David Motton

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Driving the new BMW X1, Practical Caravan's expert David Motton is hoping to find a much-improved product and a more-convincing tow car – can it deliver?

BMW doesn't often get it wrong, but the original X1 has to be one of its weakest efforts in recent years. As a tow car, the first-generation X1 performed well enough, but limited space, disappointing build quality and sub-standard refinement all counted against it.

The old, awkward-looking X1 has now gone, and it doesn't take long to discover the new X1 is much improved over the car it replaces.

For one thing, it's much better looking. I don't usually waste too many words commenting on a car's styling when you can make your own mind up from the pictures, but to my eyes the new model is much better proportioned than the oddly shaped original.

More importantly, most of the old model's other failings have been addressed, too. The finish is much plusher than before, and sits much more happily with the £30,000-plus price tag of top-end versions.

There's also a lot more cabin space. It's not something you necessarily notice in the front of the car – although the driving position has been improved by banishing the old model's offset steering wheel – but there's considerably more legroom in the back. Tall adults will be much happier travelling in the rear of this X1. What's more, there's notably more space than in the back of the BMW X1's most obvious rival, the Audi Q3, and the 505-litre boot easily beats the Audi's 420-litre capacity.

The range starts from £26,930 for the front-wheel-drive 148bhp sDrive 18d SE, which has a kerbweight of 1505kg when fitted with a manual gearbox. The four-wheel-drive xDrive models start from £28,430 with the same engine, with a kerbweight of 1605kg for manual cars. Two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, the legal towing limit is 1800kg.

For a worthwhile increase in power and performance, the 187bhp xDrive 20d has a kerbweight of 1615kg and a two-tonne legal towing limit, with prices from £30,780. There's also a 189bhp xDrive 20i petrol weighing 1615kg with a two-tonne legal maximum, priced from £31,375.

I've been driving the 228bhp xDrive 25d, which is only available with an automatic gearbox and which has a kerbweight of 1615kg, with a two-tonne legal towing limit. It's priced from £36,210.

Combining a relatively low weight for a 4x4 with so much power makes for a very quick car. BMW claims a 0-62mph time of just 6.6 seconds. The eight-speed gearbox changes gear smoothly and swiftly to make the most of the engine's 332lb ft of torque, so you won't ever be stuck behind slower traffic for long. It should easily cope with a sensibly matched caravan. In fact, even if you're not sensible with your matching, this engine should knuckle-down to the extra work.

Despite all that performance, the xDrive 25d still posts some reasonable economy figures in official tests, returning between 54.3mpg and 56.5mpg depending on the exact spec.

The engine can sound a little strained when revved hard, but there's little need to go close to the redline when so much pulling power is available from low revs (peak torque arrives at just 1500rpm). However, the poor refinement that blighted the old X1 hasn't been entirely banished in the new generation. Road noise is a problem, certainly on the 19-inch wheels shod with run-flat tyres fitted to the car I drove. 

Ride comfort is also disappointing. Even with the optional Electronic Damper Control (EDC) set to its most forgiving setting, the suspension is firm, especially at low speeds. The trade off is impressive body control at speed, and agile and precise handling. There's not a lot of feel through the steering wheel, but it is direct and well weighted.

I finished my test drive of the X1 with mixed feelings. On the one hand it is emphatically a better car than the old X1. It's more enjoyable to drive, much roomier, and the xDrive 25d has the makings of a very capable tow car. But road noise is intrusive and the ride is very firm. What's more, you can buy bigger, heavier and smoother riding 4x4s for similar money, if you're prepared to put badge snobbery to one side.

A big improvement, then, but not quite the class-leader it could be.

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