A far cry from the awkwardly styled car that arrived on the scene in 2009, the second-generation BMW X1 looks much more like a downsized version of the larger SUVs in the German marque's portfolio. Its styling mimics that of the larger X3 but doesn't succumb to the oversize kidney grilles that adorn the monolithic X7. It strikes a right balance and isn't that in-your-face. That puts it in good stead against a strong batch of rivals that include the Mercedes-Benz GLA, Volvo XC40 - both of which offer plug-in hybrid variants - and the Lexus UX, another hybrid and also available as a fully electric model.
There isn't a great deal to visually differentiate the plug-in hybrid X1 from the diesel and petrol models, other than a battery charge port on the passenger side front wing. That makes it convenient for on-street charging and if you're parking nose-in at home. Its battery is a 10kWh lithium-ion unit placed behind the rear seats, low down in the car. That's good news for those in the rear as there is no apparent reduction in passenger space, although boot capacity does see a slight decrease to 450 litres. A storage bin beneath the boot floor serves as a handy place to put charging cables too.
To fully charge the battery using a 3.7kW domestic wallbox takes a little over three and a half hours, and that will give you a total electric driving range of up to 32 miles. The ability to remotely pre-condition the BMW's cabin is a further boon, especially on cold wintery mornings, where you can set the car to defrost its windows and warm the interior while you enjoy your breakfast.
It may be one of the company's smallest SUVs (the BMW X2 is a more compact crossover), but it does retain a spacious feeling inside thanks in part to the high roofline and tall windscreen, which provides a good field of view from the driver's seat. All of the controls are laid out clearly on the centre console and the instrument cluster is easy to read. The iDrive infotainment system remains one of the most intuitive and most straightforward to use thanks to the panel's rotary controller between the front seats.
One of the advantages of BMW's plug-in hybrid system is that you can choose what source of power you want to use at a specific time. It's possible to set the car to always start in its electric drive mode, but you can also opt to save the battery's charge for later in the journey. For example, if you're going to finish your journey within an ultra-low emission zone. What's better still, is that if you input the destination into the BMW's sat-nav, it can use its mapping data to work out the fastest route and the most efficient use of the powertrain, such as knowing when to recover energy back into the battery during descents. The system also can automatically switch from the petrol engine to the electric motor when the car crosses over a boundary into a low emission zone. All very clever stuff.
As you might expect, when driving with only the electric motor, the X1 delivers brisk acceleration and is ultra-quiet. Depending on the battery's state of charge, you can drive at up to 83 miles per hour without the assistance of the petrol engine, although doing so for any amount of time will drain the battery that bit faster. Nevertheless, the X1 is a reasonably refined motorway cruiser, with only the larger 19-inch wheels producing some unwanted road noise at speed.
It's at the lower speeds of town and urban driving that the X1 delivers its most robust performance. It zips away from traffic lights and has a degree of one-pedal driving feel as it slows when harvesting its energy back into the battery. Steering is light but direct and a slightly elevated driving position makes it easy to place on the road and to park.
There is almost always a smooth transition between the electric motor and the 1.5-litre petrol engine in its hybrid mode. The three-cylinder unit is surprisingly good at pulling the X1 along, emitting a characterful thrum when worked that bit harder. Its six-speed automatic gearbox doesn't have the same level of smoothness as the eight-speed unit that BMW employs in some of its larger cars, but it delivers a well-rounded performance in most everyday scenarios.
As good as the hybrid mode is with the X1, the more time you spend burning petrol, the further away from that massive miles per gallon figure will get. If you want to get close to that, then you'll need to be plugging it into a charger as frequently as possible to keep that battery topped up. That's the key to making the economics of running a plug-in hybrid like this work. It would be best if you ideally made short journeys and be in a position to plug it in when it's not in use. Do that, and you'll see you monthly fuel bills decline to result in a more palatable total cost of ownership over a more extended period.
Model: BMW X1 xDrive25e M Sport
Engine: 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol with electric motor
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Power / Touque 217bhp / 385Nm
0-62mph: 6.9 seconds
Top speed: 120mph
WLTP fuel consumption: 159.6mpg
CO2 emissions: 40g/km