2011 BMW X1 x drive 28i review – As ever with the Bavarian Motor Works, the presentation starts with the engine. Not just any engine, however. BMW’s latest four-cylinder heralds its new generation of turbocharged petrol units, small, economical and packing a big punch.
Such a punch in fact that BMW is aiming to replace some of its six-cylinder engines with this unit and its first application does exactly that, in the X1 small SUV (sport utility vehicle), which has just gone on sale in mainland Europe but isn’t yet scheduled to come to the UK.
The X1 is built in Leipzig and fits underneath the X3, X5 and X6 in BMW’s quartet of SUVs. The new engine is an all-aluminium, 2.0-litre, four-cylinder with BMW’s Valvetronic system that electronically controls the intake valves and Vanos variable camshaft timing for both inlet and exhaust.
Like many car makers, BMW is revisiting petrol turbocharging as a way of meeting stiff new emissions legislation and the requirement for low fuel consumption with high-power delivery.
Already introduced on the company’s six-cylinder engines, the twin-scroll turbocharger uses exhaust gases ducted from each pair of cylinders so that the ebbs and flows of the exhaust gas have little detrimental effect on the turbine, which consequently can spin up all the sooner and more effectively.
Forget turbocharging as you might have known it, this engine will pull from very low down and the throttle response is almost as linear as a naturally-aspirated unit.
Fuel is injected directly into the cylinders using solenoid injectors, with an electric water pump and computer-controlled oil pump to minimise friction under power and hence maximise economy.
For the cylinder walls, BMW uses an iron-spraying technique, which is applied to a water-etched bore lining for a good mechanical seal. The result is a durable surface that is very thin (0.3mm), so it transfers heat effectively to the coolant channels alongside. Complicated, but worth the resulting weight saving and precise engine temperature control.
The results are impressive. Getting almost 250bhp out of 2.0 litres used to be the preserve of British Touring Car Championship engine builders and those screaming naturally aspirated engines had a powerband as wide as a needle’s eye. Yet this blown unit delivers its power smoothly and insistently from 1,500rpm, with manners that will allow it to idle in traffic, durability to last for a decade or two and economy that is at least on the way to rivalling an equivalent turbodiesel.
It comes as standard with a manual six-speed transmission or a new optional eight-speed auto, but such is its flexibility that all these ratios seem superfluous except when it comes to achieving low figures in the EU fuel consumption tests.
The urge keeps flat and strong all the way to the red line at 7,000rpm. Something about the crank timing and exhaust noise makes it sound like a small Triumph saloon from the mid-Seventies, even down to the ragged mid-range, which disappears when you rev the unit. Unfortunately our test car also had a strange transmission whine at speed.
From outside, the X1 is pretty ungainly, but the cabin is mostly well made and conservative in a BMW mien, although like the larger X3, interior quality deteriorates as you move away from the driver’s line of sight and towards the back seats.
There’s space enough in the front seats and a good driving position, but the rears have only just enough leg room for six-footers. The boot is large enough, however, for four people’s luggage, but the lip is high.
Step out of the larger X3 or X5 and the X1 feels runtish. It doesn’t drive as well and isn’t as comfortable. Also, the 3-series Touring is a much better all-rounder. That said, some folk want the security of four-wheel drive and that’s not available in a 3-series in Britain.
No prices yet, indeed there is no petrol model in the current X1 line-up, which consists of diesels in £24,265 1.8d, £25,675 2.0d and £29,250 2.3d forms. Prices for this four-pot petrol model in Europe will start at about £33,000 and there’s no reason for it to be much more expensive over here, although that hasn’t stopped BMW in the past.
This new engine is a smasher, which we’ll see in other applications such as the 1- and 3-series and the Z4. Along, hopefully, with a better exhaust note.
BMW X1 x drive 28i
Tested: 1,997cc four-cyl turbocharged petrol engine and six-speed manual gearbox driving all four wheels.
Price/on sale: about £33,000/2012
Power/torque: 242bhp @ 5,000rpm and 258lb ft @ 1,250rpm
Top speed: 149mph
Acceleration: 0-62mph in 6.1 sec
Fuel economy: 28.5mpg/35.8mpg EU Urban/Combined
CO2 emissions: 183g/km
VED band: I (£315 first year, £210 after)
Verdict: Well executed, powerful and economical if slightly characterless engine, shame about the vehicle.
Telegraph verdict: Four out of five stars