After 730,000 sales of the previous model that was launched in 2009, there’s a new, second generation X1 in town. Drive Life were delivered a new X1 120D to review. This model is fitted with a diesel engine with two twin-scroll turbos that pumps out 140kw of power and decent 400Nm of torque, from a 2-litre engine. This power and torque gets the baby X model to 100km/h in just 7.6 seconds. That’s quick in any terms, let alone a 2-litre diesel-engined SUV.

First Impressions

With a redesign of the smallest model in the X series, BMW have finally hit a sweet spot with the styling. I was never a fan of the earlier smaller X series cars – to me they just looked a little outdated when they were released. Not so with the 2016 model – it looks sharp from most angles, and the front looks classy, stylish and different – without resorting to any sort of weird design features that other manufacturers seem to be doing lately, like deepening the grille to the point where it’s simply overpowering. I think the design of the X1 series cars will win a lot of buyers over, before they even drive it.


I do have reservations around the styling at the rear though – in my week with the X1, I kept imagining I was see other X1s in front of me, but they were either a Kia or Hyundai SUV. The back of the car doesn’t look bad at all – it just looks a bit too much like other small SUVs.

The test car’s looks were helped along with the optional 19” alloys, fitted with Pirelli Cinturato 225/45 tyres. These are some low profile tyres for an SUV, but they suited it well. Standard wheels are 7.5×17” shod with 225/55 tyres.


Popping the bonnet of the X120D will have you looking twice, if you haven’t read the specs. Yes sir, that’s two twin-scroll turbos right there, bolted on to that 2-litre diesel motor.

There’s a pretty decent options list with the BMW, as usual. For the first time, a Heads-Up Display is available as an option, and with the easy speed-creep of that motor, this might be a wise purchase.

The $76K 120D is fitted with a good amount of standard equipment in any case, including things like Hill Descent Control, 3-stage heated front seats, paddle shifters, electric park brake, SAT-NAV, dual-zone AC, fog lights, auto lights and wipers, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, cruise control (not radar controlled on this model though), LED headlights, leather steering wheel, auto engine off when stopped, and a Speed Limiter system.


I was surprised that there is no electric front seat adjustment, but you do get an electric rear door as well as electric release for the 40/20/40 rear seats.

There is a 6.5” central display, which is driven by BMW’s iDrive system. This includes, “ConnectedDrive Services and Apps, contains the mobile internet portal BMW and permits the integration of certain smartphone applications (Apple and Android devices), such as e.g. BMW Connected App and includes a 3-year subscription.”


You also get a Parking Assistant standard, which assists in parallel and lateral parking manoeuvres, taking control of the steering during the parking manoeuvres whilst acceleration and braking is controlled by driver. More on this later.

What’s it like to live with?

Pretty nice – mostly helped along by that superb engine and transmission. This is the highlight of driving the 120D – the outright performance of that motor, and the awesomeness of that 8-speed auto. Yet another car I’ve driven lately where the engine/transmission combo has been spot on.

With that 400Nm of torque, hills disappear quickly and passing is simple, without using much accelerator at all. It’s truly a throw-your-head-into-the-headrest experience. While the engine is a delight, it’s quite noisy on the outside of the car. I’d go as far as to say it’s the noisiest diesel I’ve heard for while – when you are standing next to the car. While idling, there’s no mistaking (ever) that this is a diesel. However on the inside, it’s a different story. Even without resorting to double-glazing, BMW have done an excellent job of muffling that diesel clatter.


But then this excellent soundproofing of the engine has led to one small problem – road noise. It sounds like you are driving on coarse-chip seal nearly all the time. It’s not bad and most passengers didn’t notice it until I mentioned it, but it is there most of the time. Not a biggie but at times quite noticeable. It could all be down to the tyres, some Pirellis can be quite noisy.

With those 19” wheels and low-profile run-flat tyres, you aren’t never going to get a smooth ride. It’s jiggly at worst, and a few times when going around a corner that had a joining strip on it (like an overpass) the 120D actually skipped sideways a little bit. Not dangerous, but surprising.

But then there’s the other side of the coin here: the handling – totally surprising. This might be a SUV with a high centre of gravity, but boy can it handle and grip. Combine that X-Drive system of full-time AWD with those tyres, 50/50 weight distribution and active dampers, and you get an SUV that you can throw at a corner at ridiculous speeds. The grip is bordering on phenomenal and you really have to try hard to make it lose composure on a bend – even tight corners don’t seem to give it much grief.

The steering helps things along here by giving great feedback, although sometimes it feels like it’s tramlining. Not badly, but it can give you a short surprise at times. Combined with the steering are the brakes – lots of feel given to the driver, and nicely progressive and more than powerful enough to match the performance of the car.


I tried out Eco Pro mode a few times, as according to the manual when you are travelling between certain speeds (50-160km/h) in Eco Pro mode, drive is actually disconnected to save fuel. It’s a weird sensation – not that you actually feel any difference, but you notice the rev counter drops by about 500 revs. A touch of the accelerator or brake brings the drivetrain back online, imperceptibly. The dash also shows you how much fuel you have saved using the mode – and it does seem to save quite a bit. Even only using it for a day showed I had saved 6 Km in diesel. In fact, I think you could easily drive this car in Eco Pro mode all day long, every day, and not really notice it. Since you still have so much low down torque available, you don’t notice it hanging on to a gear too long, or changing up early.

Since I tested out Eco Pro mode, it would have been wrong to not test Sport Mode. Instantly, throttle response is changed and suspension is tightened up. It was tempting to leave it in Sport Mode all the time too, but it’s so darn quick that you could be looking at losing your license very easily.

Day to day use of the X120D did highlight some good and some not so good things. This 120D model (which is only one model down from the top-spec 125D) has keyless entry and start, but you don’t get hands-free keyless entry – you still need to press the unlock button on the key fob to lock or unlock the car.


Not that I’m putting the X120D down, but other things weren’t as German-efficient as I thought they might be, for example the steering wheel controls. You have controls for audio volume up/down of course, and a wheel to advance or go back a track. But the wheel was fiddly. To move forward a track or two (or more) you spin the wheel down and then have to look at the dashboard to see what song you have chosen, before pushing the wheel in to select it. It would have been easier to just have a track up/down button, as other manufacturers do.  You could of course use the iDrive system to do this, but it means moving your hand from the steering wheel.

Some other strange things showed up in everyday use. If it’s a hot day, the air con really struggles to keep the temperature down in the cabin, and the fan may well just stay on high the entire trip – even when dialled to say 24 degrees.


Another problem I struck was the steering wheel/dashboard setup. It’s a lovely, leather steering wheel but it’s like it’s one size too small. The lower part of the dash has a computer display showing things like speed limit for the road you are on, as well as normal things like fuel consumption. Combined with that is a great idea for the speed limiter and cruise control – they use dots around the speedo which shows you (for example) what speed you have the cruise control set to – great! But I simply could not get a point where the steering wheel left both things visible – you could either see the bottom of the dash display or the dots around the speedo. It’s likely because I’m ‘only’ 5”7’ tall, but it was a constant niggle for me.

While I’m at it I’m going to mention the front seat belts – they aren’t height adjustable. Sure, the seat belts swivel left and right to sort of go up and down for shorter/taller people, but it still felt like they were too high for me. A tall person in the passenger’s seat mentioned his was too low. The swivel feature just doesn’t seem to cut it, and you wonder why BMW has done this when even budget new cars have height adjustable seat belts – I just can’t see a reason to change something that works.


Another thing – which is a personal one – is the central dashboard display. It looks tacked on, like an afterthought. There are some awesomely integrated ones out there, but BMW has gone with the almost budget look, a design that Mercedes also shares. For me, I don’t like it, but that’s just me. One other thing with the display is the size – pretty darn small. Even worse, when the reversing camera is on, it gets even smaller as the sides of the display give you more options to choose from, but reduce the visible image. It’s very clear, but it’s bordering on tiny.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many good and great features on the X120D, aside from the engine/transmission. Rear legroom is increased over the old model, and it shows – that’s quite a generous amount of leg room back there.


There is an electric park brake, and it has that simple feature of automatically disengaging when you touch the accelerator – I wish this was a standard feature of all electric park brakes.

The 6-speaker stereo performs well, and using the iDrive system to operate it is a piece of cake – being able to bring up an entire playlist and scrolling through it with ease is a pleasure.

The seats on the X120D are superb – so so comfortable, firm yet somehow soft as well. I can imagine long trips would not be uncomfortable in the slightest.

The X120D comes with the Parking Assistant feature, which allows the driver to go ‘hands off’ when parallel parking. I can see this becoming a much more common feature in lower spec cars, and the ladies (yes, I’m going there) I showed the Parking Assistant to almost wet themselves with joy on seeing it work.

However, it was not all roses with my testing. At one point, the X120D did its thing, reversing into a tight spot, but it did end up grazing the rims against the kerb when reversing in. The damage wasn’t bad, but it was a little alarming and definitely unexpected. We reached out to BMW New Zealand about this, as we wanted to find out what had happened and hopefully highlight this so other drivers may not be caught out by surprise. BMW indicated that the system is a ‘parking assist’ one and that there is still a human factor involved. They mentioned the reason the car may have touched with the curb could have been due to the cars parked around it, as the car uses the sensors to judge where it will be positioned in the spot you have selected.

I enlisted the help of fellow journalist John for curbing watching duties, as we did not want to risk any more damage. We tested this feature multiple times again, and each time it came within 3 – 5 inches of the curb, but never touched. Our conclusion is that you need to be mindful of the width of the car, and also the speed you allow the car move into the spot, as the slower you go during the final stages, allows the car more time to turn the wheel and avoid any incidents. Just something to be aware of.


Average fuel consumption by BMW is claimed at stunning 5.0 L/100km and incredibly I managed 6.8 – this is the first time I’ve even been close to a manufacturer’s claimed combined rating. Normally it’s around 40%-50% off the mark. With the performance at hand (that you do end up using daily), this is an excellent result.

What it’s up against

Brand / Model Engine Power, Kw Torque, Nm Drivetrain Fuel L/100km 0-100km/h Price Highest to Lowest
Jeep Grand Cherokee 3.0-litre, 6-cylinder turbo diesel 184 570 4WD 7.5 8.2 $91,990
Mercedes-Benz GLC220 2.2 litre, 4 cylinder turbo diesel 125 400 AWD 5.6 8.3 $89,900
Audi Q3 TDI S Line 2.0 litre, 4 cylinder turbo diesel 130 380 AWD 5.9 8.2 $79,500
BMW X1 120D 2.0 litre, 4 cylinder twin-turbo diesel 140 400 AWD 5.0 7.6 $76,500
Volkwagen Tiguan 2.0 litre, 4 cylinder turbo diesel 103 320 AWD 6.3 10.2 $56,590

The good and the bad.

Pros Cons
  • Engine
  • Transmission
  • Amazing torque
  • Performance
  • Fuel consumption
  • Solid and well built
  • Handling/grip
  • Seats
  • Styling
  • Parking assist did not go well for me
  • Road noise at times
  • Steering wheel audio controls
  • AC struggles at times
  • Central display looks tacked on

What do we think?

You may think from reading this review that I found lots wrong with the X1. It wasn’t so much things were wrong, some of it was personal preference and well yes other things just didn’t work for me.

In saying that, I simply loved my week with the X1. Fantastic handling and grip, incredible twin-turbo engine, excellent 8-speed auto and a great looker to boot.

The new, second generation X1 is a worthy 4-Chevron winner.





Read more about the X1 on BMW New Zealand’s website, here.

Vehicle Type Small SUV
Starting Price $65,500 + On road costs
Tested Price $76,500 + On road costs
Engine Diesel, 2.0 litre 4 cylinder, two twin-scroll turbochargers, Valvetronic and Double VANOS.
Transmission 8-speed Automatic transmission with 3 modes.
0 – 100 kph 7.6
Kerb Weight 1550kg
Length x Width x Height, mm 4439x1821x1598
Cargo Capacity 505-1550
Fuel Tank 61 litres
Towing Capacity Braked – 2000kg

Unbraked – 750kg

ANCAP Safety Ratings 5 stars
Warranty 5-year warranty with 5-years roadside assistance


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Fred Alvrez
How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm a driving instructor and an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.


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