Many people love hot-hatches. They are nimble, spirited and fun, created for the enthusiast who craves for the occasional adrenalin surge. The DNA behind every hot-hatch has remained essentially the same since the whole genre began with the original Golf GTi, with wheels tucked away in each corner, a willing engine, sharp handling, and loads of street cred.
Err.. wait a minute. 'Isn't this about the BMW X1?'
Yes it is, but bear with us for a bit. For all intents and purposes, the BMW's X1 3.0i is a hot-hatch in disguise, but one that can swallow not only B-roads whole, but also your kitchen sink! What we have here is a SUV (or SAV - Sports Activity Vehicle as BMW likes to call it) that drives and handles like a very good hot-hatch. Or if you will, a hot-hatch that can carry just about anything you'd expect a SUV to. Confused? You should be, but the Jenkyl and Hyde character best sums up theX1.
Throw it into a series of corners and it hugs the desired path with tenacity and composure only a BMW SUV with the clever xDrive is able to; the AWD system that allows infinite, fully variable distribution of torque between front and rear axles that significantly reduces over- and understeer. This agility coupled with a 'sporty' tuned suspension promises many happy returns for the driver.
But that's only half the story. With a 3.0 line inline-six making 231 horses and 300Nm of torque, the X1 has sufficient muscle and flexibility to fully exploit its handling talents. Adding to the joy is a six-speed auto that even 'manual-only' fans will endorse. It is responsive, quick to react to inputs from the right foot, and clever enough In select a lower gear when going downhill, offering engine braking before you can even engage Steptronic to manually drop a gear or two. The rate of deceleration is also aided by a set of anchors that is progressive in feel and utterly easy to modulate, useful when stopping a vehicle weighing over 1800kg.
However, the steering communication is untypical of Beemers - more front-wheel drive in feel - which is perhaps attributable to the power being channeled through both axles. It is light at low speeds but accurately weighs up as the speed increases. What it lacks is the feedback associated with rear wheel driven BMWs. It is not devoid of any communication, just less so.
But this is also where the parallel between the hot-hatch and the X1 ends. Instead of being greeted by a typically snug interior of a BMW sedan, the cabin of the X1 is a pleasant place with ample space for its occupants. But it's not straight-As all round, the over-firm front seats (with electric adjustments) are only so-so in comfort, you get the feeling of sitting on top of them rather than being cosseted, though a comfortable driving position is not a problem with the multi-adjustable seats and steering wheel. And of course the panoramic glass roof that extends almost the entire length of the roof, needless to say, considerably brightens up the already airy cabin.
Other nice touches include a clever foldaway cup holder located just under the passenger side air-con vent and a fully equipped first-aid kit under the front passenger seat. The integrated stereo system is as Teutonic as they come, with simple controls and a six-disc CD changer built into the armrest. Adaptive bi-xenon headlights are also standard, and these follow the direction of steering to illuminate the intended path for better safety.
Few hot-hatches are able to carry more than a couple of days worth of luggage. Even a storing a full sized golf bag can be a difficult proposition. This is where the X1 excels. A furniture buying spree is not going to be a problem unless you intend to self-transport a bed. With up to 1560 liters of luggage space available, five large clay-pots plus luggage comfortably resided in the rear of the X1 on a recent jaunt to Ipoh.
For me, the X1 is the 'ultimate' hot-hatch. It will comfortably keep up with the best of them and still be the great all-rounder they can never be. To the well-heeled enthusiast who has to balance his appetite for driving and the fun in having the entire family out on a picnic, this has your name on it.
Kenji Alexis has been writing car reviews for close to 10 years. Come visit his latest website over at http://www.motorstop.asia to check out the in depth Honda cars reviews and all the latest automotive news.