2023 BMW X1 Review: First Drive

Evan Williams
by Evan Williams


Engine: 2.0L I4 Turbo
Output: 241 hp, 295 lb-ft
Transmission: 7DCT, AWD
Fuel Economy (MPG): 25/34 (city/hwy)
Fuel Economy (L/100 KM): 9.6/7.0 (city/hwy)
Starting Price (USD): $38,600 (not inc. dest.)
Starting Price (CAD): $44,990 (not inc. dest.)

BMW has shown for decades that compact vehicles don’t have to sacrifice fun, luxury, or prestige.

Cars like the classic E30 3 Series demonstrated it proudly. But even more modern machinery like both generations of the 2 Series coupe, as well as today’s more basic 3ers show that BMW can make a small vehicle that is something special. It’s cars like those that made the first two generations of BMW’s X1 crossover feel less substantial. They wore the kidneys and roundel on the nose, but they never really felt like true BMWs.

Larger, More Stylish

Part of the problem with the X1 was that it always looked a little cheap. Especially against other contemporary BMWs where the brand’s stylists seemed to have spent more time. With this all-new 2023 model that exterior perception is gone completely. It helped that BMW brought largely only fun colours (including the Utah Orange launch hue) to the drive instead of silver, white, or black, but there has clearly been more attention paid to detail here.

Get a Quote on a New BMW X1

More layers in the headlights, more texture to the grille, and more sculpting in the side profile. They all work to make sure that the 2023 BMW X1 looks like a proper BMW. Some extra size helps, too, with a 0.86-inch (22mm) longer wheelbase, 1.7-inches (43mm) more total length, and one inch (24 mm) in extra width Is the 2023 X1 bigger all going toward bettering the X1’s stance and presence while adding to its already sizeable passenger space.

IDrive 8 and Large Screens

The restyle of the X1 continues in the cabin starting with BMW’s new curved display. It integrates the 10.25-inch digital dash and 10.7-inch center screen into one sleek panel. It’s not the massive screen offered in the larger models, but it is right-sized for this cabin.

IDrive 8, powered by BMW’s latest operating system software, is part of the package and helps bring high-end features into the X1. Features like BMW’s augmented reality navigation system, which looks stunning on the clear center screen. This is a highly responsive infotainment system, thankfully, because BMW has said goodbye to buttons.

There is a volume roller on the center console, a couple of buttons for the drive modes, one for the camera, and the legally required ones for front and rear defrost. Other than that, it’s all touchscreen.

Voice Commands and Clever Packaging

Basic temperature controls are on the center screen at all times, with a full climate setup always a single touch away. But for most controls you’re going to want to use voice commands. Partly because everything you want to do is buried in a complex menu structure, partly because the voice command system is really good. And it can do more than you’d expect if you just talk and don’t try and figure out what it wants to hear.

Getting rid of all the buttons frees up space for side-by-side cupholders (BMW has learned the ways of the cupholder quite quickly). It also lets BMW put a giant wireless phone charging pad in a great spot just below the center vent. Your phone is easy to put in and the spot should hold even your biggest phablet.

SEE ALSO: 2020 BMW X1 xDrive28i Review

Look under the cup holders and BMW has added a large lower storage shelf. The X1 is surprisingly cargo friendly, with a 40/20/40 folding rear seat helping you make the best use of its rear storage area.

2023 BMW X1: A New Heart

It wasn’t just the aesthetics that made the previous generation X1 feel a bit dull, the powertrain played a part. So BMW has binned it for a revised 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder that feels up to the dynamics that the new styling promises.

The engine uses the Miller cycle, like its latest big siblings, a valve timing trick that holds the intake valve open a few ticks longer than normal, while the piston is on its way up. Yes, it sounds strange, but it’s actually an old technique that gets more work from the air and fuel mix in the cylinder. It gives you more power but reduces emissions, fuel consumption, and internal losses.

Forget the fancy footwork in the valvetrain, the result is an engine that makes 241 hp from 4,500 through 6,500 rpm and makes 295 lb-ft of torque from 1,500 through 4,000. That’s 16 more horses and 37 more torques, but it’s the engine’s new and more encouraging feel that makes the biggest difference.

And a New DCT

Give some of the credit to the new seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. A bit of a surprise when BMW has moved largely to torque-converter automatics, the DCT helps add some more fun to the driving experience. Running up and down the mountainous Highway 74 south of Palm Springs, the ‘box is quick to switch gears up and down. Keeping the revs up (it’ll let you downshift amazingly close to redline) for power and response and to help keep you off of the brakes before the next corner.

It did still suffer from the DCT shrug. The long pause that nearly all dual-clutch boxes experience when a light turns green, you touch the gas, and absolutely nothing happens.

For some strange reason, BMW has decided the new transmission doesn’t need a park button. Shut off the engine and it engages park automatically, and you can still engage the parking brake. It doesn’t matter, not having a big and safe-looking “P” to put the shifter in before you open the door just feels wrong. You’ll probably get accustom to it if you own one. But I heard much grumbling that this change will be moving it’s way across the BMW lineup.

SEE ALSO: 2023 BMW X7 Review: First Drive

Standard AWD, Standard Fun

All X1s in the U.S. and Canada are xDrive28i, meaning they get AWD with the four-pot. When you don’t need the grip, the system sends all the power to the front wheels, but it can be sent rearward near-instantly if you need it for bad weather or for fun.

SEE ALSO: 2023 BMW i7 First Drive Review

The front and rear suspensions new design improves turn-in response and steering feel. It makes a big difference, with the X1 not exactly a 3 Series in the bends, but finally close enough to make us smile. BMW’s active damping Adaptive M Suspension is available for the first time, too. It can make the X1 a bit softer when cruising and stiffen the suspension when attacking corners. Best of all, it all works.

Safety and Pricing

Driver assistance tech includes updated versions of BMW’s front collision warning system, active blind spot detection, and a warning if you’re about to door a cyclist when you’ve parked along the roadway. Driving Assistant Professional will show up down the road adding adaptive cruise with stop-and-go, steering, as well as lane control functions. BMW’s Back-Up Assistant can reverse down the road you shouldn’t have entered in the first place, but can’t handle recorded parking routes like the top-line BMWs just yet.

The new X1 will also enjoy BMW’s dashcam feature that can record and store video from all of the vehicle’s cameras in case of a crash. You can also record 60-second videos of your driving, should you find yourself doing something particularly scenic, or record video from around (and even inside) the car if the alarm is triggered. Lastly on the tech side, you can unlock and lock your X1 automatically using your iPhone as key, but the optional feature won’t start the vehicle.

About the only place BMW hasn’t spruced up the 2023 X1 is the price tag. With the new tech, new engine, and with now-standard all-wheel drive, the X1 starts from $38,600 ($44,990 in Canada). That’s $900 more for US buyers and $2,500 more in Canada, figures that in this market we’d call practically unchanged.

2023 BMW X1: In Conclusion

The 2023 BMW X1 will probably never go down in history to be remembered by enthusiasts alongside classic M3s or even a late ’90s 540i, but that’s missing the point of it. The 2023 BMW X1 now feels like it belongs with the rest of the automaker’s driver-friendly lineup, and that’s what matters. It’s a premium compact crossover that offers a proper luxury experience, while also being more fun to drive than its competition from Audi, Lexus, and Mercedes.


Is the 2023 X1 bigger?

Yes, the new X1 is 1.7-inches (43mm) longer and 1.0-inch (24 mm) wider.

What Mercedes is equivalent to X1?

The GLA-Class is the equivalent Mercedes-Benz to the BMW X1.

Is the BMW X1 a fast vehicle?

That depends on your definition of fast. But with more power, increased torque and a better 7-speed DCT, it is faster than the 2022 X1. 

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  • Improved power
  • Improved handling
  • Impressive technology


  • No park button
  • Some initial DCT lag
  • Voice controls not for everyone
Evan Williams
Evan Williams

Evan moved from engineering to automotive journalism 10 years ago (it turns out cars are more interesting than fibreglass pipes), but has been following the auto industry for his entire life. Evan is an award-winning automotive writer and photographer and is the current President of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. You'll find him behind his keyboard, behind the wheel, or complaining that tiny sports cars are too small for his XXXL frame.

More by Evan Williams

Join the conversation
  • Dan Cowan Dan Cowan on Nov 24, 2022

    BMW actually came back from post-War bankruptcy on 4 cyls., why their corporate HQ looks the way it does, 1st 6 cyls. were 150% of that 4, like 1st V12 was two I6, they made their name here opposite U.S. '60's V8 Pony muscle cars with 4 cyl. 2002. Saw 1 of these on the street today, looked like 1st gen. X3.

  • Tank Tank on Nov 28, 2022

    Any idea when Driving Assistant Professional will become available?