BMW X1 - too much of a good thing

  • Graeme borrows James' X1 and taken by surprise by gearbox
  • Normally excellent eight-speed auto overly keen to change down 
  • Rest of package very good, let down by odd steering and pricey options

Can you ever have too much when it comes to a car – performance, economy, equipment, space, practicality? Well, after borrowing James’ long term BMW X1 I have a sneaking suspicion that we have too much of something, and that something is gears. I know, weird complaint right?

Our X1 Xdrive 20d M Sport is fitted with the firm’s excellent eight-speed automatic gearbox, which in its own right is superb. It’s an acclaimed box, with every right to receive such plaudits, offering exactingly smooth and quick changes. We even like the way the gearlever reacts intuitively to manual changes – push forward to drop a cog and pull backwards to climb through the ratios.

Paddleshifters give more control on BMW X1

And as soon as I set off from the Parkers car park on my 57-mile drive home I felt the same; here’s a gearbox I’ve experienced in countless other BMW’s that’s good enough to make me consider buying an auto rather than a manual model. It works well with the 20d diesel engine as well, both in the 3 Series and the excellent 520d saloons and estates I’ve had the pleasure of.

Gears are rapidly fired through, with nary a loss of forward momentum between swaps, and you get the feeling the car is trying its best to save fuel – something we can all appreciate in this era of tightened belts and thinner wallets. It’s all silkily smooth as well, and by the time I’ve hit the A1 I’m fully immersed and impressed in the automatic X1 experience.

BMX X1 19inch wheels

Getting up to the legal limit takes little time (our X1 completes the 0-62mph sprint in just 8.3 seconds) and once there the X1 is refined, quiet and even well-riding, despite the run-flat rubber on the 19-inch rims. We’re already into eighth gear and the X1 is making rapid but hushed progress with only a light touch on the throttle pedal.

And then I pull out to overtake a slower moving lorry and it all goes wrong.

Despite barely increasing pedal pressure, accelerating from 65mph to 70mph, the gearbox drops a cog down to seventh, the revs rise and the noise increases. Had I planted my foot into the carpet, calling for kickdown matched to maximum acceleration, I wouldn’t have been so surprised but all I’d done was breathe on the loud pedal.

BMW X1 steering

It’s not unbearable, or even that much of a problem, but its occurrence startles me slightly. So much so that I think it’s something I’ve done. Only a few miles further along my commute it does it again, and again.

And again.

There’s no massive gain in acceleration, and I’m convinced that for the light throttle opening I’m requesting there’s no need for the ratio change.Yet the X1 has different ideas.

At least the transmission’s smooth operation means there’s little to be felt from the eighth to seventh transition. And to be fair, it’s not really a problem – merely a thus far unaccustomed experience.

Drive the car in manual mode, changing gears with the steering wheel paddles or nudging the gearlever forwards or back, and it'll hold the gear instead. Unless the engine speed drops below its usual idling speed, of course.

BMW X1 20d

It’s a small flaw, in fact some would say more of a characteristic than a problem, in this car’s make-up. Performance is, as previously mentioned, brisk, body roll well contained, ride quality impressive and refinement high. Only the dull steering, which in a most un-BMW like way takes an age to respond to inputs around the dead-ahead let the experience down.

Loaded with options – far too many in fact, as James has previously pointed out - our X1 isn't very representative of what the public would likely buy. And when it comes to extras, that eighth gear really doesn't seem to be needed.