It might be the smallest utility vehicle in BMW's lineup, but the new X1 offers no shortage of the instantly recognizable and handsome styling the brand’s sports utes are known for. Entry-level model or not, the X1 looks like it should be whisking a dignitary out of a hot-zone in a Jason Borne movie.
Looks aside, there's a polish and refinement to the driving experience that'll likely serve to impress shoppers on a test drive.
On the highway at speed, the steering is stiff, robust and connected, and doesn’t feel like it’s made of boiled lettuce. Suspension is set sporty-taut, without feeling jittery or nervous, and with a layer of softness around the edges to mellow out the ride, without making it ride like glob of Miracle Whip. Most notably, the steering and suspension systems feel matched expertly to one another: the steering ratio and effort are set nicely against the calibration of the suspension, so dialing in an input, even at speed, never seems to startle the X1, or diminish its composure.
Drivers can expect minimal need to readjust the steering at highway speeds to maintain their position in their lane, as well as a ride that's both compliant enough for hours-long cruising, and willing to play ball when spirited browsing of sequential corners is the order of the day.
Further, a variety of well-tuned and effective systems culminate in and beneath the X1 to deliver top-line winter driving confidence in the sort of conditions that leave many drivers hiding under a duvet to binge-watch Game of Thrones with a hot chocolate.
BMW's xDrive AWD system splits engine power between the axles, quickly, discreetly and intelligently, as needed. As AWD systems go, this one stands amongst the best when it comes to feeling remarkably invisible. With xDrive and the stability control systems fine-tuning power delivery on a wheel-by-wheel basis, drivers can expect smooth, abundant and seamless traction from the driver’s seat, even in the greasiest of weather.
Most notable is what drivers don't feel from the system. There’s a sense of precision to the way power is actively split fore and aft: you’re never wastefully spinning a wheel, and there’s virtually no sensation of surges of power, slipping, lurching or scraping away at the surface beneath. Other than the odd click from the brakes as the traction control keeps wheel-spin down, it’s all seamless and invisible.
Push a little, and neutral ground is sought out: the X1 isn't a tail-happy drift-monster, nor is it excessively front-wheel biased and eager to plow wide. Simply, the X1 feels keen to go exactly where pointed over snow and ice. Note that the tester wore a set of winter tires, and if you'll use yours in winter, it should, too.
Brakes deliver a similarly confident feel when called upon in challenging situations. Even with hard-packed snow under one side of the X1 and pavement beneath the other, the ABS system works with each wheel individually, keeping the X1 straight and true during even tricky emergency stops. Like the AWD system, the X1's braking system ensures fuss-free adhesion to the line specified by the driver.
Inside, it’s typical BMW through and through. Little is unfamiliar: the typical gauges, same iDrive command console, same on-screen displays, and even the same switchgear you’ll find in other newer models are all on offer. The tester's feature set pushed pricing to around $50,000, and included a vibrant and potent Harman Kardon stereo, a powered tailgate with height adjustment memory, full connected navigation and multimedia apps, and comfy leather seats you drop down into, slightly. Don’t miss the high-resolution backup camera, or the massive panoramic roof. The latter, opened fully, turns in a convertible-like driving experience.
Cabin styling pulls its weight towards the tester's price with aluminum, thick slabs of dark wood accenting, and a look that’s modern, and upscale and sophisticated. It’s also finished to the last detail, with delightful little touches like subtle after-dark ambient light-piping across the dash and doors, and 'floating' buttons for the stereo controls.
Assuming you’re not coming out of a lifted F350 with smokestacks, you’ll accept the X1’s new, downsized turbo engine as a worthy fuel-saving measure. Two litres of displacement, four cylinders and a turbocharger whip up 228 horsepower and even more torque, generating smooth and effortless low-RPM response, and a pleasing push of torsos into seatbacks, with thrust filling the rev-range generously should full throttle be engaged. Output bests comparable models from Mercedes and Audi, and though the engine is nothing much to listen to, it operates with world-class smoothness and no shortage of thrust.
Notably, the paddle shifters call up instant, brilliantly rev-matched shifts from the 8-speed automatic when manual gear browsing is desired, and mileage, on my watch, landed at just 9.5L/100km-- impressive given the extreme cold, and generous helpings of snow.
Expect plenty of at-hand storage, easy entry and exit requiring little more than a sideways shift over, and slightly down, into the seats, and a generous cargo hold. The latter features a load floor at knee height, a wide opening, and minimally invasive wheel-wells. Power-folding rear seatbacks flip down at the touch of a button when you’ve got more gear than passengers. Conversely, the rear seats boast plenty of knee, leg and headroom when the seatbacks are upright. Two generously sized adults could lounge in the rear seats with room to spare.
Complaints? With the tester’s up-sized wheels, ride quality was largely at the mercy of the surface passing beneath the X1. On smooth highways, it’s bang-on. On rough roads in town, the ride can become noisy, jarring and rough. On a test-drive, shoppers are advised to visit the roughest roads available, to explore ride quality for themselves. Other gripes include headlight performance that’s good, but not incredible, as is typical in other BMW models. Finally, the tester exhibited too much throttle management in very deep snow-- denying the moderate level of wheelspin necessary for an escape, and requiring your writer to re-attempt freeing the vehicle from a foot of powder several times before escaping. The AWD system knows what it’s doing, but simply, it isn’t provided enough power to free-spin the wheels should the X1 find itself in very deep snow.
End of the day, the X1 should be considered a priority test-drive by shoppers after a compelling blend of handsome styling, pleasing performance, fantastic winter driving attributes, and a nice list of upscale trimmings