BMW X1: Just as good in Front-wheel drive

By Lee Pang Seng

BMW might have gone front-wheel drive (FWD) since 2014 but some would still raise their eyebrows on being told of such a model from this German carmaker. Perhaps it is because BMW has established its image as a strong rear-driven car that few could perceive it doing the same with a front-driven one.

Then again, BMW had the resources within the group to develop a FWD platform to continue its sporty dynamic character, this being the MINI. Adopting such a platform allowed the vehicle body to remain small while interior space is fully optimised to rival that of bigger rear-wheel drive cars. For now, this FWD platform is applied only to the ‘lifestyle models; the MPV or Active Tourer and SAV (Sports Activity Vehicle) range.

This strategy is chosen for the smaller end of the model range and is unlikely to be adopted for the mid to premium range, which would continue to be rear driven. The X1 comes under this consideration as it could have a roomy interior by going front-driven without growing much in body dimensions and adding weight to burden the engine.

As mentioned in an earlier article on a drive impression in the xDrive25i covering Germany and Austria, the latest X1 has grown over the previous model in height by 53mm. This is to provide better headroom in accommodating the higher ride height in front (+36mm) and rear (+64mm); the former is to optimise the driver’s view of the road.

The current X1 is 15mm shorter in body length than the previous model at 4,439mm but 32mm wider at 1,821mm. More importantly, BMW could make use of a shorter wheelbase (2670mm from 2760mm previously), which is the same as that for the 2 Series Active Tourer, the first FWD model from this carmaker.

Our earlier X1 drive was with an all-wheel drive and our experience with a BMW front-wheel drive dates back to 2012 when we drove a prototype model at the carmaker’s proving ground in Germany. Now that the X1 FWD is introduced here in the sDrive20i, we were indeed looking forward to gauging its dynamic character through familiar road conditions and terrain.

The X1 sDrive20i was recently included on the local assembly line although our drive impression was with as a CBU (complete built-up) or imported model. Being the entry model to the range, it was understandably less endowed in features than the xDrive25i we had driven earlier.

For a start, when reverse gear is engaged, there is no camera at the rear to show the scenario and only graphic images and beeps serve as warnings. Nevertheless, the equipment level is generally good enough on most counts to make driving easier, convenient and enjoyable. The BMW ConnectedDrive Services and Apps include the Intelligent Emergency Call, Concierge Services and Remote Services while the Driver Assistance systems include Intelligent Parking and BMW Navigation Professional.

Best of all, the interior remain spacious for everyone on board. Rear passengers’ knee room is increased by 37mm and up to 66mm with the optional adjustable rear seat that can slide 13mm fore and aft. To load one’s holiday luggage, the boot capacity provides 505 litres of space (85 litres more than the preceding model). For flexibility in luggage storage, the standard 40:20:40 split folding rear seatrest expands load capacity by more than threefold to 1,550 litres at the maximum.

Powering the sDrive20i is the 2.0-litre engine with BMW TwinPower Turbo technology; this includes the TwinScroll turbocharger, high precision injection, VALVETRONIC fully variable valve timing and double-VANOS variable camshaft timing. Yes, that’s basically what shapes most BMW engines. And that in the sDrive20i is mated to an eight-speed Steptronic (automatic) transmission, another BMW staple.

The power unit is undersquare in configuration with 82.0mm bore and long 94.6mm stroke to displace 1998cc, and is located east-west or transversely in typical front-wheel drive format in the engine compartment. There is no shortage of oomph to measure up to its BMW heritage with 141kW (192hp) at 5000 to 6000rpm and a good measure of torque with 280Nm developing early from 1250rpm to 4600rpm.

BMW says the sDrive20i would accelerate from rest to 100km/h in 7.7 seconds and we wouldn’t dispute that with its readiness to pick up speed at a slight prompt of the accelerator. This lively pace falls nicely into its FWD character that we also enjoyed when making quick passing manoeuvres. And if you want to push your luck with police speed cameras, the sDrive20i will do 225km/h. We pushed the speedo needle to a tad above 200km/h before running out of road.

It was the sDrive20i’s dynamic qualities through our favourite winding stretch that we were more curious about. We recalled that our Germany-Austria drive in the xDrive25i showed a good pace through corners with the all-wheel drive system apportioning engine output to complement the electronically-assisted mechanical road grip.

With the sDrive20i, power to the front wheels is the driving force with the same electronically-assisted dynamic systems being applied, this being the Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) that encompasses ABS (anti-lock braking), ASC (anti-skid control), DTC (dynamic traction control), DBC (dynamic brake control), to name some.

The X1 is independently sprung all round with MacPherson struts in front with aluminium-steel linkages and a multi-link rear with lightweight steel structure for the separate spring and damper configuration. Electric Power Steering (EPS), which is progressively being featured in the BMW range, is standard.

The sDrive20i could be pushed through the corners confidently with progressive understeer as the electronic dynamic system worked to compensate for the forces acting on the SAV as it was taken through a turn. Directional feel through the EPS remained good but the sDrive20i appeared to have less understeer for the speed taken; this was again subjective as both X1 models were put through different road conditions. The fact was that we remained confident pushing a front-driven X1 through winding stretches as we were with the all-wheel drive xDrive25i.

With a pretty good wind-cheating body boasting an air drag co-efficient (Cd) of 3.0, the sDrive20i provided a quiet drive on the highways as expected. Ride was typically BMW; firm but comfortable for all on board. There would be a bit more jolt over bumpy stretches but the impacts are sufficiently cushioned to take the harshness away for an appreciable ride comfort.

If you like diesel power, especially with Euro5 diesel being made progressively available, BMW Malaysia has included a CKD version of the X1 sDrive18d. Featuring a turbocharger with variable inlet geometry, the 1995cc engine (84.0mm bore and 90.0mm stroke) delivers an equally strong punch with 110kW (150hp) at 4000rpm and 330Nm at 1750-2750rpm. It has the same eight-speed Steptronic transmission but with a different (higher) final drive ratio.

Technical Specification Link here (PDF Format).

BMW ConnectedDrive - Fact Sheet Link here (PDF Format).

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