The outgoing generation of BMW's X1 compact crossover was a favorite of mine. Though marketed, perceived and sold as a small SUV -- or "SAV" (sports activity vehicle) in eye-rolling BMW-speak -- the vehicle actually looked, stood and drove more like a slightly enlarged hatchback or a small wagon. Its handling and performance are ultimately what wowed me, but I have to admit that the novelty of this covert wagon infiltrating the rapidly growing compact SUV market really cemented the X1's place in my heart.
BMW says that its buyers felt differently. They wanted more space, a more commanding seating position, and perhaps most importantly, they wanted their new small crossover to, well, actually look like a small SUV. Can't have the neighbors calling it a wagon -- eww. So, the BMW X1 has been totally redesigned for 2016. It's got a shorter wheelbase, is taller overall, and now boasts the more SUV-like design that buyers in this segment are looking for.
And though I'm sad to see the North American wagon die just a little bit more, even I have to admit after my drive that the new 2016 BMW X1 xDrive28i is better than before.
The more upright stance and some clever interior design affords the new X1 more interior volume than before. Its cabin has more room for people than the Audi Q3, and to boot, there's more boot space for cargo out back. In a three-way comparison with the Q3 and the Mercedes-Benz GLA , the X1 is the most spacious. A generous greenhouse with large windows, capped by an optional and massive panoramic moonroof, goes a long way toward making the X1's cabin feel even more airy and bright.
At 228 horsepower for the xDrive28i trim, it's also the most powerful. The new X1 is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that outputs a tidy 258 pound-feet of torque. Despite having the same number of cylinders and the same displacement as last year, this is an all-new engine from the automaker's modular series. Essentially, this latest engine uses the same core design as BMW's new inline-six that's found in the new 2016 340i, but with two cylinders lopped off. (OK, maybe it's not exactly that simple.)
The new mill feels even more responsive than the one that won me over in 2013; the new eight-speed automatic transmission, on the other hand, somewhat dulls the fun in its standard setting. Fortunately, there is a Sport drive mode setting that puts the entire powertrain on edge and allow the engine to shine. There's also an Eco Pro setting that does the opposite, smoothing out acceleration for improved efficiency.
Speaking of efficiency, at an EPA estimated 23 city, 34 highway, and 27 combined mpg, the BMW is has the same thrifty combined estimate as the Merc-Benz GLA250 4matic (gaining ground on highway efficiency, but losing it in the city). Across the board, the Bimmer sips less than the Audi Q3 Quattro, which is surprising considering the Audi's power deficit and claimed focus on efficiency.
In the new dashboard, just above the new asymmetrical center console, is a new generation of BMW's iDrive infotainment, which is to say that's it's the same software that we've grown both to love for its robust feature set and loathe for its complicated menu structure, but with snappier hardware underpinning it.
BMW's optional, 12-speaker Harman Kardon audio system sounds quite good when fed a reasonably high-quality digital source, such as Spotify streamed over Bluetooth or a broadcast received by its standard HD radio decoder, but it falls flat when asked to reproduce lower-quality sources such as satellite radio. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are "coming soon" to future BMW models but, for now at least, the X1 isn't one of them.
The navigation system got the job done with crisply rendered maps and a voice command system that allowed me to enter a full address in one go. BMW's connected features at this level pale in comparison to what Audi is offering, but I found that I greatly preferred even BMW's complex menu structure to the mess that is Mercedes-Benz COMAND.
Equipped driver aid tech includes a semi-autonomous parallel parking system that I found a bit more finicky to activate and engage than some of the systems that I've tested on American cars. The parking system is part of a $1,150 Driver Assistance package that also includes a rear camera with proximity sensors. Those proximity sensors do not appear to also function as a rear cross traffic alert when reversing, which is a shame.
Even with that $1,150 package under our belt, we still don't have the top-level driver assistant package, which lumps in high beam assist, lane departure warning, and forward collision mitigation auto braking with pedestrian detection for $700 more. Adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go traffic capabilities is yet another $1,000.
I tested the BMW X1 at a driving event in the Copper Canyons of northern Mexico. This was an interesting challenge, I think for the X1 -- a vehicle that attempts to add the perception of off-road capability to a nameplate that I associate with driving dynamics. Imagine the best mountain driving road on the planet -- scenic and picturesque, warm and dramatic, snaking up and down the sides of dramatic mountains. Now, in your imagination roll a bunch of gigantic boulders down that and visualize the effect that would have on those roads.
In places, the asphalt was carpeted with loose gravel and small stones -- these were the "good" passages. In others, there were larger stones that needed to be dodged and intermittent basketball-size craters left by the impacts of falling rocks. Rounding one corner, a boulder the size of a VW bus occupied the entire inside lane, reducing two opposing lanes to one. Driving through the Copper Canyon is a bit like tackling Switzerland's Stelvio Pass on the moon...with goats. (Did I mention the goats and cattle that would wander into the road? There were dozens of them!)
And the X1 handled all of this wonderfully. For the first few miles, the tossable chassis and new xDrive all-wheel-drive system (now a standard feature on the X1) made short work of the gravel and stones layered over the asphalt, keeping the nose pointed where steered, applying a bit of torque vectoring to rotate the chassis around bends and generally helping the vehicle to feel more controlled. Power from the 2.0-liter was very good, though there was occasionally a bit of lag between a pedal input and the seat-of-the-pants feel of acceleration at speed. This is no sports car -- despite its dynamic feel -- but returned what felt like good performance for this class. After seeing the X1 handle one of the best worst roads I've ever driven, I'm confident that it'll handle the cracked pavement of my favorite driving routes with the same ease.
And then I ran out of road. Construction of a new bridge required diverting off of the main road and onto a rocky off-road segment rough enough that I normally wouldn't even dream of taking it in a compact BMW. With the automaker's blessing, I slowly crawled the crossover through the ruts, rocks and mud. This poorly maintained dirt road wasn't rock-crawling by any stretch, but X1 certainly felt out of its element here -- it's also no Jeep Renegade Trailhawk -- but to its credit, it also never protested, groaned or rattled. By the time we rejoined the road on the other side of the canyon, I was glad for the extra ground clearance of the more upright crossover.
More recently, I was able to spend more time with the X1 at and around Roadshow's San Francisco office where I was able to more fully evaluate the crossover in traffic and in city conditions. I noticed that the snappy throttle response and grabby brakes that make the X1 such a joy to drive on a twisty road are almost too twitchy for low-speed, stop-and-go traffic, where they make the little crossover feel a tad unrefined. Add in the Eco Pro mode's anti-idling stop-start system's own slight roughness and the ride can get downright herky-jerky in stop-and-go traffic. (The stop-start system can be disabled with the touch of a button, but leaving it active is the best way to achieve good city fuel economy.)
I also took issue with the X1's front buckets, which had small and hard seats and not much bolstering. On longer drives, I had a hard time getting comfortable in the saddle and felt more like I was sitting on top of the bucket seats than supported by them.
Personally, I think a bit of whiplash is more than a fair trade for a ride that's as good as the X1 offers on a twisty bit of country road, but your priorities may be different. If you're looking for a comfy crossover and not a sport activity vehicle, it's tough to beat the Mercedes-Benz GLA's superior seats and smoother inputs for comfort.
My initial impressions are that the 2016 BMW X1 xDrive28i is vastly improved over the previous generation and is poised to find itself at the top of the premium/luxury compact crossover class. It's at the top of that class where power, efficiency and interior volume are concerned, yet manages to do so in a reasonably compact package that seems well suited for urban living.
However, the X1 isn't without its weak spots--the jerky city performance and uncomfortable seats spring first to mind, but the most prominent con is the fact that the X1 is also one of the most expensive models in that class as well. The 2016 BMW X1 xDrive28i will start modestly equipped at $35,800 before options. And everything's an option when you're dealing with BMW; from advanced features like navigation and driver-aid systems to simple niceties like heated seats or a rear camera, everything costs extra. As tested, our example surpassed $45,000 and it wasn't even fully loaded. Keep checking boxes and that MSRP will stretch to $50K.