Face-off: BMW X1 vs. Mini Countryman

It's a good time to buy a premium crossover
by Niky Tamayo | Sep 20, 2017


Based on the German carmaker’s front-wheel-drive UKL2 platform, the BMW X1 boasts neater proportions than its awkward rear-driven predecessor. Creative body cladding gives the illusion of more ground clearance than the commendable 183mm it already has. Sweet 18in alloy wheels round off the package nicely, wide 225/50 Bridgestone Turanza tires suggesting that driving excitement is not off the menu.

BMW has smoothed out the X1’s original buzziness to appeal to a wider audience. Push hard, however, and it reveals a depth of character befitting a Bimmer. The firm suspension absorbs road imperfections in stride, tackling rutted off-camber turns at speeds you wouldn’t dream of in the Countryman or the previous X1. Switch off the stability control, and it is commendably neutral at the limit of grip. No alarms. No surprises whatsoever.


Though not particularly communicative, the light, precise steering handles both the occasional thrash and the daily grind with aplomb. The X1 is rather impressive in the latter situation. A high seating position in conjunction with a lowered dashboard provides excellent visibility. Despite the odd thump from the run-flat tires, the ride is composed and supple. Deleting the spare tire allows for a massive hidden compartment under the spacious 505-liter cargo bay—perfect for hiding laptop bags when parking out in public.

The compact transverse engine bay and the generous 2,670mm wheelbase, on the other paw, enable the X1 to trump its cramped premium competitors in terms of legroom. The seats themselves, however, are a mixed bag. The electrically adjustable front buckets boast great side bolsters but lack adjustable lumbar support, while the rear bench, though otherwise comfortable, is a bit stiff on the back if you’re heavyset. Still, those rears recline a fair amount for when you’re snoozing.

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There’s no cruise control for those trips, but the ‘Limiter’ button on the steering wheel fulfills the same function, keeping the vehicle at a set speed regardless of throttle-pedal position. This has the benefit of allowing you to pulse-and-glide, dropping speed a bit on hills rather than surging as cruise control does. The result: great fuel economy of up to 25km/L at 80kph (with the A/C on) for an all-wheel-drive German crossover.

That’s doubly impressive when you consider that the X1’s TwinPower B47 diesel engine pumps out 190hp and 400Nm of torque. Fuel economy is more middle-of-the-road in the city, despite an Eco Pro mode and an auto-stop system. That system, combined with a grabby brake pedal, can make traffic a bit of a herky-jerky affair. And the all-wheel drive makes the Bimmer about 0.5-1km/L thirstier than the Mini in urban jungle use, too.

These minor nits notwithstanding, the X1 is a solid compact crossover, and possibly the best-spec’d one in its price range. Unless you count the Countryman, that is.

SPECS: BMW X1 XDRIVE 20D

Price: P3,380,000

Engine: 2.0-liter DOHC I4

Power: 190hp @ 4,000rpm

Torque: 400Nm @1,750-2,500rpm

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Layout: AWD

Seating: 5










UP NEXT: Mini Countryman

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Cynics might say the Countryman is merely a badge-engineered BMW, but Mini goes to great lengths to dispel those notions.

The uniquely Mini styling, for one, is more distinctive. Better yet, its squared-off headlights and a brash face elevate it beyond the carp-snout look of other recent Minis. With a tighter rear end as well as A-pillars pushed further forward than in the X1, the Countryman features minimal visual overhangs, and looks decidedly smaller than the Bimmer. Yet at over 1.5 tons, it is nearly identical in weight to the X1, and over 200kg heavier than its predecessor.


Despite this, it still possesses Mini’s famous go-kart feel. Even with the same basic mechanical package, it feels pointier and nimbler, and has more heft and feedback in the steering than the X1 does. That said, the incessant chattering of the steering, combined with the occasional tug of torque steer, makes you more conscious of the Mini’s limits. While a quantum leap in composure over the old Countryman, this one’s simply not as confidence-inspiring as the Bimmer.

Shorn of the BMW’s all-wheel-drive system (the local Countryman is front-drive only), it’s much peppier, reaching 100kph in just a shade under 9secs—some 0.3sec better than the BMW. It’s a second off the 7.7secs official claim, but with so much extra weight, it was never going to match the old Cooper S. Thanks to diesel motivation, it does trump both the old car and the X1 in fuel economy, at around 10km/L in city traffic.

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Inside, functional differences are minor. Instead of a speed limiter, you get an actual cruise control, and instead of electric seats, you get paddle shifters. Oh, and the sound system pumps out more bass, despite lacking a bit of crispness versus the Bimmer. You get the same iDrive-style controller, infotainment system menus, drive modes (Sport, Normal, Eco), and assist systems—including that neat self-parking mode that you’ll only ever use once or twice before realizing that doing it yourself is much faster. The differences are mostly cosmetic.

This extends to the cabin design, which is all about the drama. There’s soft-quilted leather on the better-bolstered seats, and the interior feels more characterful. Granted, the controls are still wildly gimmicky, and the toggle-switch layout is still a puzzle for the uninitiated, but the mood-ring lighting and the more varied textures make this look more expensive, at least.

And the lack of all-wheel drive, while a debit on the spec sheet, means better in-city fuel consumption by about 0.5-1km/L, at around 10km/L in mixed urban driving. Even with the visibility deficit of that sexily short windshield, the Mini is handier around town, too, the short overhangs making short work of tight parking spaces.

So, it does the daily quite nicely, this Mini. Better than any Mini before it, actually, without losing that bubbly, buzzy charm the brand is (in)famous for. But is that what premium crossover buyers really want?

SPECS: Mini Cooper SD Countryman

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Price: P3,400,000

Engine: 2.0-liter DOHC H4

Power: 190hp @ 4,000rpm

Torque: 400Nm @1,750-2,500rpm

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Layout: FWD

Seating: 5










UP NEXT:  The verdict

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The BMW X1 goes a long way toward bringing new blood into the fold, but it won’t dazzle owners of the old car—not at first blush.

Instead, it’s the Countryman that impresses more on the odd backroad jaunt. Despite the extra size and weight, it maintains most of the brand personality: go-kart steering, edgy driving dynamics, and quirky, over-the-top styling.

But push its limits and you find them much sooner than in the BMW. The lack of all-wheel drive here is not a major sin. Nobody driving a P3-million crossover really needs it. Its shortcoming, however, is keenly felt with every errant tug of the steering under overtaking. And for the top-of-the-line Countryman to lack power-adjustable seats is a rather strange oversight. In the end, it feels like what it is: a Maxi-Mini. 

For P20,000 less, the BMW beckons. No longer a station wagon in drag, the X1 is now a truly proper X-Over. The aesthetic may be more workmanlike than the Mini, but the depth of capability and competence trumps that of the BMW’s fraternal twin. There’s also the halo effect born of the feeling, both inside and out, that you’re driving a slightly smaller X5.

True, the Mini still sells the drama, and will appeal to extroverts everywhere (hey, if you want it, go for it!). But the X1 turns in a dominant performance as perhaps the best small crossover in its class today. BMW’s big gamble on front-wheel-drive platforms has finally paid off.

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PHOTO: Christian Halili
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