BMW has attempted to sidestep the dreaded "W word" in marketing and designing the 2013 X1 xDrive28i that recently rolled into the Car Tech garage, but have no qualms about it, the X1 is a wagon. Granted, it's a tall wagon that perhaps skirts the lower boundaries of what could be considered a crossover, but, even with the slightly increased ground clearance of a crossover, everyone who approached me about the X1 while I was out for a spin referred to the vehicle as a big blue wagon. So, I'll be referring to it as a wagon for the duration of this review, BMW's nomenclature be damned.
There are advantages, of course, to the X1's straddling of the wagon-crossover divide. The higher-than-your-average-wagon seating position gives a more commanding view of the road. And the taller roofline of the hatchback form lends increased headroom to the 40/20/40-split rear bench seats, which fold flat to open up a rather spacious storage area. You won't be able to help your friend move a couch with the X1, but it may be possible to fit a few pieces of flat-packed IKEA furniture behind the front seats.
Its smallish footprint makes the vehicle easy to place in the center of San Francisco's narrow lanes and miniature street-side parking spaces. The X1's open greenhouse offers darn good 360-degree visibility, but our vehicle was also equipped with a Driver Assistance Package that adds a rearview camera with dynamic trajectory lines on the dashboard display that move with the steering wheel. This package also adds a Park Distance Control system that places sonar distance sensors on the front and rear bumpers that notify the driver with audible beeps that increase in intensity as the vehicle approaches an obstruction and a sort of visual-proximity heat map that is displayed on the dashboard display.
Performance and handling
The first thing that I noticed on my first trip in the BMW X1 was the heavy steering wheel. Most cars that come through the Car Tech garage have light, boosted power steering, but the X1's steering is weighty and heavy like a sports car's. The effect was quite surprising as I got used to the weight in the tight confines of the parking garage, but by the time I hit the highway I was totally at one with the X1's steering. By the time I reached my favorite twisty back road, the steering wheel felt like an extension of my arms.
BMW says that it builds the Ultimate Driving Machine and, while the X1 may not quite live up to that lofty claim, the automaker has nailed it with this wagon's steering. There's just the right amount of steering effort, road feel, and responsiveness.
Our X1 xDrive28i was equipped with a $3,000 M Sport package that adds 18-inch, lightweight M wheels shod in performance run-flat tires, a sport suspension, sport seats, an aerodynamic kit, and a higher top-speed limiter. The X1 wouldn't be my first choice for an autocross event, but the vehicle is happy to plant itself and hustle around a sweeping bend and doesn't complain when you toss it back and forth on a snaking mountain road. The package's Performance Control system is a sort of torque-vectoring system that helps the X1 to round those bends. The M Sport option also adds a number of sport styling tweaks to the interior and exterior that don't really help with performance, but help the X1 look the part.
Under the hood is a 2-liter, four-cylinder engine that is force-fed air via a twin-scroll turbocharger. Direct-injection technology and variable valve timing conspire to convert the air-fuel charge into 240 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of mechanical torque. The torque curve feels flat and linear, is easy to predict, and inspires confidence. The engine and exhaust notes at full bore are, on the other hand, rather uninspiring, but the grins this engine can induce more than make up for it.
That torque passes through an eight-speed automatic transmission on the way to the wheels. The gearbox features Sport, Manual, Normal, and Eco Pro modes. As an xDrive model, our X1 was equipped with BMW's all-wheel-drive system. Because the X1 is based on a rear-wheel-drive platform, its all-wheel-drive system uses a rear bias that sends most of the torque to the rear wheels, but can shuffle power to the front on demand.
The X1 features an auto start-stop function that stops the engine when the car is stopped at, for example, a traffic light, to save fuel that is normally wasted when idling. When you remove your foot from the brake pedal, the engine cranks back up in anticipation of your tapping the gas. While the restart is relatively smooth, it is far from seamless and may annoy some drivers. The auto start-stop system can be disabled with the touch of a button, but during our testing the system reset to a default "on" state at the beginning of every trip.
Fuel economy is estimated at 22 city and 33 highway mpg by the EPA, with a combined average of 26 mpg. Extended trips to the top of the tachometer in the X1's Sport mode kept the trip computer's average near the bottom of that range. This wagon is just too fun.
Cabin comfort where it counts
Take a moment to slow down and look around the X1's cabin and you'll find that BMW didn't cheap out on the wagon's cabin. It's not that the dashboard is ultra-luxe -- the cabin is, on the whole, remarkably understated -- but the plastic, leather, and metal have a high-quality look and feel and a nice variety of textures and colors. The steering wheel is remarkably restrained, with only eight buttons on its face. The instrumentation is simple, yet effective, with two large gauges for the speedometer and tachometer and not much else. I love it.
Our X1 was equipped with a Technology package that upgrades the standard Bluetooth hands-free system with audio streaming, and adds Voice Command, USB/iPod connectivity, and a hard-drive-based navigation system. The navigation makes use of traffic data and features 3D buildings on the maps. A BMW ConnectedDrive system makes use of your phone's Bluetooth data connection to search the Web for navigational points of interest that may not be present in the built-in POI database.
BMW Apps is a $250 option that, but you can skip this check box if you don't tote an iPhone -- the only phone with which the system is compatible.