Automakers are rushing to downsize their vehicles in order to provide more options for urbanites. With the new X1, BMW provides a little bit of everything: versatility, power and compact size in a premium package. In its 300 hp trim, is this premium crossover a next-level fun machine or does it cross the line into the impractical?
|1. Dubbed a Sport Activity Vehicle rather than a Sport Utility Vehicle, the X1 is the smallest model in BMW’s X range and uses a similar platform to the X3.
2. Two turbocharged engines are available: a four-cylinder in the sDrive28i and xDrive28i that makes 240 hp, and a six-cylinder in the xDrive35i that makes 300 hp.
3. Pricing for the X1 starts at $30,800 with the xDrive35i at $38,600.
Our xDrive35i test car is easy to like when you look at the specs. Pairing BMW’s well-sorted xDrive all-wheel drive with the brand’s turbocharged straight-six engine is always a recipe for smiles, as seen in the 335i xDrive sedan. However, thanks to the X1’s smaller overall package (it’s a solid six-inches smaller than the 3-series sedan, including a smaller wheelbase) the tiny SUV should be even more fun to drive. But where the 3-series sedan pairs the superb powerplant and drivetrain with its 8-speed transmission, the X1 gets the older 6-speed unit of yesteryear. The same old-school thinking went into the X1’s steering rack, which is hydraulically assisted in the xDrive model, instead of the relaxed and lighter feeling electronic steering setup we’ve now become accustomed to in newer BMWs.
SMALL AND FAST
Small, powerful and old school, the X1 is a mighty-mouse on the road. The all-wheel drive and 300 turbocharged horsepower rocket you into any traffic opening you see fit, and is a real game-changer on the highway.
It may be small, but the X1 is heavy at nearly 4,000 lbs and feels it due to the hydraulic steering. Something brand enthusiasts surely miss about new BMWs, X1 customers likely don’t fit into that category. They’re also not likely to favor the handling-biased ride quality, with a firm suspension that provides a far sportier feel than a luxurious one. The X1 acts more like a dialed in 3-series than a tall X3 when it comes road-feel.
THE FORGOTTEN TRANSMISSION
The xDrive system is a superb co-pilot, while the old six-speed transmission is not. While not surprising that the 3 Series gets the more advanced 8-speed auto, so does the turbocharged four-cylinder X1 xDrive28i, meaning our tester seems like it was forgotten.
Despite the six-cylinder model getting to 60 mph in just 5.3 seconds, (a second quicker than the smaller engined vehicle), it still feels lethargic off the line. Also, at speed, the engine is still spinning quite a bit, a no-no for good fuel economy. This means after a week of driving, the X1 drank premium fuel at a pace of 20 mpg, far from ideal for city-dwellers who might be attracted to the X1’s small size. The smarter money would go for the xDrive28i, which gets an EPA rated 26 mpg combined, while sacrificing just 59-hp.
An Eco Pro driving mode is available on the six-cylinder, which makes the throttle less responsive. It works, but really who wants to dull the throttle on a Bimmer? Four-cylinder models are available with a modern smart-stop system that will also help achieve better fuel economy, something our six-cylinder tester, again, does not.
AN INTERIOR TO BEHOLD, JUST NOT FROM THE BACK SEAT
The interior of our X1 features BMW’s finest leathers and trimmings. Gorgeous red leather seating is accented with black trim, thanks to the optional M Sport package, and there are also a few M Sport badges to be found around the car, like on the steering wheel and on the doorsills. The sporty seats are excellently bolstered, and comfortable. M Sport models also come with 19-inch wheels with slightly lower profile tires and a sports suspension, which could account for some of the ride-quality issues.
Overall, front passengers will find the X1 plenty spacious, but it’s best not to ask the folks in the rear if they’re comfortable. Rear seat legroom is at a premium, and during our week long test knees were constantly rubbing or banging up against the backs of the front seats. Fortunately the X1 has an impressive cargo capacity at 25 cubic feet, two more than what you’d find in the bigger Mercedes-Benz GLK, and not far off of the 27 cubic feet found in the X3. For those looking for more space, the X1 also has a versatile set of folding rear seats, which are split up 40/20/40, giving space for longer items to pass through.
GREAT TECH INSIDE
Finally, the tech features found in the X1 are just about perfect. With its upgraded Harman/Kardon audio system, the X1 turns into a giant set of in-ear speakers, drowning out road-noise, wind-noise and those complaints from your cramped back-seat passengers. Furthermore, the latest revision of iDrive is incredibly intuitive, and has an ingenious ability to split the main display up and have two customized sets of information, like the navigation and music, side-by-side. Despite the lack of touch screen controls, BMW iDrive performs better than competing infotainment systems. The driver will find it familiar within minutes, and the only frustration occurs when typing addresses and street names. Our tester came equipped with backup sensors rather than a camera, which is unbecoming of a luxury car. A camera is far more useful, though requires extra care like cleaning in poor weather.
With the RWD X1 sDrive28 costing $30,800, opting for the AWD six-cylinder bumps the price all the way up to $38,600, before any additional packages. Outfitted with the M Sport Package, Premium Package and other add ons like heated seats, and the upgraded sound system, our tester came to $48,370 after destination. For that price you can find the far more stylish, luxurious and fuel-friendly Range Rover Evoque, or the versatile Audi Allroad.
For the most part, however, the BMW X1 has the distinct advantage of being in a class of its own. Other luxury compact crossovers are a bit bigger and much less engaging to drive.
Living up to many of its claims of being sporty and small while also versatile, premium and tech-filled, the X1 xDrive35i is also fuel hungry and expensive. Four-cylinder models are just as well equipped with newer hardware for better fuel economy at a more attractive price.