2013 BMW X1Posted on May 22nd, 2013
A compact SUV with sporty driving flair
By Bob Golfen
If your heart is set on a hot little sports sedan but you need more space to stow your gear, BMW’s new compact SUV could be just the ticket.
The X1 enjoyed a wildly successful run in Europe, where it’s been on sale since 2009, before coming to the U.S. as a 2013 model just after a mid-cycle update, and it carries over essentially unchanged for 2014. With X1, BMW builds on its reputation for creating SUVs that perform with a sporting edge similar to that of its coupes and sedans.
BMW doesn’t even call them SUVs for sports utility vehicles, but SAVs for sports activity vehicles.
X1 proved to be a hot little package of compact versatility and performance, especially enhanced with M Sport suspension, wheels and tires, as the test car was. The steering was crisp and precise, and the handling was more nimble than you’d expect considering its tall roofline.
There are three versions of X1 and two engine options: the rear-wheel-drive sDrive 28i, the all-wheel-drive xDrive 28i- each of them powered by a 2-liter twin-turbocharged four with 240 horsepower- and the all-wheel-drive xDrive 35i, with its power bumped up to 300 horsepower by its twin-turbo 3-liter inline-6. The six-cylinder option in the X1 is exclusive to the U.S.
Speaking of world affairs, X1 has proven so popular in China that BMW has begun building them in a new plant in Tiexi, Shenyang Province. All of the X1s coming to the U.S. are built at BMW’s Leipzig, Germany factory, instead of at the Spartanburg, S.C., facility where the X3 and X6 are created.
I drove the sDrive 28i and found its combination of 240 horsepower and eight-speed automatic to be plenty effective. This is the least-expensive version of X1, with a starting price of $31,550, including shipping, which seems like a fairly reasonable entry point for a premium BMW vehicle with all that ‘driving-machine’ goodness.
But watch out for those options, which can quickly send the bottom line sky high. The test vehicle’s price tag hit above $40,000, which included the M Sport package at $3,000; a Premium Package of panoramic sunroof, ‘Comfort Access’ keyless entry, power front seats with lumbar support, plus a few other routine goodies, at $3,950; a lighting package with Xenon headlamps with automatic high beam and ambient lighting, $1,200; satellite radio, $350; and speed-sensitive Servotronic power steering, $250.
For that, the little wagon is fairly loaded up, but what you don’t get for $40k are such things as navigation, rear-view camera or other active driving aids, which are fairly common features in even modestly priced cars. The audio system was good, but it was the standard setup rather than the available Harman Kardon Surround Sound System. So yes, it can get way more expensive, drifting into X3 territory.
The xDrive 28i model starts at $33,245 and the xDrive 35i has a base price of $39,345.
The M Sport package adds sharply aggressive handling, but it does come with a tradeoff: a sometimes harsh and bumpy ride. It can get buffeting and annoying, and your passengers might complain, as mine did.
The M package, then, would be something of a commitment by somebody who really wants the sports-car handling and is willing to pay the price in ride quality. I’d probably go for it.
The styling is immediately recognizable as BMW, from its twin-kidney grille, long hood and flared wheel arches to its decidedly sporty stance. The X1 is certainly compact, just 176.5 inches long and 60.8 inches tall, which is six inches shorter than a 3-Series sedan and with a 4.5-inch higher roof.
The tall profile is mitigated by a noticeably wide track, at about 60 inches, that makes it look appropriately hunkered down and ready to dive into the corners. Which it does quite well.
The X1 wheelbase stretches to 108.7 inches, which helps provide an unexpectedly spacious interior with roomy front seats and adult-size accommodations in back. Despite X1’s entry-level ranking, the interior boasts the BMW’s usual quality and sophistication, although it does seem too conservative.
According to BMW, there’s plenty of space in here for skis or golf bags with the rear seat folded, and it should easily handle a load of camping gear. BMW offers a custom bicycle rack as an option.
The turbo-4 is a good performer, accelerating quickly with a strong, linear character. Torque is a solid 260 pound-feet coming on at a low 1,250 rpm. As well as being fed by a pair of turbochargers, the four-banger benefits from High-Precision Direct Injection, Valvetronic variable valve timing and Double-VANOS variable camshaft timing.
Meanwhile, fuel mileage is a favorable 24 mpg city and 34 highway, while the AWD four-cylinder model drops to 22 city and 30 highway.
The extra cost for the horsepower and refinement of the 3-liter six is appealing but not really necessary for full enjoyment of the X1, in my humble opinion. Fuel mileage with the two additional cylinders and AWD goes down to an unimpressive 18 city and 27 highway. The Europeans don’t get the six, but they do get a shot at several thrifty diesel models that are not available here.
While eight gear ratios might seem over the top for this little car, the automatic is a flawless piece of equipment that always seems right on the ball with fast reactions to throttle inputs and driving conditions. Stickshift is unavailable, sadly, although no clutch pusher could come near the precision and fuel-mileage gains afforded by the automatic, which includes several selectable driving modes for power or economy. The 3-liter engine is mated with a Steptronic six-speed automatic.
The X1 has a few advanced fuel-saving and clean-air features, with varying degrees of success. Regenerative braking feeds electrical power back to the battery, saving some of the gas-wasting drag of the alternator. The brakes are very strong and with none of the vague feel sometimes noted in these kinds of systems, which are typically found in hybrid vehicles.
The other major environmental feature is the automatic engine stop-start, which shuts off the engine when the X1 is stopped instead of idling to save gas and reduce emissions in traffic, and starts it up automatically when the driver releases the brake. It’s becoming a regular feature in many of today’s vehicles.
But surprisingly and in contrast with the overall refinement of the X1, the stop-start system felt awkward and clunky. I ended up turning off the system rather than endure its intrusiveness.
The X1 is a highly likeable compact ‘SAV,’ and as a long-time proponent of small wagons, I found it to be an excellent combination of sporty performance and active-lifestyle practicality. BMW needs to work on the stop-start functionality, though, which is really my only major complaint about its drivability.
Likes: Sporty drivability, compact-wagon roominess, BMW style, quality interior.
Dislikes: Faulty stop-start system, pricey options, M Sport ride harshness.
Base price: $30,650.
As tested: $40,295.
Horsepower: 250 hp @ 5,000 rpm (2-liter), 300 hp @ 5,00 rpm (3-liter)
Torque: 260 lb-ft @ 1,250 rpm (2-liter), 300 lb-ft @ 1,200 rpm (3-liter)
Zero to sixty: 6.2 seconds (2-liter, rear-wheel drive), 6.3 seconds (2-liter, all-wheel drive) 5.3 seconds (3-liter)
Wheelbase: 108.7 inches.
Curb weight: 3,527-3,891 pounds.
Side-curtain airbags: Yes.
First-aid kit: NA
Bicycle friendly: No, but a custom bike rack is available.
Fuel economy: 24/34 mpg (2-liter, rear-wheel drive), 22/30 (2-liter, all-wheel drive), 18/27 (3-liter)2013, Luxury 2013, Active Lifestyle Vehicles, auto review, BMW, performance, pricing, standard safety
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