BMW X1 Short Drive

-Christopher Little

Back when we were first introduced to the US-spec BMW X1 at the New York International Auto Show, I wasn’t so sure it would be a good idea.  After driving it, have I changed my mind?  Maybe.  I’m still not sure why someone in the market for a new BMW couldn’t justify $6,000 for the larger X3.  However, this mini-SUV segment is growing.  The Volkswagen Tiguan and Range Rover Evoque are already available, and Audi’s possibly-US-spec Q3 would compete here too.  America is clearly more accepting of the crossover rather than the traditional station wagon.  How does BMW’s latest offering stack up?  Our friends at Capital Cities BMW invited us to find out for ourselves.

Despite my uncertainty of the market segment, the new X1 is a very good Sport Activity Vehicle car.  Actually, its a great car.  Much of the interior is pulled from the previous 3 Series, including the seats, steering wheel, console controls, and instrument panel.  This isn’t a bad thing because there wasn’t anything wrong with these components to begin with. Reminders of the outgoing 3 Series does not end there.  It’s a bit uncanny at first, because the driver expects the X1 to handle like an SUV.  Its X1 nomenclature and “SAV” status belies this car’s true nature.

The BMW X1 is available with BMW’s typical setup of engines, transmissions, and trim lines.  I doubt many Northern buyers will be interested in the RWD X1 sDrive28i.  Both it and the X1 xDrive28i pair BMW’s new 240 hp turbocharged 4 cylinder with its smooth 8 speed automatic.  The addition of the xDrive AWD system adds a modicum of real-life practicality, without too much impact on efficiency.  The xDrive28i is rated at a combined 33mpg.  True enthusiasts would opt for the X1 xDrive35i, packing 300hp from the acclaimed inline 6.  The xDrive35i only comes with a 6 speed automatic.  Each model can be had in four different Lines, from the basic model up to the range-topping M Sport Line.  Our test car was a basic X1 xDrive28i equipped with the Premium Package for the added comforts of keyless access, auto-dimming mirrors, power seats, and a panoramic moonroof.  All told, it rang in at $38,945.

Driving dynamics are superb.  The X1, again, feels more like the old 3 Series.  In fact, if you put an ordinary driver behind the wheel of each car, back to back, he wouldn’t be able to decipher the difference. (Editors note: Don’t do this.)  Steering feel is weighted and responsive, a welcome relief over the numb steering in the new 3 and 5 Series.  The suspension also does an excellent job of keeping the car flat, despite its higher center of gravity.  Pedal feel is linear and secure.  The brakes have no problem reining in any back-road frivolity.  And frivolous driving may result from BMW’s newest four-cylinder engine feeling right at home under the hood of the X1.  Straight line acceleration is smooth and unhurried, with a rasp of tiny turbo-powered exhaust filtering into the cabin.  Even on rough roads, the car felt planted and composed.  It might be because I was expecting an SUV, but the X1 truly felt better to drive than the 2013 F30 328i xDrive I had just climbed out of.  It’s that good, and the benefits don’t stop there, at least for the driver.

What interior parts haven’t been lifted from other parts bins are of high quality.  The only exception to this is the awkward in-dash cubby that fills the gap where the navigation screen should be.  Its difficult to open and isn’t large enough for storage of anything substantial.  However, there’s plenty of other door pockets and console bins to hold various things- a big improvement over BMWs of old.  The other benefits of the larger cabin come to front seat passengers only.  The seating position is higher than a regular sedan, with more head and leg room.  Rear passengers are left to make due with leg room akin to the aforementioned E90 3 Series.  Folding the rear seats down reveals nearly as much cargo space as the old BMW X3.  I supposed this is the true benefit to this segment; the X1 has more cargo room than any 3 Series ever should (even the potential 3 Series GT).  Plus you get actual roof rails.

The final verdict?  The BMW X1 drives like a sports sedan yet still costs thousands less.  With it comes a more commanding seating position and increased cargo capacity.  In the looks department, I believe you can make the X1 looks anywhere from sporty (Valencia orange, anyone?) to sophisticated.  It’s hard to say, but there may be more than a few enthusiasts out there who want an entertaining car on the way to work, yet still have some extra cargo space on the weekend.  Maybe, just maybe, we were too hard on it.

Categories: BMW, Christopher Little, Driven

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