No, BMW does not sell a 1-series wagon or hatchback in the United States. Yes, the BMW X1 is actually based on the E91 3-series wagon platform. No, you can't get it with a manual transmission here. Yes, you can get it with RWD. No, it isn't really an SUV. Yes, it's actually enjoyable.
(Full Disclosure: BMW wanted me to drive the X1 so badly they delivered one to me, for a week, with a full tank of gas because I asked them to.)
There are various models and trims we'd like BMW to send our way, but we too often let the absence of what we desire blind us from seeing the good we have in front of us. I think the enthusiast's dilemma in re crossovers is that many of them are big, plodding, inefficient things that would be better as hatchbacks or wagons.
Crossovers are the licorice jelly bean of the car world. Some people love licorice jelly beans, but they just taste wrong to anyone with taste. I think we paint too broadly with this brush, though. Yes, a BMW X6M is strange, but it's also fast and ridiculous. Why would we love the Rally Fighter and not the X6M?
I'm not saying we should all run out and buy Venzas. That's bad-crossover. The X6M is good crossover, and I'd argue the BMW X1 is good crossover, too.
Somewhere between a 1-Series hatch and 3-Series wagon in size, the X1 is a nice balance of sporty, capable, and luxurious. It also feels like a damn German car. That's what this is. It's a car. As the wise Mike Magrath pointed out, it's also probably the last new German car we'll get with hydraulic steering and a handbrake.
In a week of use I found it right-sized for a young, professional couple… especially one with a husband who likes to take roads that look more like rally stages and drives too fast around twisty bends.
Is it perfect? No. This is where I bitch that I can't get one with RWD, a manual, hydraulic steering, and the four-banger. I'd still like to try the RWD version, but the AWD's steering makes me almost forget that.
Now that we've gotten all of my complaints out of the way, you now have permission from on high to stop turning your nose up at the BMW X1. Hell, you could even buy one. We wouldn't judge.
BMW likes to make silver cars, which is a shame, because when they do color they do color very well. This model features the $550 Le Mans Blue Metallic. I'm a notorious cheapskate when it comes to cars, even cars that I don't own, so I'll be telling you to shy away from many packages later on. The color, though, is definitely worth it.
The rest of the car? There's a serious tension between the reality of this thing being a car (it's as close to the road as almost anything else you'll drive) and them putting an X on the badge. Straight ahead it looks like you'd expect a 1-series hatch to look, with a strong, teutonic nose and that characteristic kidney grille. The hood, in particular, has some appealing details.
In profile it loses some of that style in an effort to butch up. Throw a jean jacket and tattoos on Natalie Portman and she still kind of looks like Natalie Portman. So it is with the X1.
From behind it looks like a BMW hatchback.
I once spent time with a young woman who had the use of her dad's BMWs. At night the glow of all those bright orange lights spoke to me. They said luxury and performance. Her father was a pilot and the numerous buttons and dials felt like an appropriate choice for an aviator.
He was also one of the scariest motherfuckers I've ever met in my life. When he stared you down all the blood in your body would take on the temperature and consistency of a Slurpee. All this from a grown man wearing a Tweety Bird t-shirt.
The BMW 1-series is far more inviting, with a small but thick and grippy steering wheel, "Nevada" colored leather, and everything you need within reach. It's of the previous era of BMW interiors and thus not quite up to the new 3-series, which has a phenomenal interior, but I have few complaints. Seats are a bit stiff, but they provide enough support when attempting to experiment with lateral acceleration. There's plenty of room upfront and the backseat, while not comfortable for long travel, is fine around town or for children.
Because it's a "crossover" type thing, the seating is sadly a few inches too high. The average buyer will probably like this.
If you want to go really fast you can toss out a lot more money and get the xDrive35i with the massive 3.0-liter six, which will get you to 60 mph in the low five-second range from a dead stop. If you've got the money, go nuts. You'll sacrifice some mileage and only be marginally faster.
I'd still probably go with the xDrive28i, which still manages a time in the low-to-mid sixes. I'm a huge fan of turbo fours and this 2.0-liter is one of the best, pumping out 240 horsepower and a very useful 260 lb-ft of torque that's available in a fat range from 1250 up to nearly five grand. Thanks to the eight-speed gearbox you're always where you want to be.
There's a RWD BMW underneath there somewhere and, even in AWD trim, there's no crab-walking or other bad acceleration habits when taking off in a straight-line.
The brakes feel good, with enough stopping power to keep the hefty little hatchback (it weighs 3,726 pounds) from throwing itself into an intersection. There's a lot of grab but not so much you'll need to visit the chiropractor the next day.
My biggest qualm, though, is with the start-stop system. We've gotten to the point where most manufactures have seamless transitions between full stop/engine-off and the engine winding back up. Perhaps it's my habit of wandering off the brake pedal at stops, but I noticed the start-stop working multiple times. If I notice it, that's bad. You can always turn it off, but I like saving fuel when commuting.
Hey, is that a manual e-brake? Awesome. I'll miss you.
I did exactly what you're supposed to do with BMWs, if ads for BMWs are any indication. I drove to a winery with friends, sampled (very little) wine, and tried to avoid the party of super drunk college girls and their mom who, thankfully, showed up in a limo.
While standing around (and before going to something called Porkapoolza, which was amazing) I bought a bottle of my favorite Viognier. As with many wineries, you get glasses to take with you if you do a tasting and I remembered that I needed to replace a friend's glass from this same winery that I broke earlier this year. For some reason, someone thought it was a good idea to put the stemware in the door pockets and toss the bottle on the floor. They were probably just excited about Porkapalooza.
I tell you all this because, when I got home, I realized the glasses were in the GD door pockets! In most cars, with how I drive, they'd have broken. They didn't. That's a good ride. Sure, it's a little soft, but it's not bad for a crossover.
If you're used to driving an over-boosted modern luxury car you'll probably scoff that turning the BMW requires even the slightest amount of work, sighing that "muscles are for tennis pros and valets."
Sorry, Francis, buying the ultimate driving machine means actually driving, and it's great to see BMW hasn't' abandoned this principle. Sure, it's too tall, but under most circumstances you'll never notice. With a near-perfect 51/49 front/rear weight distribution, it's neutral with almost none of the understeer you find with lots of AWD cars.
Since it's the X1 I took it for a few passes down my favorite gravel path/rally stage and had trouble getting it out of sorts without using the handbrake. It was fast but not as much fun as I'd hoped, even with nannies off. The RWD version might be more hoonable if you desire to be Bill Caswell.
BMW's eight-speed steptronic is only available on the xDrive28i, but if you're going to be stuck with an auto you could do far worse. This box is geared with typically Bavarian precision to keep the turbos spinning and ears grinning. Sure, that's a lot of shifting, but there's enough space in the first two gears to get you up to highway speeds without having to shift a million times.
Shifts are quick and there's no unpleasant hunting between gears for fuel economy, especially when in Drive Sport. In manual mode you've got the option of swapping cogs the new-old fashioned way or with appropriately placed paddles.
It loses a point because I'm still not used to having to press a "Park" button instead of just shifting it into park. I'm sure someone, somewhere likes this.
It'll be a constant struggle to convince BMW that, as enthusiasts, we want to hear the car. Not just the sound of the engine pumped into the car. We want to hear the car. I'm not sure if the TwinTurbo four actually sounds like something I'd want to hear, because I scarcely heard it all.
The sound system is fine, easy enough to use, and fills the space that would normally be reserved for engine noise. I mostly listened to Sirius XMU, as per usual, and appreciated that I could see the full song name.
Germans love packages almost as much as they love attaching as many damn letters and numbers to the end of a name. My X1 xDrive3.14159265359 came with the "Ultimate" package which, when paired with the "Lighting" package and "Driver Assistance Package" meant I had a good NAV system with a backup camera, real time traffic info, LED lights everywhere, and easy Bluetooth integration.
That's all pretty standard for luxury cars (and some economy cars), but subtle details like the LEDs that shine underneath each door handle when you open the car remotely with the fob is a nice touch. BMW's iDrive is also, finally, usable without an instruction manual.
The base $32,350 price for this car is a good deal. You're getting a compact, 3-series hatchback with AWD that performs well, sips fuel, and is faster than the vast majority of crossovers. If I was in the market for something in the 30K range I'd definitely consider this alongside the A3 and would definitely spend the extra lettuce and take this over a Subaru Outback.
Where it starts to lose me is with the numerous packages. Like I said, I'd totally pay extra for the paint and maybe even fork over for the heated front seats, but do I not get any lumbar support if I don't opt for the "Ultimate" package? What about my lumbar? My lumbar has needs.
Engine: 2.0L Turbocharged I4
Power: 240 HP at 5,000 RPM/ 260 LB-FT at 1,250 RPM
Transmission: Eight-Speed Automatic
0-60 Time: 6.3 seconds
Top Speed: 149 mph (properly equipped)
Drivetrain: All-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight: 3,726 LBS
Seating: 5ish people
MPG: 22 City/33 Highway/26 Combined
MSRP: $32,350 ($45,995 As Tested)