2020 BMW X1 Review: Delightful to Drive, Confounding to Control

The verdict: The 2020 BMW X1 delights with powertrain pep and on-road poise, but its multimedia system is a big-time frustration.

Versus the competition: Like several others in the class, the X1 deftly combines luxury and fun, rising above the crowd in terms of roominess and fuel economy but sinking below the rest in multimedia usability.

Related: How Do Car Seats Fit in a 2020 BMW X1?

The X1 is BMW’s smallest SUV and seats five. It got some minor styling tweaks for 2020, including a larger version of the automaker’s kidney grille, punctuated by updated LED headlights and a more muscular bumper. See it compared with last year’s version.

It goes head to head against the likes of the Audi Q3, Cadillac XT4 and Volvo XC40; compare them.

Lively Engine, Playful Feel

Driving the X1 was a delight. After just a hint of lag, the turbocharged 2.0-liter engine was lively from a stop, and clean, snappy shifts from the eight-speed automatic quickly furnished more power. For 2020, BMW revised the transmission’s gear ratios for quicker performance, with 0-60 mph acceleration now happening in 6.3 seconds for the all-wheel-drive X1 xDrive28i and 6.6 seconds in the X1 sDrive28i, BMW says.

Popping the X1 into Sport mode (via a button near the center console) amped up the level of engagement with increased accelerator response and firmer steering. Eco mode did the opposite, dulling throttle to benefit fuel economy; Comfort mode splits the difference.

Especially in Sport mode, the X1 is as spirited as the Q3 and more playful than the XC40, with a firm, controlled ride to complement direct steering and an overall feeling of nimbleness. Its small turning radius made short work of parking maneuvers. Buyers can opt for an M Sport suspension for more dialed-in road manners.

It also rises above the rest in fuel economy. In base two-wheel-drive trim, the X1 gets an EPA-estimated 24/33/27 mpg city/highway/combined, a smidge better than 2WD versions of the Cadillac XT4 (24/30/26 mpg) and Volvo XC40 (23/33/27 mpg), and a lot better than a base Audi Q3 (19/27/22 mpg), though that car  has standard all-wheel drive. Like the others, the X1 is available with all-wheel drive; there’s a small mileage penalty, however, of 1 mpg combined.

There are a few blemishes on the X1’s road manners. First, the automatic engine stop-start system needs work. Where the rest of the powertrain is smooth overall, the system shudders to life awkwardly. Second, the X1’s taut suspension and stiff ride don’t play nicely with bumpy roads. Lastly, noise isolation could be better; quite a bit of road and wind noise make their way into the cabin.

Control Woes

While the exterior got an update for 2020, not much changed on the inside this year aside from some new contrast stitching for the imitation leather seats and surfaces. As before, the cabin waves its luxury-car flag with lovely gloss wood paneling and leather trim. A few cheap spots stand out, like some hard plastic on the door, but the overall vibe is quality.

What needs an update (another one) is BMW’s multimedia system. Last year’s standard 6.5-inch display is gone, replaced by the previously optional 8.8-inch unit, which is now standard. It comes with navigation and Apple CarPlay compatibility but no Android Auto (a problem for me).

More problems: The X1’s multimedia system bundles navigation, radio, phone and the car’s overall systems menu, all controlled by a rotary knob. The system is both distracting and annoying to control via the console-area knob, which I also found ergonomically challenging to reach. Eschewing the knob for the touchscreen solves some of that, but the system’s menu structure isn’t very straightforward, so tasks that should be simple — such as opening your favorites menu or switching the station — require several steps.

Audi, Cadillac and Volvo all approach multimedia systems in different ways, and after sampling many of them, the X1’s is the most confounding — and it has one of the smallest screens.

Un-Compact-Sized Room

In both rows, the seats are comfy and space is more generous than the car’s compact dimensions suggest. The X1 has more rear headroom than competitors and more rear legroom than all but the XT4.

This played out when installing child-safety seats. The X1 had ample space for two of them — even space-hogging rear-facing car seats — and exposed Latch anchors made installation a breeze. Check out our full Car Seat Check.

Behind the rear seats, there’s 27.1 cubic feet of space — plenty for a full load of groceries for my family of five and significantly more than the Q3 (23.7), XT4 (22.3) or XC40 (20.7) offer. With the seats folded, the X1 has 58.7 cubic feet of space, once again more than its competitors; there’s also a pass-through for carrying longer items.

Safety and Value

The 2020 BMW X1 received five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and top crashworthiness scores from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, but it did not pass that organization’s vehicle-to-pedestrian front crash prevention test.

In safety features, the X1 is well equipped, with standards like low-speed forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning and automatic high-beam headlights. One of the X1’s safety blind spots is that you can’t get blind spot monitoring. Another is that other driver assistance and safety features, including adaptive cruise control ($1,000), can get expensive.

The 2020 BMW X1 starts at $36,195 as a base sDrive28i with front-wheel drive. That’s a little more than the Audi Q3 (impressive for Audi given the Q3 comes with standard all-wheel drive) and Volvo XC40, but slightly less than a Cadillac XT4 (all prices include destination charges).

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