2013 BMW X-1 Review

 

2013 BMW X1. Image courtesy BMW North America.

New to the United States for 2013 is the BMW X1. The X1 is a fun-to-drive, powerful, sporty… station wagon. It’s expensive yet thrifty, elegant yet utilitarian. Like the porridge of legend, it’s not too hot, not too cold, it’s just right.

So how can a station wagon be sporty? By hiding that it is a station wagon. BMW does this two ways: first by calling it a Sports Activity Vehicle (SAV) and second, and more importantly, by giving it a powerful engine, a taut suspension, and hydraulic steering so that it doesn’t drive like a station wagon.

How can a car be expensive yet thrifty? By keeping the price down (for a BMW) and making it fuel-efficient. Starting at $30,650 the X1 is one of the least expensive BMW’s and comes with enough standard equipment to justify the price. The reality is by the time you take the initially much cheaper Volkswagen Tiquan, equip it (as much as possible) to match the X1 you have a car that isn’t as fuel efficient or as much fun to drive as the X1 yet costs almost as much ($31,115 versus $32,350) when equipped with all-wheel drive.

BMW’s inline four-cylinder TwinPower Turbo. A light-weight engine displacing just 2.0 liters, it can produce 241-hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Image courtesy BMW North America.

When it comes to fuel efficiency it doesn’t get much better than the X1 for an all-wheel drive vehicle. Two engine options are offered for the X1, the smaller is a turbo-charged, 4-cylinder engine that manages 22 miles per gallon in the city and 33 miles per gallon on the highway. More impressive is this fuel-efficiency is achieved without sacrificing power. The 4-cylinder, TwinPower Turbo produces up to 241 horsepower but more importantly has 258 foot pounds of torque at only 1250 rpm. The result of all this torque at the low end of the power band is virtually no noticeable turbo lag.

The X1 is available in three different trim levels that vary based on engine choice and powertrain: the sDrive28i (turbo-charged, 4-cylinder engine; rear-wheel drive), the xDrive28i (turbo-charged, 4-cylinder engine; all-wheel drive) and xDrive35i (6-cylinder engine, all-wheel drive).

The base model sDrive28i offers the following as standard equipment: 17” inch alloy wheels, automatic rain sensing windshield wipers, cruise control, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, automatic climate control, automatic headlights, leatherette vinyl seats, auto start/stop engine function, Bluetooth, and an eight-speaker sound system with a CD player, auxiliary audio input, HD radio and an iPod/USB audio interface.

The xDrive28i has all the standard equipment of the sDrive and adds all-wheel drive; the xDrive35i drive adds even more. The xDrive 35i has a more powerful — but not nearly as fuel efficient — six-cylinder engine, 18” alloy wheels, panoramic sunroof, eight-way power seats with memory for two unique seating positions.

As is typical for BMW, the number of options available for any version of the X1 seems to be virtually endless and allows for the ultimate in customization. Of course those options don’t come cheap, especially since some are only available as part of a variety of option packages. When adding options take care, it doesn’t take long to price the X1 into the mid-40s.

 

One of the many available leather interiors. Image courtesy BMW North America.

What’s the X1 like to drive? Fantastic. The seats are insanely comfortable and grip you firmly. The hydraulic steering is a pleasant throwback (most cars have electric steering these days) that, while requiring a little more steering effort at low speeds is a joy at normal or higher driving speeds because of the feedback it provides the driver. The cabin is quiet and the acceleration is powerful. If you want a real treat and can afford it, the optional Harmon Kardon audio system is one of the best I’ve ever heard. Visibility to the front and sides is very good, visibility out the back is average.

 

40-20-40 split rear seat backs provide loading flexibility. Image courtesy BMW North America.

One of the few places the X1 falls short is in cargo capacity. For a vehicle that looks like an SUV, it really doesn’t carry a whole lot when the rear seat backs are up; only 14.8 cubic feet of space is available. There is some good news here however, the seat backs feature a 40-20-40 split allowing them to be up or down in a variety of combinations that allow the cargo space to be expanded if there are only one or two passengers in the back. And, of course, if there aren’t any rear seat passengers all the seat backs can be folded almost flat. If you need more cargo space on a regular basis you may want to consider one of the other small SUVs I’ve identified in the Competitive Comparison Table at the end of this article.

One of the nice surprises of the X1 is its 8-speed automatic transmission. It is very smooth, with shifts that are virtually undetectable. So many manufacturers have moved to 6-speed (or more) transmissions where you can feel every shift. When driving them it seems like the engine is constantly gasping for breath as it fights to get back into the sweet-spot of the power curve. Not so with the X1. The engine always seems to have power to spare whenever you touch the pedal. In this sense BMW lives up to its motto as the ultimate driving machine.

Overall the X1 is an excellent vehicle. It has been a big seller in Europe for the past 3 years and my expectation is it will do well in America also. The X1 is a fuel-efficient, practical, comfortable vehicle and while not cheap, and even when equipped with all-wheel drive, it isn’t that much more expensive that its competitors… and it’s a lot more fun to drive.

If you have any questions about the X1, feel free to leave a reply. I try to answer questions within 36-hours, often sooner.

Competitive Comparison Table – the X1 all-wheel drive compared with two completive models.

BMW X1 x28i – AWD Volkswagen Tiguan SE – AWD Nissan Rogue SV – AWD
MSRP $32,350.00 $31,115.00 $27,195.00
Miles Per Gallon (City/Hwy.) 22/33 18/26 22/26
Fuel type Premium Premium Regular
Transmission 8-speed auto 6-speed auto Continuously variable
Horsepower 241@5000 200@5100 170@6000
Torque (lb.-ft.) 258@1250 207@1700 175@4,400
Overall length (in.) 176.5 174.5 183.3
Wheelbase (in.) 108.7 102.5 105.9
Overall height (in.) 60.8 65.6 66.3
Overall width (in.) 70.8 71.2 70.9
Cargo capacity (cu. ft.) 14.8 28.9 23.8
Automatic climate control Standard N.A. N.A.
Bluetooth Standard Standard Standard
Rain sensing wipers Standard N.A. N.A.
Proximity key Ignition only N.A. Doors and ignition
Tilt/Telescoping steering wheel Standard Standard Tilt only
Driver seat adjustments 8-way manual 8-way partial power 6-way power
Seating surfaces Leatherette Cloth Leather
Radio AM/FM/CD USB/iPod – 8-speakers AM/FM/CD USB/iPod – 8-speakers Bose AM/FM/CD USB/iPod – 8-speakers
Daytime running lights Standard Standard Standard
Warranty 48 month/50,000 miles 36 month/36,000 miles 36 month/36,000 miles