BMW X1 sDrive18d driven in Australia

BMW X1 sDrive18d driven in Australia

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One of the wonderful perks of life as an automotive journalist is that we get to jetset overseas to view and test drive the latest cars on the planet. My own modest career of just under five years has seen me visit a number of countries both ahead and behind Malaysia on the development scale. Looking at the cars that populate the road of these countries, I realize how incredibly well-specced Malaysian cars are compared to other nations.

There are armchair reviewers who will disagree with that assessment, and will probably quote Toyota’s continued usage of the 4-speed automatic as an example to slap down my argument. Whilst it may not surprise anybody to read about Thailand, India, or Vietnam getting lower-specced vehicles than Malaysia, we would also expect consumers from developed markets such as Europe and Australia to be more discerning with their tastes, no?

Such pre-conceptions are even easier to reinforce when one reviews literature from our overseas exploits showing pictures of cars loaded to the hilt with equipment. The Volkswagen Golf 7 we tested in 2012 at Sardinia, for example, was clearly better-specced than what we eventually got in Malaysia. What most of these pictures do not tell you, however, is that a lot of these things are cost options and you usually have to top in a lot of money for them to be included in your car. It is why many Golf buyers overseas are happy to do without alloy rims or even front fog lamps – try omitting that in the Malaysian market.

In a recent trip to Australia, I had the opportunity to get behind the wheel of a BMW X1 that was specced with a minimum number of options, and observations on that test vehicle proved enlightening. It was an sDrive18d powered by the 2.0-litre N47 turbodiesel driving its rear-wheels; the 18d badge denotes a lower 143hp/320Nm state of tune which we do not get in Malaysia, as opposed to the 184hp/380Nm version powering 20d models which we are more familiar with. The lower outputs are to the benefit fuel consumption, however, as our test car has a rated 4.9 l/100km on the combined cycle versus 5.5 l/100km for the more powerful xDrive20d variant, which admittedly has two extra driven wheels.

The two diesel variants above form half of a four-variant line-up which BMW offers the Australian market. The other two variants are petrol powered, being the rear-driven sDrive20i and all-paw xDrive28i. Both models are powered by the N20 twin-scroll turbo mill producing 184hp and 245hp respectively, with the latter naturally being the range-topper.

Standard transmission of the X1 in the Australian market is a 6-speed manual, but our test car comes with an 8-speed automatic, standard in our part of the world, but an eye-watering AU$2,693 (RM7,931) option Down Under on top of the vehicle’s AU$46,300 (RM136,366) recommended list price, which does not yet include delivery and on-road costs.

8-speed automatic is a cost option in Australia.

The array of options specced into the test car is on the minimal side; in addition to the automatic gearbox, BMW Australia’s press office also ticked metallic paint ($1,308), reverse camera ($692), panoramic sunroof ($2,308), front parking sensors ($550), and extended smartphone functions ($385). The vehicle’s standard equipment included a basic iDrive, which crucially includes satellite navigation.

For my money, I would leave the sun roof out and spec in keyless entry instead. That aside, I find the level of specification in this vehicle to adequately cover the basics, although the sight of a modern day BMW vehicle without HIDs and the Corona rings did not seem quite right. Inside, the vehicle’s presentation is similarly less opulent than its Malaysian counterparts – leather upholstery seems to be of a coarser grade and seat adjustment is manual (Malaysia’s X1 gets electric driver seat adjust). Our test car also forgoes the thicker-rimmed sports steering wheel which we get as standard here.

Standard headlights are halogen reflectors. Malaysia-spec gets HID as standard.

Overall, the test car was built to very pragmatic specifications, even if it does not feel like a very luxurious package. For one, our criticism of poor material selection from previous reviews still stands, and there is no getting away from the fact that being based on the underpinnings of the old E90 3 Series, the X1 is an aging stalwart.

Any misgivings one may have of the X1 however, can easily be put aside with a stint behind the wheel. Australia’s heavily policed roads make the more rigourous testing methods we employ back home inappropriate to apply, but even then, the X1, even it this most basic format, gave us more reasons to smile than to cringe as far as its driving experience is concerned.

Base wheels are 17-inch alloys.

To get the only bit of bad news out of the way, ride quality seems a little fidgety over small disturbances, and this is despite our test car being fitted with the smallest rim and highest profile tyre combo – 225/50 R17 Pirellis. If we are to rank it on a scale, comfort levels of our test car is somewhere in between the ridiculously rock-hard pre-facelift xDrive20d tested in 2010 and the much-improved and more pliant facelifted sDrive20i in late 2012, closer to the latter, fortunately.

The overall firmness of the ride quality is nevertheless a worthwhile trade-off for the X1’s class-leading levels of grip, poise, and stability, be it on a straight road or when carving the corners. If there’s a reason why you should pick the X1 over better-built alternatives such as the Volvo XC60, Volkswagen Tiguan or Audi Q3, look no further than its highly-accomplished driving dynamics.

Moving on to the engine room, this is our first encounter with BMW’s excellent N47 turbodiesel in this 143hp format. Detuned it might be, but we should not be distracted by the fact that with 320Nm at its disposal, it is more than adequate to serve everyday needs. In the Australian context, where exceeding the speed limits by just 40kph nets you a license suspension, anything more than 150hp is excessive anyway. It is therefore wiser to go with lower outputs and enjoy the accompanying fuel savings. I took the test car on a 1,300km round trip from Melbourne to Canberra and had to refuel a little over AU$90 of diesel (at AU$1.69 per litre) only after clocking 922km on the trip meter. For the record, I clocked a total of 1,700km in five days with the test car.

Typical of an engine tuned way below its maximum potential, the X1 sDrive18d proceeds about its business in a refind and unhurried fashion. I reined in my speeding tendencies by leaving the ‘Eco Pro’ mode perpetually switched on, and even then, it was impressive at how effortless it pulls its weight around. Unhindered by restrictive speed limits, I can imagine this thing effortlessly sustaining speeds of 140-150kph without sweat, but as it was, I had to amble along at 110kph and wallet-friendly fuel bill was all I have to console myself, exchange rate notwithstanding.

Test car came specced with a panoramic sunroof not offered to Malaysians.

Because good manual cars are such a rarity in Malaysia, I usually make it a point to sample stick shift options as well when I go on overseas trips – the Golf 7 in Sardinia and BMW 520d in Seville comes to mind – but for some reason, I neglected to make that request with BMW this time, which was perhaps all for the better, as the 8-speed auto of our test car once again showed why it is highly-regarded as one of the best torque converter boxes in the business – smooth at low speeds, decisive when pushed hard, and rarely caught in the wrong gear under any circumstance.

This thing has a combination of refined hardware and well-calibrated software, giving us an automatic transmission that is exceptionally intuitive and refined. When it comes to automatic transmissions, the novelty of the manual overriding function, even if it’s accompanied by paddle shifters, have a habit of wearing off over time, and when that happens, you want a gearbox that is able to get it right in ‘D’. Testing BMWs at home, I occasionally activate the transmission’s more aggressive sport mode for hard driving, but that is as far as it usually goes. As a result, lack of paddle shifters with BMW test cars never bother me.

Seats operate on manual adjust.

The N47 engine in this 18d tune is another effective demonstration of BMW’s excellence in diesel engines, although we are unlikely to see its arrival here anytime soon. This time it’s less to do with the usual complaint of Euro 2 fuel but more to do with Malaysian tastes. Because cars are so expensive here, manufacturers have a very narrow window in which they can optimally spec and price their products. If BMW were to offer this engine in the 3 Series for example, the potential price difference between a 318d and the 320d is likely to be so small that most buyers will splash the extra cash for the latter anyway.

Reduction of kit count doesn’t work either. BMW Australia might be able to get away with charging AU$1,308 for metallic paint, but Malaysian customers will have your head for doing so. With high prices come higher tastes, and as a result, cars bound for Malaysia must be specced with a high level of standard equipment. As it is, I already make plenty of noise if I don’t get keyless entry in my test cars.

Another problem with providing options is that it is a troublesome route to pursue, because differently specced vehicles have different internal model codes, and our customs require separate sets of documentations for duty calculations. It is the reason why car makers are reluctant to offer Malaysian consumers with the same wide range of personalization options as they do overseas. Some local distributors of foreign brands circumvent this bureaucracy problem by fitting accessories at the PDI stage, but such an approach is unlikely to be acceptable by a premium brand like BMW.


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