A reader email the other day got me thinking about a question: ‘What makes a really good AWD system?”

Over the years, I’ve accumulated a list of all-wheel drive systems that stand out in my memory, some more fondly than others. When asked by a reader to qualify what makes an AWD system ‘good’, it set me into a bit of a think.

What your writer considers to make an AWD system good is less a list of things you feel, and more a list of things you don’t. In a good AWD system, you don’t feel torque steer. You don’t feel two wheels spin a moment before the other two engage. You don’t feel squirming and lurching as the wheels interface with the surface beneath while accelerating, as various traction levels pass beneath each one. You don’t feel the vehicle ‘dig’ into the snow when taking off from a stop. You definitely don’t feel a solid “WHAM’ from beneath the vehicle when you jump on the throttle and the center clutch engages aggressively. Finally, you don’t feel the system dragging two of its wheels, unpowered, when you take off up a hill, or with light throttle, in deep snow.

The X1’s AWD system – xDrive, BMW calls it – ticks all the boxes, presented above, as what your writer would classify as a really good AWD system – and I’ve tried them all.

Notably, xDrive is largely invisible in its operation. Hammer the throttle from a dig through an intersection dotted with patches of snow and ice, and little more than a slight squirm is apparent as traction comes and goes at each wheel. Initial off-the-line turbo lag makes it even harder to set the wheels spinning, so X1 prefers, largely, to accelerate hard in snow with power only very slightly outgunning available traction. Wheelspin is fun, but fuss-free acceleration is classy, and the X1 is classy indeed.

As power shifts from side to side as you corner on snow and ice, the X1 just follows its line, no fussing, no drama. Park it some moderately deep snow, hit the throttle, and you’re off – no spinning at one axle, no digging.

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