2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i review: Crossover? Wagon? The X1 is both, and it's great

Lots of small annoyances
On paper, the infotainment system has everything you'd need, but in practice there are quite a few annoyances. It's nowhere near as frustrating as the iDrive system of old, but as BMW adds more features to the infotainment system, these little niggles begin to creep in.

For starters, the system always seemed to be beeping or chiming at me for something. When you get in the car, there are chimes and a notification to accept the terms of service for the navigation system. Moving the shifter into reverse without hitting the unlock button causes a chime and an onscreen notification. However, the notification doesn't clear automatically when you realize your error and shift correctly. Instead, this notification just sort of hangs there, obstructing the rearview camera display until you reach down and clear the notification with the rotary controller.

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The rotary controller feels good in hand, but in the layout of the buttons around it I find neither rhyme nor reason. Josh Miller/CNET

The infotainment system's screen isn't touch-sensitive, so you have to use a rotary controller with five shortcut buttons that's located on the center console. This wouldn't be too bad, but the control scheme seems a bit too complicated at times. The layout of buttons doesn't correspond to the layout of the onscreen options. I was uncomfortable using it while driving; it seemed to require too much eye-attention to operate. I spent the entire week frustrated because I couldn't get the Bluetooth audio streaming to play with my Android phone, which was correctly paired. On the last day, I realized that the Media section of the audio source selection actually has two options labeled "Bluetooth (audio)." One is prominently displayed in the main Media menu and is used for changing Bluetooth options, and another is hidden under the External Devices submenu and is used for selecting Bluetooth streaming as the currently playing audio source. Decisions like this make me wonder, what were the interface designers at BMW thinking?

However, someone at BMW is thinking creatively because the automaker has given drivers a few better ways to interact with the infotainment system, too.

Amazing presets buttons
BMW gives the driver the choice of a number of control schemes. There's the aforementioned rotary controller -- which takes some getting used to.

There's also the Voice Command system that comes as part of the Technology Package. With this system, drivers can tap a steering wheel and then access the audio sources, navigation, and hands-free systems with simple spoken commands. This system is easy to learn how to use, as the system will recognize pretty much any onscreen option that you see if spoken, so if you ever don't know what to say to the X1, just look at the screen.

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The physical preset keys can be used to launch shortcuts to contacts, audio sources, and destinations for navigation. Josh Miller/CNET

However, the feature that blew me away was the bank of six preset buttons just below the CD slot. When you touch these buttons, but don't depress them, a virtual representation of the button appears at the top of the dashboard screen, displaying information about the shortcut. Tapping the button executes the action.

However, where most preset buttons link to terrestrial or satellite radio stations, the X1's buttons can link to pretty much any function of the infotainment system. So you can, for example, press and hold a preset button to save a contact for single-tap initiation of a hands-free call. You can save a point of interest to navigate to with a single tap. Audio playlists stored on the hard drive, audio sources, a BMW App, the trip computer...almost any onscreen shortcut that you can reach with the rotary controller or voice command can be mapped to one of these six shortcuts and accessed with a tap.


This level of customizability and ease of use is pretty awesome. It takes advantage of dashboard real estate that is often underused and should not be overlooked.

In sum
My first day with the X1 was a rough one. I fought with the infotainment system. I wrestled with the heavy steering. I complained about the bulbous design.

By the end of the week, I was in love. The wagon configuration is fantastic for transporting people, things, or both. The infotainment system, while complex, is flexible, powerful, and easy to live with once you crest the learning curve. And the handling of our M Sport-equipped wagon was a breath of fresh air.

The X1 xDrive28i isn't a tech powerhouse; its driver aid options are limited to a rear camera and proximity sensor. A loaded Infiniti EX37 offers better cabin tech and a full suite of driver aid technologies, including Blind Spot Monitoring, Lane Departure Warning, and Adaptive Cruise Control, for about the same price.

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It doesn't matter if the X1 is a wagon or a crossover. It's a fantastic driver-oriented ride. Josh Miller/CNET

If I have one complaint, it's the price tag. Our 2013 X1 xDrive28i starts at $32,350, which doesn't include the $895 destination charge. A $6,650 Ultimate package rolls in the previously discussed Technology and Driver Assistance packages and a Premium package that adds a number of creature comforts to the cabin, including a massive panoramic moonroof. We've also got the $3,000 M Sport package, a $1,200 Lighting package that adds ambient lighting and upgrades the headlamps with Xenon illumination and automatic high beams, $350 for satellite radio, $250 for BMW Apps, and $550 for Le Mans Blue paint. That's $12,000 in options and brings the as-tested price to $45,245.

There are less expensive options on the market -- the all-wheel drive Subaru XV Crosstrek springs to mind and will get you where you're going for well under $30,000 -- but the X1 feels like money well spent. The X1 earns its high price tag with a "you get what you pay for" attitude.

Tech specs
Model 2013 BMW X1
Trim xDrive28i
Power train 2-liter, 4-cylinder engine, twin-scroll turbocharger, 8-speed automatic transmission, xDrive all-wheel drive, 240 horsepower, 260 pound-feet of torque
EPA fuel economy 22 city, 33 highway, 26 combined mpg
Observed fuel economy n/a
Navigation Optional HDD navigation, 3D building data, traffic data
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Disc player Single-slot CD
MP3 player support Standard analog 3.5mm auxiliary input, optional USB connection, Bluetooth audio streaming, iPod connection, HDD audio storage
Other digital audio Standard HD Radio, optional SiriusXM satellite radio
Audio system 8 speakers, 160 watts
Driver aids Optional rearview camera and proximity detection
Base price $32,350
Price as tested $45,245

What you'll pay

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