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Compact SUVs are all the rage these days, and the trend is not limited to a certain region or class – from Europe to Asia, mass market to premium, the high-riding hatchbacks are a must have in any range.

The Renault Captur leads a European B-SUV brigade that also has the Peugeot 2008, Opel Mokka and Nissan Juke, while in ASEAN we have the all-conquering Honda HR-V. In the compact premium club, the BMW X1 has been joined by the Audi Q3 and lately, the Mercedes-Benz GLA.

As BMW will testify, the early bird gets the worm. The X1 did not so much ride the wave, but help created it back in 2009. By the time the mid-life facelift came along in mid-2012, Munich had already shifted over 275,000 units of the X1. The E84 was then brought to America for the first time, and the series ended with over 730,000 units sold.

That book is now closed as BMW has rolled out its second-generation X1, which is set to make its public debut at Frankfurt this September. About time, as the previous X1 was starting to get showed up in certain areas by the upstarts. The new F48 will have to close the gap and end all disputes, but does it have enough? We drive the baby SAV in Austria and Germany to find out.

So much better looking, isn’t it? Looks are subjective, but I was never a fan of the original X1. To these eyes, the E84 wasn’t macho in the SUV sense or sleek and sporty, but awkward. It looked like a raised wagon with giant nostrils. Which it was – the old X1 was based on the previous-generation E91 3 Series Touring.

Rarely has increased height improved the looks of a vehicle, but in this case, the new X1’s 53 extra milimetres (1,598 mm now) makes a positive difference. Also contributing to the more pleasing proportions are the reduced overall length (by 15 mm for 4,439 mm) and greater width (by 23 mm, now 1,821 mm). All combine for a shape that’s more SUV, less wagon.

You’ll still need to sculpt the shape, and Calvin Luk, an Aussie lad with Asian roots has done a fantastic job here. The baby SAV is no longer the curious child in the X family, although it’s not quite a scaled down X3 either. Plenty of “X-ness” on show, but it’s rendered in a more playful, less business-like manner compared to the X3, which befits the X1’s youthful, entry-level positioning.

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The elements are a lot bolder, although they co-exist in harmony without any particular feature jutting out. Typical X cues on display include the “X-face” lower front bumper that takes your eyes downwards, “third eye” independent fog lamps and square wheel arches, which are rather prominent on this car.

I also like the fact that the wraparound tail lamps are in one-piece, as opposed to the disjointed items in the X3 and X5. Their fork-like LED signatures have a kink on the upper tier, which is pretty distinctive. This young one is a rebel – its LED corona-ringed headlamps (full LEDs are optional) are not attached to the oversized kidney grilles, X3/X5 style.

Now, the look may be conventional BMW, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially when you consider that Munich’s stylistic departures from the norm tend to turn into misadventures. Case in point is the current-gen F20 1 Series, partially salvaged by Luk in the recent facelift. There were a few oddities from the Bangle era, too. Not sure about you, but I like my BMWs looking like BMWs.

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Another big plus for this writer is how the new X1 looks the most like an authentic SUV compared to the Q3 and GLA. There can’t be too many guys opting for the round little Audi (yes, most of these cars will end up in the hands of women, but I believe in gender equality) while the Merc is little more than an A-Class on stilts. This muscular, robust outlook, I believe, will be the X1’s main showroom draw, for both sexes alike.

The international press was presented with two variants in Austria – the diesel xDrive25d in xLine trim (white) and the petrol xDrive25i in Sport Line (grey) that we drove.

The xLine is what you’ll see in promotional materials, and it features matte aluminium kidney grille bars, matte silver accents for the air intakes, side skirts and underbody protection. The Sport Line replaces silver with a mix of gloss black and body colour. Both cars roll on 18-inch alloys. M Sport, with an aero package and optional 19-inch rollers, will be available.

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The X1’s successful exterior makeover is responsible for the good first impression, but the F48 has inner beauty to match. The previous X1 was born in 2009, and no amount of Botox can hide the fact that the dash was from a previous era. Early X1s also had cabin materials that weren’t very classy, certainly below what one would expect from a premium badged car. Both issues have been addressed, and then some.

The interior may be typically BMW in design, but it’s unique to the X1. The F48 may be a platform sister of the 2 Series Active Tourer and Gran Tourer MPV duo (more on that later), but Munich has resisted the temptation to carry over the dash wholesale, although a number of elements are similar.

No stepped centre console here – it’s a vent-stereo-AC stack sitting atop a nicely carved out centre console. The latter’s leather-lined border and the angle of the stack gives the cabin a sporty, driver-oriented flavour. And that’s before the Sport Line’s red stripe that outlines the cabin – across the dash and on the door cards, matched with aluminium trim – and yards of red stitching.

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Short of a full red cabin, I’ve never seen so much red thread in a car before. Replace it with blue for the M Sport, which also gets an exclusive Estoril Blue exterior option.

At the lunch stop, we peered into a parked xLine car and found an intriguing combo of “Mocha” Dakota leather and Oak Grain matte trim, which is unpolished and looks posh. This brown-on-brown affair looks better than it sounds, although we’re not sure if it will be offered in Malaysia – we’re generally not an adventurous lot when it comes to colours.

No complaints on how everything is pieced together, and most surfaces within reach react well to the knuckle rap, including the leather-lined centre console, a previously overlooked area. Both aluminium and wood trims are smooth to the touch, and are lower maintenance than the fingerprint grabbing, scratch attracting piano black. Like the new sheetmetal, the cabin makes a solid impression.

SUVs are often depicted as go-anywhere vehicles for the adventurous (think bicycles, surfboards and gravel), but more often than not, the only obstacles they face are the other vehicles on the way to school.

The old X1 wasn’t particularly good as a family car, mainly because it lacked cabin space. The F48 a lot better packaged, thanks to the new UKL platform (Unter Klasse, or entry-level) with transvesely-mounted engines. Less length on the engine bay and more length for the cabin as a result.

It may be slightly shorter than the old car, but the new X1’s wheelbase is a significant 90 mm longer, and height is up by 53 mm. BMW claims more comfort via the raised seating position (by 36 mm in front, 64 mm at the back) and increased headroom, shoulder room and elbow room for all occupants. Rear knee room is up by 37 mm, but can go to 66 mm with the optional slidable rear seats, which also get adjustable backrests. Access is also easier thanks to doors that open wider.

Similarly impressive gains in the boot as well – up 85 litres for 505 litres, expandable to 1,550 litres by folding down the standard 40:20:40 rear bench. There’s an under floor compartment as well. Options include electric folding rear seats with a button on the boot wall, a front passenger seat backrest that folds forward and foot-sensing boot opening. All these don’t transform the X1 into a CR-V, but it’s news in this segment.

Following its public debut at the Frankfurt show in September, the X1 will hit the European market with two B48 petrol and two B47 diesel engines; all are brand new 2.0 litre four-cylinder turbocharged units. Three-pot turbos will join both camps before the year ends.

The two variants on call were the ‘i’ and ‘d’ range toppers. The xDrive25i packs in 231 hp and 350 Nm of torque, the latter available from 1,250 to 4,500 rpm. 0-100 km/h is done in a hot hatch-rivalling 6.5 seconds.

The xDrive25d boasts the most powerful four-cylinder diesel ever fitted in a BMW (231 hp and 450 Nm from 1,500 to 3,000 rpm), and a century sprint time of 6.6 seconds. Both are paired to an eight-speed automatic gearbox with shift paddles and xDrive.

The xDrive25i’s 2.0 turbo four, as seen in the 225i Active Tourer and F56 MINI Cooper S/JCW, is quite an engine. Call me easy, but I can’t find a chink in its all-aluminium armour to focus on.

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There’s no turbo lag to speak of, response is great when one calls upon the Aisin gearbox, it’s smooth and willing to rev, and there’s even a snarly soundtrack at full pelt. Also noted is the less intrusive auto start-stop – while not quite hybrid car seamless, the shudder as it comes back to life is better insulated.

As the interim performance flag-bearer while the M division prepares a hardcore version to rival the GLA 45 AMG and Q3 RS, the xDrive25i is a paragon of useable performance – serene and tractable during normal driving (heavy summer traffic forced us into plenty of that, the new head-up display with navigation was a brilliant assistant on unfamiliar roads) and sporting when you’re in the mood.

The old X1 wasn’t the perfect SUV, but it was a good drive from a car guy’s point of view. It’s still a good steer, but the new X1 has assumed a friendlier disposition. The seating position is higher – which is not a bad thing in an SUV – and the standard Servotronic speed-sensitive steering is lighter. The latter is precise and feels natural on the move; couple that with good body control and negligible lean in corners, the X1 is quite a delight on country roads. Ride comfort was good, but Malaysian roads are a different ball game.

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Our test unit’s brake pedal could have been more progressive though – it felt like there wasn’t much response from the initial travel, before the stoppers bite hard. How about the front-wheel drive connection? Well, all but entry variants will have xDrive, and you shouldn’t be sliding around in an SUV in any case.

A quick note on the updated xDrive, which is lighter and more efficient with torque losses in normal driving reduced by around 30%. It works with DSC to counteract oversteer or understeer by diverting power to the wheel (or wheels) with the strongest contact to the road. Power is sent to the front axle, but when required, a hang-on clutch with the help of an electrohydraulic pump diverts up to 100% of drive to the rear wheels. The pump’s control unit is fed data by the DSC. Hill Descent Control is included.

BMW might have pioneered the premium compact SUV segment with the original X1, but the market has evolved over the years. Recreating that car won’t do, which is why the new X1 is quite a different animal from the SAV it replaces. Styling that falls within SUV norms, a well-appointed cabin, and more focus on space and practicality means that it’s brimming with showroom appeal. Best of all, the X1’s driver’s appeal vis-à-vis rivals is intact. Watch it fly.

The new BMW X1 will arrive in Malaysia in the final quarter of the year.

F48 BMW X1 xLine

F48 BMW X1 Sport Line