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.
In addition to the Bluetooth and USB/iPod connections, the X1's list of audio sources includes AM/FM radio with HD Radio decoding, SiriusXM satellite radio (a ridiculously overpriced $350 option), a single-slot CD player that can rip audio to the hard drive for disc-less playback, and an analog audio input. Audio plays through a standard eight-speaker, 180-watt surround-sound audio system. It sounds quite good for a base stereo, but if you've got $875 to burn, an 11-speaker, 340-watt Harman Kardon premium audio system is available.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 drivesprings 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.
|Model||2013 BMW X1|
|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|
|Price as tested||$45,245|