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BMW X1 vs BMW 320d comparo - Two of a mind

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There are chocolates and there are chocolates with raisins and nuts. In the same manner there is the BMW X1 and the 3 Series – the X1 being the one with the accompaniments. And yet, there is an itchy feeling in the small of your stomach – which one? You think it probably isn’t true. After all, those who want to buy the X1 will buy it, but here’s exactly what happened. As the pre-order bookings for the X1 opened, a sizeable number of buyers queued up to put their downpayment on a 3 Series Corporate Edition with the condition that it should be transferred to an X1 slot post launch if they liked it. Sounds strange, doesn’t it, but this is exactly what officials at dealerships and BMW India told us. And it got us thinking – would you go for a tried-and-tested model that will go through a model change next year or would you buy the flashy new motor? So we asked some straightforward questions and tried to find some answers.

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Would you like to be seen in a repmobile or a hairdresser’s mobile?

Okay, before you get your knives out, let me clarify that the X1 is a handsome-looking automobile. It uses more of the new, post-Bangle design language and isn’t the worse for it. Okay, so the eagle eye headlamps from the E60 5 Series makes a comeback, but then so does the more prominent and in-your-face kidney grille. The power bump on the bonnet apart, the inverted non-body coloured airdam and the thick waistline give the otherwise estate-ish X1 some much-needed muscle. The best bit about the X1 is the flame-like tail lamps and the manner in which the small hatch lends the vehicle some sportiness. The 3 on the other hand is all about old-school BMW chunkiness, losing nothing in terms of traditional Bavarian design cues. Next to the X1, the difference in the schools of thought is quite evident, yet the 3 doesn’t exactly look aged, not yet at least. A well-toned body with a short stubby boot tells you that that beneath the skin of this repmobile, the 3 Series is a sporty exec.

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More space or more focus?

The X1 has more space to begin with and the sheer volume of it available is quite evident the moment you step in. Okay, so it won’t be troubling the likes of the Honda CR-V or Mitsubishi Outlander, but put next to the 3 Series, you can appreciate the extra room available. There is more shoulder room and head room at both the front and the rear and so is the amount of leg and knee room at the rear. Based on the 3 Series Touring all-wheel drive platform, the X1 has the raised central hump that limits space to four and is a tight squeeze for five. The dashboards are pretty similar, especially the instrumentation, considering both are called Corporate Editions. With that you don’t get iDrive and a slightly less detailed stereo. In the 3, the fore and aft movement of the seats is not electrically controlled, while the X1 gets that, as well as memory seat function. Build quality on both is par for the course, but we found the X1 to have a slightly poorly finished central tunnel – the only fly in the ointment.

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Can an SAV match a car’s performance?

We took both the X1 sDrive 20d and the X1 sDrive 18i for a spin, while the 3 Series was represented by the 320d Corporate Edition. Now, the X1 is a slightly heavier car than the 3 and that shows in the performance numbers. Despite doing away with the four-wheel drive setup on the X1, the SAV is put firmly in its place by the lighter and lower 3. Agreed, we put the lower powered petrol’s figures in the spec sheet, but we found that the 3 Series even otherwise is quicker off the block. The 320d gets to 100 kph in nearly the same time as the manufacturer claimed times for the X1 diesel (8.46 secs vs the X1’s 8.3 secs). The petrol X1 on the other hand neither has the power nor torque to pull all that mass and it shows on the timing sheets. We’d recommend you stick to the diesel in the X1 if you will be driving around a lot, else, for mostly urban use, the petrol should be okay.

The petrol also lacks top whack and refinement higher up the scale, telling you that the engine is tuned for whatever little efficiency BMW have tried to eke out of it. The diesel motor just makes the X1 more sprightly and gives it good driveability, though on all the three the 6-speed automatic’s lag, especially on downshifts, can get a bit frustrating. But overall, it’s the 3 that just feels like the motors are better mated to it and provides more smiles when you put your right foot down.

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Can an SAV really outhandle a car?

Now, I have to say the X1 in isolation drives very, very well. The manner in which it exhibits tight body control is better than most D segment saloons out there, and thanks to the X1 being primarily rear-wheel driven, it’s a hoot to hustle around a nice twisty road. The steering lacks some feel, but compared to most other SUVs available for around the same price, it will provide more bang for your buck. The turn-in is positive and, given the compact dimensions, it’s just that much easier to take corners at maximum attack. The ride quality is also more settled, but it’s the petrol that feels a touch softer; lower kerb weight, perhaps? It’s the high-speed stability that is slightly suspect – maybe not having all-wheel drive does reduce front-end grip.

The 3 is just perfect in all aspects, except the ride quality that is still a bit harsh on even the Corporate Edition riding on 16-inch wheels. There’s way more steering feel involved here, though like the X1 it does take some effort to use at parking speeds. But get a move on and the 3 Series immediately tells you why a car still beats an SUV around a handling course. Sharper, tauter and nimbler, it makes all the difference when all 180 horses are summoned. The 3 also feels more pointy and more agile – importantly, its high-speed stability is quite impressive.

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So?

Yes, there is a new 3 Series coming to India by mid-2012. And the X1 is the new kid on the block that is much more practical. The 3 Series is a more involving drive, has better performance and can seat five if need be. The X1 isn’t a replacement for a full-blown SUV, but as a style statement and considering the price-to-value ratio, the X1 has this one licked. Just pick the diesel, that’s all.