German luxury car misers like Mercedes and BMW have a funny habit of hoarding smaller cars in Europe and even Canada. Call it the 49th parallel, call it an imaginary line. It really doesn’t matter because the reality is that there are a handful of cars frost-crusted Canucks get their mittens on while the U.S. is left twiddling its thumbs.
|1. Starting price: $30,650
2. Equipped with eight-speed automatic as standard
3. 24/34 mpg city/highway
4. 25 cubic feet of cargo space with rear seats raised, 47.6 cubic feet with rear seats folded
5. 240 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque from 2.0-liter turbo four
BMW’s X1 is one such car, or at least it was. Someone in Bavaria finally smelled the hops and decided the company’s itsiest crossover is a fit for the American market.
First introduced in 2009 to the European market, the Yankee-worthy version benefits from a mild mid-cycle refresh.
Less of a crossover and more of a tall person’s station wagon, the X1 feels much smaller than the other Bimmers it shares a letter with. It offers more ground clearance than a sedan would, but the top of the roof is close to the 1 and 3 Series cars it shares a platform with. For fans who lamented the ever-increasing proportions of the 3 Series, the X1 is the same length as the E46 (1999 – 2005 3 Series) of old and is 6.5 inches shorter, 4.6 inches lower, and 3.3 inches narrower than the BMW X3.
Despite the higher ground clearance, entry and exit feel much the same as a sedan, which some will find refreshing compared to clambering into a sky-high SUV.
The interior layout will be familiar to BMW owners and fans. Two large round dials for the tach and speedometer dominate the gauge cluster, punctuated by a digital information display. The center stack is recessed with a wide format navigation screen. BMW’s signature i-Drive knob is intact and the interior is on par with other BMW products. Light beige leather seats are contrasted by black and aluminum accents on the doors and throughout the cabin. It could do with a little less hard plastic, but the shapes and lines of the dash and door trim panels aren’t offensive.
If there’s one thing those long trips tend to accumulate, it’s the random odds and ends you probably like to stash in your car’s nooks and crannies. Don’t count on doing that here — the glove box is tiny and there’s hardly anywhere to put your knick-knacks.
Stranger still, there is only one cup holder in the center console. A second removable cup holder for the passenger intrudes on the already-narrow foot well and it’s finicky to remove and replace.
Despite that, front seat space is adequate with plenty of headroom. The same can’t be said for the rear seats, where passengers will likely feel cramped. Worse still, a bulky transmission tunnel means the middle seat can really only accommodate small children. Air vents would go a long way to making the back seat experience more livable, but BMW didn’t see fit to include them.
The panoramic moon roof is the car’s one saving grace. It offers the illusion of more space and eases the car’s cramped feel, if only a little.
Cargo room is modest behind the rear seats at about 25 cu-ft, but it almost doubles with the rear seats folded. It loses out to lower-cost options like the Honda CR-V, which actually offers more space, but the tie-down straps and hooks to keep your cargo still are a nice touch.
The car feels nimble in quick side-to-side maneuvers and corners with confidence — never top heavy, especially when equipped with the optional $3,000 M Sport package.
At its base level and as tested, the car comes with a 2.0-liter twin-turbo four-cylinder engine capable of 240 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. There’s also a more potent 3.0-liter straight six it shares with the 335i for 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. Even with the lesser option, the car offers above adequate performance, even with its 3,500-lb curb weight. In fact, it’ll run from 0-60 mph in a smidgen over six seconds, meaning the turbocharged six-cylinder is definitely overkill..
Leaving the car in eco mode throws what semblance of performance it has right out the window, but then again it’s all in the name of sucking less gas. With 24 mpg in the city and 34 on the highway, you won’t be visiting the pump terribly often. Just remember that you’ll forgo any fun driving to get those numbers.
Apart from offering selectable driving modes, BMW took other measures to improve fuel economy like engine stop/start. It’s just a shame it feels so rotten. The system feels rough as it restarts and is disappointing for a luxury vehicle — especially next to similar systems in pricier BMWs.
On the bright side, the car comes equipped with BMW’s eight-speed automatic that feels buttery-smooth, especially compared to the cantankerous stop/start feature. Shifts feel crisp, responsive and offer an engaging drive that lets you forget this is the cheapest BMW at $30,650.
The electric power steering feels a bit numb and non-communicative. The brakes are, however, excellent and will bring the X1 down from speed without complaint; so tossing it through some challenging corners will bring a smile to your face, even with a bit of understeer at the limit.
Standard equipment at the bottom-bin base price is actually pretty generous. Some of the standard features include leatherette seating, automatic climate control, dynamic cruise control, brake energy regeneration, rain-sensing wipers and Bluetooth.
But like most BMWs, our test car had $12,700 worth of options, bringing the bottom line to $44,245 with the destination charge. But BMW says that its American dealers are aiming to offer this car for under $35,000, so you can expect to see cars in the showrooms that aren’t loaded to the gills with pricey frills.
The X1 is a versatile, “fun-size” vehicle, but it’s more of a station wagon with ground clearance than a crossover. Make no mistake, that’s not meant to be a knock against the car. In fact, it’s a good thing. The X1 is fun to drive because of its car-like ride and handling. It’s also more versatile than a sedan with the increased cargo capacity or the next-in-price 1 Series. BMW has a history of building niche cars that find a market and if BMW dealers have cars to sell at $35,000, the new X1 could be a big hit.