Drive Review – 2016 BMW X1 – By Ben Lewis

Baby Bimmer?

Mighty Mini?

X marks the spot.

We recently tested the new Mini Clubman, and came to the conclusion it was as much a less-expensive BMW (sort of a squashed Sport Activity Vehicle) as it was a supersized Mini.

So now, here we are, testing the new BMW X1. And that’s really interesting, since it shares the platform with the Clubman. And in many ways, it’s a radical departure from where BMW has been. The question is has BMW lost the melody, or did they manage to get us all singing along?

BMW isn’t going to give away the store at first glance. The new X1 is handsome, sculpted, and very Bavarian.  In fact, it fits in more with the current BMW SUV/SAV design than the previous model did. Our tester finished in Sparkling Brown Metallic with Oyster Dakota Leather looked elegant and sporty, enjoying a little added menace, thanks to optional 19-inch, Y-spoke alloy wheels.

The old X1 was really part of the “tall wagon” crew – which, often was quickly dismissed by “why not just get a 3-series wagon?” And that’s pretty valid, the 3-wagon did just about all you’d ask of the old X1, without losing any of the handling dynamics you’d want in a sporty sedan.

The new X1, takes a smart step away from that, being much more of a direct entry into the world of BMW X3’s and X5’s. It’s also comes to market with perfect timing –the super-small SUV market is catching fire, from the Audi Q3 and Mercedes GLA in the high-priced spread division, to the Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-3 in the more-affordable-but-still-pretty-darn-nice niche.

While the X1 doesn’t give away its Mini roots on the outside, the inside has some telltale clues. Don’t get us wrong, it certainly has the BMW look, the gauges, the easy-to-use-infotainment, and the fit and finish are beautiful.

What did bother us were the front seats. They feel narrow, and the seat bottom squabs are short – trying to get the seat comfy had the bottoms pushing up well back of the leg. There is an answer however – the M-Sport Package, with wonderfully supportive sport seats that feature a slide-out lower seat cushion support. We’d go for it if it were ours.

What BMW taketh from the front seats, it giveth to those in back. The rear seats are large improvement, with a higher hip-point (you sit higher up) and more leg room. Our tester featured the optional slide and recline rear seat that adds a couple inches to the stretch-out room versus the previous model.

Cargo area gets a nice bump of a couple of cubic feet, and we found the low load-floor to be a back-saver with larger items. Little touches abound: supposedly, you can open the rear hatch by sliding your foot under the bumper – OK, it didn’t always work for us, but we must have entertained passersby thinking we were dancing an Irish jig.

We did notice that the power hatch switch on the driver’s door not only opens the door (like it has on most BMW’s forever) but can also be pulled to have the power assist close the door. Nice touch.

But all of this goodness doesn’t mean a hill of Bavarian Beans to us, if the new X1 doesn’t drive like a BMW. So how does the first Front-wheel-drive based Ultimate Driving Machine ever sold in the U.S. Drive?

Well, actually it drives like a BMW. Which kind of has us miffed… Hadn’t we been sold on the BMW-means-rear-wheel-drive (preferably with an inline-6 up-front) for the perfect chassis balance and steering feel?

OK, we don’t want to be called haters, non-progressives, or worse, Beemer Drivers. (Note to general populace: Beemer is motorcycle. Bimmer is car.)

And actually, the combination of FWD architecture and AWD drivetrain actually gives the X1 better steering feel than we’ve found in many of their rear-drive sedans as of late.  There’s a good feeling of precision, and plenty of grip from the optional 19’s. This is a crossover/ASAV/SUV/CUV – (stop the insanity with the names) that really urges you to find a good twisty road and cut it up. Outside of the Mazda CX-3, that’s extremely rare in the segment.

The engine is a sweetheart too, the same 2.0-liter, turbo 4-cylinder that finds many homes under many hoods wearing the BMW Roundel these days. On paper it’s not startlingly quick –figure mid-6’s 0-60 – but it’s responsive, the torque is in the right place, and it feels fast – combined with the great handling you get moving easily.

In the X1, the engine’s got a nice rasp to it under throttle, and 8-speed automatic is really impressive, popping off shifts in Sport mode that feel as quick as any Direct Sequential Gearbox.

So good, in fact that it makes us pine for that M-Sport Package (again) to get paddle shifters. We’d really love to see a super-sporty rallied-out version with a manual, but no three-pedalers for the X1 crowd. Well, on the bright side we saw 26 mpg, even with giving it the spurs frequently.

So the X1 gives you BMW quality, design and performance. And even though it is the smallest crossover in the stable, you’ll still be paying BMW prices. The X1 starts at $34,800, which sounds pretty darn tempting. And if you can live with a simpler model and just soak up the driving experience, we’d pop only for the $2,450 M Sport package and go terrorize the locals.

Our tester was much more lavishly equipped, with Driver Assistance Package ($1,150) to help you park, Cold Weather Package ($550) to warm your buns, Luxury Package ($1,550), Premium Package ($3,250) Technology Package ($2,550) Heads Up display ($875) and a few other goodies. Totaled up, for you – $47,170.

Like most BMW’s (and Mini’s) you can probably sift through what you really want and bring that down a bit. But this is a premium auto.

Gluttons for punishment that we are, we maxxed out a Mazda CX-3 and barely scratched $30k. Realistically, if your shopping BMW’s, you’re not going to for the Mazda. But if lust is high, and budget is low, it’s nice to have choices.

So, though it may share running gear with the Mini, the X1 is pure BMW. And along with the 2-series coupe, we’re finding that the budget Bimmers are some of the most engaging models they sell. And, yeah, they got us singing their tune. Still.







About The Author

Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round -- whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, or learning to surf.