BMW X1 long term test: report 1

Our chief photographer needs a practical car that can cope with heavy lifting during the week, but knows how to have fun after working hours. Does the BMW X1 deliver?...

BMW X1 2023 long-term John Bradshaw opener

The car BMW X1 xDrive23i MHT M Sport Run by John Bradshaw, chief photographer

Why it’s here To see if this premium family SUV can cut it as a workhorse from Monday to Friday and an entertainer at the weekend

Needs to Carry heavy, bulky equipment all over the country while being comfy, safe, economical, and fun on the right road

Mileage 642 List price £41,470 Target Price £40,663 Price as tested £47,495 Test economy 37.5mpg Official economy 42.2mpg Options fitted M Sport Pro Pack (£1500), Driving Assistant Professional Pack (£1500), Technology Plus Pack (£1150), Comfort Pack (£1050), panoramic glass sunroof (£1000), sliding rear seats (£300)

24 February 2023 – Entering the premiership

Rolling the clock back a long, long way, I didn’t grow up with a computer at home, but some of my friends had a Sinclair ZX80 or a Commodore VIC-20, acquired by their parents for strictly educational purposes. However, as soon as Mum and Dad’s backs were turned, on went Breakout or Super Invasion, both popular games at the time. Decades later, similarly mischievous thinking explains why I chose a BMW X1 as my new car.

The Honda CR-V and the Nissan Qashqai I ran before that both proved very practical machines, and being comfortable on long trips made them all the more suitable for my purposes; as What Car?’s chief photographer, I often have to haul my camera gear hundreds of miles in a given week as I travel from one photoshoot to the next. At the weekend, though, I often found myself wishing my car was a little more, well, entertaining. The CR-V and Qashqai were great for work and rest, but I rather fancied a bit more play.

And what if driving it could feel a bit more of an event, too? Well, this notion had me considering cars from premium brands, and the X1 is effectively the BMW equivalent of the CR-V. On paper, it promises the same kind of practicality as its more mainstream rivals, but ought to feel rather more indulgent inside, and so far I’m inclined to say it hits the spot on both points.

With driver appeal in mind, I’ve gone for the X1 in racy-looking M Sport spec, in Portimao Blue metallic paint (for an extra £595), and I’ve added more than a few choice options to tune it to my fancy. The M Sport Pro pack (£1500) brings adaptive suspension so I can stiffen or soften the ride to suit the circumstances, as well as a set of very handsome 20in alloy wheels.

BMW X1 2023 long term Harmon Kardon speakers

The pack also brings a Harman/Kardon surround sound audio system to do justice to my tunes on long trips. Another £1500 netted the Driving Assistant Professional pack, bringing digital instruments and a colour head-up display (a must for how it puts vital information in my line of sight without my eyes leaving the road), as well as 360-degree cameras for manoeuvring and a wireless charger for my phone.

For added convenience, I went for the £1150 Technology Plus Pack, which brings keyless entry and a heated steering wheel, as well as LED headlights that can shape their full beams to avoid dazzling oncoming traffic, while the £1050 Comfort pack adds electric front seats with memory, lumbar support adjustment and a massage feature. 

BMW X1 2023 long term panoramic roof

On top of these, two options have already proven very useful. Firstly, the panoramic sunroof (£1000) allows me to stand up and take tracking shots (while somebody else drives, of course), while the sliding rear seats (£300) allow the boot to hold an extra bag or two of photographer’s clobber at the expense of rear leg room when the latter isn’t needed. At £47,495 all in, then, this isn’t a cheap car, but it’s an extremely well equipped one.

Engine-wise, I’ve gone for the xDrive23i, which uses mild hybrid technology to boost efficiency when accelerating or coasting. Unlike my regular hybrid previous cars, though, it can’t travel on electric power alone. Still, the 37.5mpg I’ve averaged so far seems decent for a four-wheel drive SUV that can crack off a 0-62mph sprint in 7.1sec.

BMW X1 2023 long term gear selector

The BMW X1 certainly feels more sprightly than my CR-V, and I immediately feel more at home with its gear selector, which you pull back to make the car go forward – the way that feels instinctive. Do the same with the CR-V’s and you run the risk of backing into a wall. The X1’s interior has more of a visual wow-factor, too; especially the dashboard, whose 10.25in digital instrument panel flows into a 10.7in infotainment screen.

In a break with tradition, operating the latter relies on its touchscreen or voice control; you no longer get an iDrive rotary controller, so the jury’s out on how intuitive I'll find it on the move. Still, at least you don’t have to load software on cassettes like my friends and I did with that old Sinclair computer.

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