and, for those to whom a 2 Series Active Tourer just isn’t cool, BMW dealers now have the perfect solution.

The boot’s massive too: 505 litres seats up, 1,505 with them down. There’s an electric tailgate that can be operate hands-free by kicking beneath the rear bumper. Once you get over the feeling you look like a wally, it’s cool.

As for the dash, the 2 Series roots are clear, but it’s all nicely finished (well, in our top-spec test car, at least), perhaps not as enveloping as an X5 but eminently practical and easy enough to use. The iDrive system, for example, remains head and shoulders above the premium competition (and, like all BMWs, sat nav is standard).

Running costs: 2015 BMW X1

2015 BMW X1

BMW’s are generally very fuel efficient. This xDrive25d averages 56.5mpg and emits 132g/km CO2. Stop-start is standard, as is the eight-speed automatic – yes, the gearbox is that good, it still keeps CO2 low and gives 56mpg despite its ease of use.

Alongside the three diesels (150hp, 190hp and 231hp) will be a single turbo petrol at launch, producing 192hp: even this xDrive20i version can do 44.8mpg, should you find yourself becoming a bit anti-diesel.

Because it’s such a step on from the old car, retained values should leap accordingly, to the premium level you expect of a BMW. This will help keep leasing and PCP rates low, helping meet BMW’s expectation that the X1 will soon start outselling the X3 again (this year’s prediction is 8,000 cars).

The trim line-up goes standard, Sport, xLine and, from later in 2015, M Sport. Sport has big 18-inch wheels but xLine is the fancy-pants one, with LED headlights, Dakota leather and even more premium detailing outside and in. You can only get the xDrive 25d as an xLine, anyway.

Verdict: 2015 BMW X1

2015 BMW X1

It’s certainly a surprise, the new 2015 BMW X1. A pleasant one, because it’s so much better than the old one, and immeasurably more appealing to look at and be within. The cool factor has gone through the roof – it will finally be seen as a proper junior X5.

You can nit-pick and say the 2 Series Active Tourer MPV roots are felt inside, but the benefit is the practicality that will make it a similar-price alternative to a 3 Series. You’d never consider the old one alongside BMW’s 40 year old icon.

No wonder BMW’s predicting a stepchange in sales (without impacting on the larger X3, either). This car deserves it. Second time lucky, BMW.

Specifications: 2015 BMW X1

Engines: 2.0-litre turbo petrol, 2.0-litre turbodiesel

Prices from: £26,780 (test xDrive25d xLine: £36,060)

Power: 150 – 231hp

Torque: 206 – 331lb ft (280 – 450Nm)

0-62mph: 6.6 – 9.2 seconds

Top speed: 127 – 146mph

Fuel economy: 44.8 – 65.7mpg

CO2 emissions: 114 – 146g/km