Popular in Europe after going on sale there three years ago, the BMW X1 subcompact SUV is now available in the U.S. Based on the BMW 1 Series sedan, the X1 is BMW's smallest SUV, smaller than the X3.
From a certain perspective, the BMW X1 makes fiscal sense, because it makes the X Series available to buyers who lust for a BMW crossover but don't feel they can step up to the price of an X3 or X5. The base price gap between X1 and X3 is about $8,000, but the X3 comes standard with all-wheel drive, whereas the base X1 sDrive28i is rear-wheel drive. (The 2013 BMW X3 xDrive28i starts at $38,850 MSRP, while a 2013 BMW X3 xDrive28i retails for $32,350.)
This is not an economic chasm. Adding just a couple option groups to an X1 can put you well into X3 territory. Our well-equipped BMW X1 xDrive28i, which retailed for $45,095 as tested, makes a strong case in point. And stepping up to a loaded X1 xDrive35i, with its 300-horsepower 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder turbo engine and all-wheel drive, can swell the total to $50,000 and beyond.
But if the marketing perspective may not make as much financial sense to you as it does to BMW insiders, the X1 makes sense in other ways. Based on the solid architecture that supports the 1 Series sedan (derived from the last generation 3 Series), with the same wheelbase as the 3 Series station wagon, the X1 offers about the same interior volume as the wagon, even though it's 2.1 inches shorter overall.
BMW X1 dimensions are substantially tidier than those of the X3, making the X1 handier in urban operating conditions, and of course lighter than its bigger cousin, which pays off at the scales and the gas station. Even equipped with all-wheel drive, the X1 weighs about 300 pounds lighter, and it delivers a decisive 5 mpg edge in EPA highway fuel economy ratings.
Commonality with the 1 Series continues under the X1's hood, with two engine options, both turbocharged. The standard engine employed by the BMW X1 sDrive28i and X1 xDrive28i, is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder, rated for 240 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 24/34 mpg City/Highway. BMW says it can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds.
The upgrade is the smooth and potent 3.0-liter twin turbo six-cylinder, used by the BMW X1 xDrive35i and rated at 300 horsepower at 5800 rpm, 300 pound-feet of torque at 1300-5000 rpm. It's EPA-rated at 18/27 mpg City/Highway. BMW says it can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just 5.3 seconds.
The four-cylinder is paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission, which includes manual shifting, eco, and auto stop-start modes; the 3.0-liter transmits its power through the older 6-speed automatic.
All-wheel drive uses BMW's thoroughly developed xDrive system used on the BMW X1 xDrive 28i and BMW X1 xDrive35i. The BMW sDrive28i is rear-wheel drive.
Like the other BMW SUVs, the X1 has no off-road pretensions whatsoever; ground clearance is a sedan-like 7.0 inches, and all-wheel drive is conceived here as a traction and stability enhancer for driving on low adhesion surfaces or in inclement weather conditions or both.
Styling doesn't seem to be a particularly risky business for BMW, at least as it affects the X5, the X3, and the X1. Having established a look with the X5, its first-ever SUV, BMW simply reduced the scale, then reduced it again. You could think of it as the incredible shrinking X5, a formula that has been exceptionally successful. In fact, it's not easy to distinguish X1 from X3 unless the two are parked side by side.
The other element of ongoing BMW appeal is a blend of ride and handling that's become a dynamic benchmark for the rest of the industry. Sharing the 1 Series sedan foundations, the BMW X1 hews true to this ethic. Inevitably, it's not quite as agile as the 3 Series sedan or wagon. Heftier curb weights and a high profile dilute the athletic index slightly. Nevertheless, the X1 has the feel and steering response that distinguish all BMWs, and feels a little more nimble than the X3, as well as small crossovers such as the Acura RDX, Land Rover LR2, and Mercedes GLK.
Like the rest of the package, the inner X1 is well conceived to satisfy BMW intenders, both first-timers and veterans. The seating is sporty and supportive, inner appointments are consistent with the entry luxury category (subdued but high quality), and the array of telematics is competitive.
The BMW X1 is in the smallest class of SUVs. The X1 measures 176.5 inches in overall length and rides on a 108.7-inch wheelbase. It's 70.8 inches wide (not including mirrors), 60.8 inches tall. While there is marked similarity between the BMW X1 and X3, the X1 is considerably smaller than the X3: 2.1 inches less wheelbase, 6.5 inches shorter overall, 3.3 inches in width, and 4.6 inches in height. Acura RDX, Land Rover LR2, and Mercedes-Benz GLK are all a little bigger.
Compared with the Range Rover Evoque, the BMW X1 is five inches longer, seven inches narrower in width, and four inches lower in overall height. X1's wheelbase is four inches longer than Evoque's.
It's the modest vertical dimension that gives the X1 a sporty look, a little less SUV in appearance, a little more traditional sport wagon.
Like most BMWs, the X1's exterior is all but devoid of trim. A modest character crease bisects the door handles just below the beltline, but beyond that the surfaces are unadorned; the proportions convey a sporty character, and the twin grilles say BMW in unmistakable terms. The standard roof rails reinforce the crossover theme, and the standard 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels fill the wheel wells, reinforcing the ultimate driving machine message. On the other hand, the low rolling resistance all-season run-flat tires dilute that message. More aggressive 18-inch wheels and performance tires area available.
While the X1 has been around for awhile in other markets, BMW has done some sprucing for the U.S. model, which sports new side mirrors with integrated turn signal repeaters and restyling at the rear.
The X1's petite exterior dimensions do exact some penalty inside. While headroom is abundant, rear-seat knee room is not, and the rear center seat is uninhabitable except for a child seat.
Cargo room behind the split rear seatbacks is modest at 27.6 cubic feet, and with the rear seatbacks folded flat it expands to an equally modest 63.3 cubic feet. Then again, if you need a really big cargo hold, the X1 is probably not the right choice, something that applies to its competitors as well.
Interior materials are premium throughout, perhaps a notch better than you'd find in a 1 Series coupe or sedan. BMW has made a few updates here, too, with design enhancements to the center console, center stack, and dashboard. Soft touch surfaces abound, and the leather-clad front seats embrace occupants with a blend of comfort, lateral support, and adjustability that make journeys a pleasure, whatever their duration.
The BMW X1 may not be quite as nimble as a BMW 1 Series sedan, but the distinction would be hard to quantify without instrumented test equipment and it's hard to imagine anyone being disappointed with this vehicle's dynamics. The standard suspension keeps body motions reasonably well snubbed, by crossover standards, and the X1 responds eagerly to abrupt changes in direction. This is one of those rare crossover SUVs that would put up a respectable performance on an autocross course.
Like other BMWs, the X1 achieves its eager responses without punishing occupants. Ride quality is Euro firm, but beautifully damped, taking the hard edge off all but the gnarliest of pavement irregularities. As with almost all new vehicles, the X1 has an electric rack-and-pinion power steering, not quite as surgically precise as the former hydraulically assisted system, but better than most of the new types.
The interior is quiet at all speeds, including driving on rough roads, and the turbocharged engine delivers surprisingly brisk acceleration for its output and the X1's mass. Contemporary road tests have recorded 0-to-60 mph times of 6.2 seconds, vindicating BMW's forecasts.
The BMW X1 offers a choice of engines: The turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve 2.0-liter direct fuel injection four-cylinder produces 240 horsepower, 255 pound-feet of torque. The turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 24-valve 3.0-liter direct fuel injected V6 is rated at 300 horsepower, 300 pound-feet of torque.
There are a few small demerits. For one, the 8-speed automatic that comes on the 2.8-liter models, while all but seamless in routine operation, is irritating when the driver first starts up and wants to engage reverse, which winds up being a two-step operation: The shifter automatically goes to drive, and the driver must then nudge it into reverse. Also, while the automatic is billed as having a manual function, it's not really effective. Fortunately, the full auto mode is so smooth and responsive that this isn't a major drawback, even for an enthusiastic driver.
The X1 is also equipped with a stop/start feature, shutting the engine down instead of idling at stoplights, a fuel economy measure that pays dividends in urban traffic. However, the BMW system produces an intrusive shudder when it refires the engine, and this is something the owner will probably never be able to completely ignore.
Another complaint is braking. The system is powerful, but the tires make braking distances unacceptably long. Optional 18-inch wheels and tires, which help, but another choice would help more.
Still, the X1 delivers on BMW's driving machine promise. If fun-to-drive is a priority, the X1 stands almost alone at the head of the small crossover class.
With its ready responses, precise steering, solid chassis, firm suspension, and willing engine, the BMW X1 delivers an enjoyable driving experience, diluted only slightly from the 1 Series sedan by size, mass, and compromised tires. Its proportions and low roofline give it a more athletic look than most crossovers, and its high quality interior appointments are commensurate with its pricing. The X1's option packages, while tempting, are expensive, true of all BMWs. This is not a new vehicle; the X1 has been on sale in Europe for almost three years. But it's new to the U.S. market, and a welcome addition.
Tony Swan filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drive of the BMW X1 xDrive 28i near Detroit.