The X1 is BMW’s entry level Sports Activity Vehicle that is small in size and (historically) in huge demand worldwide. Since its launch in 2009, European sales have been so high that it couldn’t be sold in the US because BMW could not build enough.
Fast forward to 2012 and that demand remains with over already 300,000 units on the world’s streets. Due to this success BMW has shifted production of Chinese bound X1s to China thus freeing up space on the line in Leipzig, Germany for US production. Was the wait worth it? We headed to Germany to find out if the recently refreshed X1 was due for the same success on US roads it’s found elsewhere.
The 2013 X1 has been upgraded in its design language with its Life Cycle Impulse (facelift) which nicely coincided with the launch into the US market. The revised painted bumpers, varying style grill slats and running boards make the vehicle feel more upmarket than it did initially. Inside there’s similar subtle changes to bring a hint of luxury to BMW’s smallest crossover.
Not to be left out of BMW’s new propensity to have different “lines” of a singular vehicle, the X1 will feature an “xLine”, “M Sport Line”, and a “Sport Line” in addition to the base model.
Each of these lines offers specific design cues on the interior and exterior that are exclusive.
The X1 is based off of the original 1 Series hatch architecture, which was also the basis of the E9X generation of the 3 Series. The X1 is the final “E” product to be launched in the US and feels a bit dated in terms of technology. Much like how the first generation X3 was based on previous generation systems and lacked many of the features of the newer models, the X1 is repeating that scenario.
There is a significant difference with this X1 that is unlike that original X3; X1 is fairly current with its infotainment and navigation systems. Available optionally are features such as iDrive navigation, BMW Assist, BMW Apps a reverse camera and the like.
The technology it is lacking are more recent safety products. Head’s Up Display, Lane Departure Warning, Blind Spot Detection, etc. – technology that many can live without. Frankly, the idea that it has less electronic aids is in no way a bad thing, but something to consider if gadgetry is an item of interest.
BMW classifies the X1 as an SAV because of its semi-command seating position and increased ride height, but that is where it ends. Approach angles and off-roading abilities are items left out of official communications and advertisements so it is a safe bet that it was designed for highways more than trails. Although if those details interest you, here they are: Approach angle 18°,Departure angle 22.7°, and Breakover angle is 16.8°. That said, for all intents and purposes this crossover is more of a hatchback in our book. We’ll say it again – the X1 drives and acts more like a hatch back for the US market. It has a trunk that will gobble up groceries, strollers and whatever else up to 14.8 cu.ft. If you require more storage space the rear 40/20/40 bench folds flat to accept bulkier items for a total cargo hold of 47.7 cu. ft.
The load height is low for a crossover as the ride height is only seven inches and allows items to be easily stored in the rear, although a power rear gate is not available. A key feature that is sorely missed is the ability to open the rear glass independently from the gate to store smaller items, making the rear hatch a little less practical than it could be. BMW seems to be saving that for the wagons and the X5 which is a real shame.
The X1 is BMW’s entry level product stateside and if that shows anywhere it is in the interior. Design and fit are great for ergonomics and aesthetics but the X1 loses some stars in in the choice of materials compared to other BMW examples. Hard plastics are found in places BMW would normally use soft touch materials such as the dash cowl and center stack. Although the plastic is solid in feel and high quality in appearance, it still isn’t what we’ve come to expect in a modern day BMW’s interior execution and clearly a nod to being built to a price point. With the “lines” the interior trim is dialed up a notch and there are more upmarket items such as piping on the leather, contrast stitching and a two-tone dash.
The optional sport seats and leather seating surfaces are comfortable and supportive. Thankfully we do not support individuals applying makeup or primping themselves in the mirror because the X1 does not have mirrors with lighting, something much less costly vehicles are commonly standard with. The glass roof (optional 28i) has only one movable panel, something that upon discovering was a bit disappointing as opening BMW’s typical full panoramic roof is much like dropping the top on a convertible. With the X3 and X5 the sunroof really brings the outside in. Not so in the X1.
Rear seat room is adequate for two and in a pinch the center seat can be used for a third. But due to the obtrusive nature of the drive train hump dissecting the car, fitting three pairs of feet on the floor may be a bit like a round of Tetris. A neat little future used for comfort and to adapt trunk space is that the rear seat backs can independently move for and aft, a welcomed surprise for an entry level product.
If the X1 was to fail in this category we’d write it off as a total bust and debate whether or not BMW has lost its way on its journey to selling more units. Thankfully that is not the case. The US will see two award winning turbo charged gas engine choices at launch, the bread and butter 28i features a 2 liter four-cylinder.
Exclusive for the US market is the X1 xDrive35i, it features the venerable 300 hp N55 turbo inline six cylinder with Valvetronic and Direct Injection, what BMW calls TwinPower. In a straight line it is as quick as a base Porsche Boxster (5.3s) but that is where the similarities end. While those who like fast zero-to-sixty times will appreciate the concept behind this version of the X1, it is not our choice. The fault with this engine selection is that it is only offered with the 6 speed auto which is good by all measures for an auto but can’t really hold a candle to the 8 speed offered in the 28i versions. Fuel economy will be less and the 28i on paper appears to be one second slower to sixty but it feels much quicker than that.
Steering in the 35i uses BMW’s hydraulic servotronic system (optional 28i) that varies boost based on speed- much like the M3. Road feel is on par with the best of BMW’s latest offerings. Handling is a function of lines as the only way to have the option code 226 checked (sports suspension) is to opt into the M Sport Line which will provide a ride height drop, stiffer spring rates and dampening to make for a sportier drive. As a crossover the X1 is at the top of the class for dynamics although it suffers significant understeer under hard cornering even with xDrive.
The X1 is the first BMW SAV to be offered in sDrive, meaning rear wheel drive. This is a great option for those in areas that have no need for all wheel drive as it shaves weight, increases performance and betters fuel economy.
All does not come up roses for the sDrive version though. By foregoing xDrive the steering rack is changed out in favor of an EPS system which although nicely weighted and precise, lacks the road feel that many enthusiasts prefer.
The model with the most projected sales is also the one that is the all around winner in our eyes. The X1 xDrive28i comes equipped with the TwinPower Turbo 4 Cylinder (N20) producing 240 hp and 255 lb-ft at 1,250 rpm and uses hydraulic steering.
With the X3 and 3 series growing in size and moving up market in price the X1 has become BMW’s entry level family vehicle in the US. There is little competition in the sub compact premium crossover segment at the moment so there is little to compare it to apples to apples. While the X1 has some shortcomings, most notably in choice of materials and available technologies it is a winner and will move quickly once it hits dealers this August.
The combination of BMW styling, solid build characteristics and drivetrain should attract buyers at a steady clip. BMW’s biggest competitor will be its own X3- as we can see many people entering showrooms to look at the X1 because of its attractive base price and sign on the line for a larger more modern equipment X3. The X1 has one big advantage that the X3 can’t touch (aside from smaller size and price) and that it is the only SAV built in Germany and thus can take advantage of BMW’s amazing European Delivery program- it’s worth considering.