The verdict: The redesigned BMW X1 is astonishingly practical, but it’s less of an ultimate driving machine than the automaker’s faithful may care for.
Versus the competition: Given it’s a BMW, the X1’s unremarkable drivability is shocking, but it delivers in spades what many other subcompact luxury SUVs sacrifice: actual utility.
The second generation of BMW’s smallest SUV drops its predecessor’s performance hallmarks: near-perfect weight distribution and an available turbo six-cylinder that made the X1 more rocket ship than SUV. We drove the 2016 X1’s sole variant, the xDrive28i (compare it with the 2015 BMW X1 here).
BMW’s redesign adds some much-needed sophistication versus the old X1, which was a hodgepodge of ungainly proportions and oversized elements. (To me, anyway.) Proportioned and styled like a miniature X5, the new SUV-like X1 is shorter than its predecessor from bumper to bumper, but also taller, wider and slightly lighter. It’s on the larger side of German body-type rivals like the Audi Q3 and Mercedes-Benz GLA250. For similar money, though, the Acura RDX and Lexus NX dwarf the whole group.
Shoppers will appreciate the X1’s best-in-group turning circle, which is a tidy 37.4 feet. Eighteen-inch alloy wheels, fog lights and LED daytime running lights are standard. Full-LED headlights and 19-inch alloys are optional.
The BMW X1’s turbo four-cylinder (228 horsepower, 258 pounds-feet of torque) has adequate power for just about all situations, but noticeable — and inconsistent — accelerator lag hampers things from a standstill. Still, once you get past the initial gremlins, power comes early and stays late, and the standard 8-speed automatic transmission finds the right gear without too much delay.
At highway speeds, noise insulation is up to luxury-car snuff. Ride quality from the X1’s standard M Sport suspension is characteristic of BMW, with good isolation at higher speeds but somewhat firm response to individual bumps. It’s appropriate for a premium SUV and stops short of being uncomfortable — unlike the brittle GLA250 or busy NX — but I still find the Q3’s masterful ride quality tops.
Sure to disappoint BMW fans, however, spirited driving reveals the X1’s downfalls. On wet pavement, hard acceleration induces lots of front wheelspin before the driveline sends power to the rear. Throw the SUV around corners, and it feels as nose-heavy as any SUV from a not-so-premium Detroit or Japanese brand. The steering has a degree of slop that’s on par with them, too, and a soft, mushy brake pedal further blunts the BMW X1’s reflexes.
Indeed, this redesign shifts a lot more weight over the front axle than the previous X1 — a near-inevitable outcome of BMW moving the BMW X1 from its rear-drive past to a new, front-drive platform. Such underpinnings need not sentence a car to lackluster handling (see the GLA-Class, for example), but the X1’s foundation does just that. You don’t need to take the SUV to the racetrack to figure it out: In ordinary spirited driving, the X1 handles like a grocery-getter SUV, even with various driving modes dialed to their sportiest settings. It begs to be driven slower.
Redemption comes inside. Most subcompact SUVs are known for being skinny on utility, but the X1 would impress even in a larger class. An upright windshield, tall windows and fold-forward backseat head restraints lend excellent visibility, aided by a higher seating position to begin with. BMW says it raised the seating position by more than an inch up front and 2.5 inches in back versus the 2015. Larger adults may find the lower cushions too small, but the chairs themselves have excellent adjustment range, and a low center tunnel clears out plenty of knee and thigh space. Power-adjustable front seats with a memory driver’s seat and faux-leather upholstery are standard. Heated seats, a panoramic moonroof and real leather seats are optional.
Cabin materials are stepped up a notch from the old X1’s evident cost-cutting — for a luxury model, anyway — with uniform finishes in most areas above knee level. I also welcome the return of a bona fide mechanical gearshift. The previous X1’s electronic shifter, in all its lifeless artificiality, is gone. Other BMWs should follow suit.
The backseat’s bottom cushions are a bit short for taller adults, but the space is otherwise excellent. Legroom and headroom are both good, and the bench seat has a nice, high position off the floor. The backseat has optional manual adjustments (a $300 stand-alone option) that enable 30 degrees of reclining and 5 inches of sliding.
The standard audio setup includes a 6.5-inch multimedia screen and BMW’s iDrive controller. Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, HD radio, a USB input and steering-wheel audio controls are also standard. A basic navigation system, satellite radio and Harman Kardon surround-sound premium audio are optional. A Technology Package with navigation and an upsized screen (8.8 inches) is optional; it also adds a touchpad to the iDrive controller for you to scrawl letters or numbers — a feature I’ve found little use for in other cars.
A head-up display is optional. BMW’s ConnectedDrive Services portal integrates various apps (Glympse, Spotify, Pandora and more) from a compatible smartphone into the multimedia system; some features require a ConnectedDrive monthly subscription. Dedicated smartphone portals like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are unavailable right now, but BMW says it’s looking into integrating both.
Practicality continues in terms of storage. A small cubby near the cupholders provides convenient open storage; the door pockets and center console are roomy for this class. The rear seats fold in a 40/20/40 split, and optional power-folding rear seats are operable from the cargo area. A power liftgate is standard.
Cargo space behind the rear seats amounts to a very good 27.1 cubic feet, with 58.7 cubic feet of maximum room when the seats are down. Both figures are impressive for the segment.
The BMW X1 has yet to be crash-tested. Click here to see a full list of safety features. Notable options include lane departure warning and forward collision warning with automatic braking, both part of a $700 Driver Assistance Plus Package. A backup camera — something many cheaper SUVs include standard — comes in a $1,150 Driver Assistance Package. C’mon, BMW.
Unlike many immediate front-wheel-drive or rear-wheel-drive competitors, the X1 has standard all-wheel drive — and its starting price, at a relatively steep $35,795 with destination, reflects that. Go to town with options, and a loaded X1 can top $50,000. That’s a stratosphere only the GLA250 reaches.
The lack of a cheaper two-wheel-drive model will turn some shoppers away from the X1, particularly in Sun Belt states. Whether BMW’s latest SUV attracts others depends on how much drivability matters to them. BMW’s performance tradition is clearly missing, but practicality has taken its place. The redesigned X1 is BMW’s take on a Toyota RAV4 or Honda CR-V — a quicker one with better cabin materials, to be sure, but still a shopping-mall SUV that prioritizes utility over driving fun.
My prediction? Shoppers won’t care one bit. Practicality-minded SUVs are selling like gangbusters right now, and for all their novelty, too many subcompact luxury SUVs have too many practical compromises. The reimagined BMW X1 will cause fits among some enthusiasts, but I suspect it’s the right move. Among the broader horde of SUV shoppers, BMW’s latest should do just fine.
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