2023 BMW X1 xDrive28i Review by Ben Lewis

“Entry Level” is a term that gets a bad rap sometimes. But it can also be a good thing, especially when you’re talking about a premium automotive brand. Case in point is the BMW X1, the company’s entry-level small crossover. It’s the perfect opportunity to function as a gateway drug to the more expensive and exotic Bavarian models. And now, we have an all-new 3rd-generation X1 for 2023. But how does it stand up on its own? Let’s find out!

Cool but not Polarizing Design

With the bold, but maybe too bold direction of many BMW products lately, we were concerned where the new X1 would land, but luckily, it’s a fine blend of new and familiar.

Up front, while there is a new grille, thankfully it has not gotten into cartoonish dimensions. It’s actually about the same size as the previous model, but now is almost perfectly square for a rugged look. Adding to the awesomeness, the grille was completely blacked out in our tester’s M Sport trim. LED headlights with “L” style signature driving lights and large M Sport lower grilles combine to form a sporty face that’s pure BMW.

Slightly longer and wider than the outgoing model, the X cuts a sporty stance, and the profile has a high shoulder line, pronounced fender flares and an aggressively swept-back A-pillar that makes it look more like a tall hatchback than a small SUV. Finishing off the athletic vibe, our tester’s M-Sport-exclusive 18-inch, M V-spoke bi-color alloy wheels.

At the rear, slender horizontal L-shaped LED taillights echo the front driving lights, for a crisp look, while an integrated spoiler above the rear window adds some Aero cred. A contrasting lower fascia adds some visual toughness, but surprise! You can’t see any tailpipes. Perhaps BMW is planning a full-on EV model in the future? The finishing touch on our tester was the beautiful Portimao Blue exterior, a rich bold color that really pops!

Fast Forward Interior 

While the exterior looks evolutionary, the interior is revolutionary.

Open the door, and you’re greeted by the BMW Curved display – two seamlessly connected digital displays that create a digital cockpit that’s breathtaking, modern, and fresh. In front of the driver is a cool configurable display that houses important drivers gauges as well as maps, navigation and other displays. To the right, the info-tainment display is BMW’s latest iDrive system that serves up a cool series of “tiles” that you can swipe for navigation, entertainment, climate control, as well as pull up full screen versions of each tile for a better look.

We loved how our WAZE maps looked on the big screen, as well as the 360-degree overhead view that made parking easy peasy.

The steering wheel is one of that fat, leather-wrapped BMW affairs that feels great in your hands, along with some added sportiness, thanks to our model being an M Sport.

A little more controversial is the floating center console that houses the stop/start button, shifter nub, controls for driver modes and a cool burled roller for volume control. We got used to most of it in a hurry, but we continuously found ourselves reaching for the ignition button on the dash – but there wasn’t one there. Overall, we liked the stylish presentation, and it feels like BMW wanted to make this design stand out.

It also stands out in cool things like the high-quality materials throughout the cabin, the cool patterned finishes in the door trim and on the Harmon Karmon Speaker grilles, and the slim horizontal air vents that come together to create an interior that feels spacious and wide.

It’s also comfortable. BMW redesigned the seats for all models, and we loved our M Sport seats which were ultra-supportive and comfortable. We also liked the longer lower seat cushions – the previous model was too short for taller drivers.

Those in back also find good comfort, with a raised seating position that will help smaller passenger still enjoy a good view. And speaking of a good view, our tester’s panoramic moonroof was huge, bringing loads of light into the cabin.

Even though this is BMW’s smallest crossover (unless you count the sibling Mini), cargo space is plentiful with the rear seat up, and impressive with the rears folded. Another plus of the slightly smaller size – we were able to open the hatch fully without smacking into our garage roof.

Big Where it Matters Most

Driving the X1 shows why BMW still calls themselves the Ultimate Driving Machine.

We’ve always loved the responsive 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder turbo that calls many BMWs home, and we’re equally pleased that some fettling gives more power, with 241 hp (up 13) and more importantly a mountainous 295 lb.-ft of torque (up 37!), starting at just 1,500 rpm. This is an engine that loves to pull hard and makes a sweet, throaty sound as it revs for the heavens.

Helping your cause in rapid acceleration is a new 7-speed dual clutch transmission replacing the previous 8-speed auto. We’re a little surprised – BMW does masterful tuning of those 8-speed autos, but there’s no denying the new trans’ rapid-fire shifts – especially in Sport mode.

Which brings up a small sore spot for us. There’s no easy way to shut off the engine start/stop feature in Normal drive, and when pulling away from a stop, there’s a lag as the engine kicks over and gets going. Annoying. The good news is, toggle the transmission nub into Sport and the start/stop is defeated. And you get more sparkling shift response. A win-win.

On M Sport models like our tester, you get the added joy of paddle shifters putting quick cog changes at your fingertips. Even better, the shift paddles also enable a Sport Boost function. When the driver pulls the left-hand shift paddle for at least a second, all the powertrain and chassis settings are primed to maximize their sporting responses for the most immediate acceleration possible. F1 Fun!

Another win in our book, BMW’s xDrive 4-wheel drive is now standard on all X1 models. It’s a fun and frugal system, reverting to efficient front wheel drive when extra grip isn’t needed, and then kicking the rear wheels in as required. Along with a redesigned and responsive steering system, the X1 is a delight to cut and thrust through traffic or tackle a curvy road. The optional Adaptive Sport Suspension firms things up when you’re getting with the program. And did we mention those sports seats really hold you in place?

The X1 also proves to be a comfy long-distance commuter, with a supple ride in Normal mode, less outside noise, and plenty of oomph when it comes time to pass. The X1 loves to play and makes even the dull drives fun. The mark of great sporting vehicle!

How Much for a Trip to Driverland?

Entry level works in your favor with the new X1. Prices start at $38,600 – for a premium performance vehicle with loads of features, power and state of the art tech and safety, a bargain.

Like most Europeans brand, the options list can be long and tempting. Our tester added lots of goodies, including Portimao Blue paint ($650), Shadowline Package ($300), M Sport Package ($2,300), Premium Package ($4,200) and heated front seats and steering wheel ($550). Add in $995 for Destination, and we rang the bell at $48,195. Reasonable, considering all you get.  

Competitors that include a great drive and style would include the Volvo XC40 at $50,645, and for the bargain hunters, we’d also look at the Mazda CX50 at $43,170. Each embodies their own brand’s ethos – it’s just up to what floats your small crossover boat!

Great style, enhanced performance, and all that Bavarian goodness in an affordable package, the all-new 2023 BMW X1 is a wonderful drive and a great entry into a wonderful brand!

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, and learning to surf.

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