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ROAD TEST: BMW X1 xDrive28i
The top of Castle Gorge in the Magaliesburg region is a magnificent sight to behold. It's a pity that I didn't have much time to take it all in. What has started off as a mild and sunny day had turned into a cacophony of rumbling thunder by early afternoon, and we were still a good few hours from the car park.
The heavens opened up with a vengeance as we scrambled nervously down the escarpment, dodging lightning strikes. Thankfully we were spared, and upon reaching the literal mud-bath of a car park, I was pleased to be stepping into a softroader of sorts.
Some equally slippery and somewhat treacherous road surface lay ahead, yet the X1's xDrive permanent all-wheel drive hardware and 179mm ground clearance made for grippy and smooth sailing.
If you don't need an off-roader but like to visit the rugged and remote corners of our country from time to time then this kind of vehicle starts to make some sense. But wouldn't any softroader do the trick, I hear you ask?
Yes it would and many would do a better job.
But very few of them offer hot hatch performance as well as a chassis and steering set-up that was designed to entertain on the tar. That's where the X1 xDrive28i starts to entice.
Its name might be misleading in terms of engine size but there's really no sniffing at what it has to offer. This is BMW's latest 2-litre turbopetrol engine in its highest state of tune, which means outputs of 180kW and 350Nm - enough to get you to 100 in just 6.1 seconds at the coast, according to claims.
While I still longed for the sweet-purring straight-six that was previously offered in other BMWs at this power level - especially with this four-pot faintly clattering like a diesel at low revs - I could not argue with the power delivery it dished up. This engine gives a good and proper thrust from the get-go and there's even a bit of push-you-back-in-the-seat sensation.
I found the ride quality to be reasonably comfortable, despite the test unit having 19-inch low-profiles as an optional addition to the already-optional M Sport Line package. It's got proper grip through the bends too, but the X1's centre of gravity does bring some body roll to the party.
In a nutshell, the X1 handles well for a softroader (or Sports Activity Vehicle as the BMW salesman will call it) but the laws of physics will never let it be a 3 Series.
One thing I did particularly enjoy in this Beemer was its small, thick-rimmed steering wheel, which connects you to a steering rack that has a weighty, meaty feel to it. It feels typically BMW, but I wish I could say the same of the cabin.
It's comfortable enough, but there are too many hard bits on the dash and the overall tactile quality is not as good as I'd expect from something in this stable.
The X1 xDrive28i feels every bit like a hot hatch in hiking boots. An enticing performer that will also take you into the countryside without breaking a sweat.
There are only two big turn-offs, as far as I am concerned. The first is the styling - I just can't get used to that flat nose.
The second is the price. BMW will relieve you of R463 645 for a 28i base model and R496 600 for the M Sport Line that I drove. In fact, once the boys at BMW had finished playing with the options list on this car, it cost in the region of R600 000. Nice as it all is, that's crazy money for an X1. In fact, an X3 28i with fewer toys, and a more realistic set of rims, would do me just fine.