Review: The BMW X1 – the practical joker’s ride of choice

bmw x1 review idealog hazel phillipsBMW has implemented an auto stop/start system that's both fuel efficient and a serious party trick.

Last year I test-drove the BMW X1 – to the mountain, no less – so when BMW asked me to road-test another X1, I didn’t think there would be much of a difference.

But there was – one difference in particular that was quite fun and has potential for practical jokes. (No, practical jokes and cars don’t mix, I know! But hear me out.)

Some new BMWs have an auto start/stop function built in – to save on gas. When you come to a stop – say, at the lights – the engine automatically turns off. The first time it happens, it’s a bit disconcerting. (And the second… the third… but you get used to it.) As you lift your foot off the brake pedal, it automatically starts again.

At first I thought there would be an irritating delay between taking your foot off the brake and being able to gun it forward again, but that wasn’t the case. It’s so quick to start again that no matter how hard you try, you can’t catch it out. And believe me, I tried.

So, the practical joke aspect? It’s quite amusing to take your mother out for a drive and then let her think you’ve stalled it. Or show friends how you can start and stop the car without touching anything.

Look Mum, no hands!

I took the X1 up to Ruakaka for a lazy bach weekend and scared my parents senseless with the car's many bells and whistles. Getting back into the Subaru Legacy afterwards made me feel a bit povo, even. 

Curiously, the auto start/stop sometimes has a mind of its own and won’t perform the party trick on demand.

BMW’s mechani-techy engineery types have put a few rules in place for it. It won’t operate if the engine hasn’t yet reached its optimum operating temperature, if the interior climate isn’t within the desired range (bless its little cotton socks), the battery charge is too weak or if the driver operates the steering.

A central control unit networks all the relevant sensors, the starter and the battery generator and starts the engine if necessary, even if the car is at a standstill.

BMW say it’s sometimes also necessary for comfort or safety reasons, for instance, if the windscreen mists up or if the battery charge is too low.

I previously argued the X1 is smarter than its driver and I’m not taking it back any time soon.