2016 BMW X1 xDrive28i
Why such a dramatic opening? Other than my obvious ploy to get your attention the latest X1 breaks from what was previously considered sacrosanct rear-wheel drive tradition and instead is based on a front-wheel drive architecture shared with the Mini Countryman. Will the majority of X1 buyers care? Not one iota, and neither should you. What should matter more is its category-best performance that’ll shoot you from zero to 60 in just 6.3 seconds, segment-best headroom from front to back, and best-in-class cargo volume.
More so it’s hardly a forerunner into front-wheel drive BMW territory, being that the 2 Series Active Tourer has been available in other markets for two years already plus the new 2 Series Gran Tourer expands on the concept with three rows of Euro-MPV family splendor for 2016, while on top of this the U.S.-spec X1 comes standard with xDrive all-wheel drive.
The new X1 is better proportioned than the outgoing model, looking more like a tiny X5, while most substandard plastics have been eradicated from the interior. The instrument panel is now soft touch synthetic all the way down below the driver’s knees and across the glove box lid on the passenger’s side, the nice pliable composite even stretching all the way down the center stack where it meets up with the lower console. Additionally, the top right section of that console gets wrapped in padded stitched leatherette, although BMW left the lower portion of the console and lower door trim in harder plastic. This is par for the course in the subcompact SUV class, and certainly reasonable when factoring in that a number of competitive brands don’t even do as well with their compact and mid-size SUVs. Of course, the entire dash top is comprised of the nicer premium plastic, the front pillars are wrapped in fabric and the dash and door inlays on my tester were finished in beautiful authentic hardwood. These are edged with beautiful satin-silver aluminum, similar silver trim showing up elsewhere around the cabin too, while BMW details out the center stack and lower console in piano black lacquer, not a favorite of mine due to dust magnetism and a propensity to scratch easily, but it looks gorgeous when new. All-round it’s a more attractive, more upscale SUV both inside and out.
All X1 switchgear is expectedly excellent, BMW a leader in this respect, while my tester’s primary gauges consisted of two traditional looking analog dials unconventionally floating within a digital background. The left-side tachometer and speedometer on the right included TFT readouts in their bottom sections for fuel and various other functions respectively, the latter including gear selector, auto start/stop, battery regeneration indicators and more, while that lower meter will change from blue to red depending on whether it’s set to Eco Pro or Sport modes; it defaults to Comfort mode. The digital background lights up with other information when needed, including a color multi-information display at center.
Over on the center stack is BMW’s optional 8.8-inch tablet-style infotainment display with crystal clear resolution, rich colors, deep blacks and attractive graphics, albeit a rather small main screen area and no 7 Series-style pinch and swipe touchscreen capability like others in the segment. I like the widescreen look and don’t mind abbreviated height as it’s proportional to the dash overall and includes loads of useful features starting with a brilliantly clear backup camera featuring active guidelines as well as an adjoining graphic that animates the front and rear parking sensors along with multicolored green, yellow and red warnings to let you know when you’re getting too close to something. Access to the radio, media, phone and navigation comes via BMW’s usual rotating iDrive controller that now comes complete with a touchpad top allowing finger written letters and numbers for quick prompts and more, the controller and overall interface plenty easy to use without taking eyes off the road, whereas an electronic parking brake sitting nearby on the lower console maximizes available space.
Ergonomically, everything a driver needs to access is within easy reach, while the ideally shaped leather-wrapped sport steering wheel, enhanced with steering wheel paddles for shifting through the X1’s standard eight-speed automatic transmission proved almost as enjoyable as the driver’s seat, which was superbly comfortable and supportive in all the right ways. What’s more, the Mini-sourced UKL platform architecture noted earlier allowed BMW to raise the X1’s ride height for a more SUV-like driving experience that includes better outward visibility.
The rear seats don’t have the same sculpted shape to ensconce backside, but they’re quite supportive with decent lower back support. Two full-size adults will be more than comfortable with three abreast in a pinch, my five-foot-eight frame resulting in about six to seven inches of knee room when the driver’s seat was set to my height, and above five inches above my head, and that’s with a panoramic sunroof overhead; again the new platform gets the credit. Additionally, folks in back get nicely padded armrests and door inserts plus a sizable folding center armrest that includes a shallow lidded bin and twin cupholders.
My tester featured a powered liftgate that opens up to a surprisingly roomy 17.8 cubic-foot cargo compartment when the rear seatbacks are upright, which is 3.0 cubic feet more space than the model it replaces thanks again to the UKL platform. If more is needed there’s a power-release button on each side of the cargo wall that automatically drops the seatbacks into an almost perfectly flat position, the result being 58.7 cubic feet of gear toting space for a 7.0 cubic-foot advantage over its predecessor. Continuing from old to new model is a flexible 40/20/40 configuration that allows two occupants in the rear outboard positions with everyone’s skis down the middle, making the X1 an ideal winter activity vehicle. And just a warning for those who’ve long called for quicker closing liftgates, you’d better get out of the way as this one closes quicker than most. I jest, of course, as it’ll automatically stop if it senses something in the way. The cargo area is trimmed out nicely as well, with high-grade carpeting on the floor, seatbacks and sidewalls, a finishing touch to what is one of if not the best interior in the subcompact SUV class.
That category is growing yet still remains one of the least populated in the industry, the X1’s key competitors being the Audi Q3, Mercedes GLA, Range Rover Evoque and upcoming Infiniti QX30, while BMW AG’s own Mini Countryman plus the similarly upscale Fiat 500X and Buick Encore represent threats from more proletarian roots (as do top-line versions of the Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage if you’re not concerned about brand image).
I’d need to test these little utes back to back on a track to proclaim best overall handling, although from memory the previous X1 was near top of the heap. Likewise, some time with new and outgoing X1s side-by-side would be required before I’d be willing to go down on record as to how much better the old one was at the limit, the new one seeming softer sprung and a bit bouncier over uneven pavement, even in Sport mode. Before I start to come across as negative, which isn’t my intention, the outgoing model was a bit too sporting for its own good, most buyers in this segment preferring comfort over speed, so therefore the new X1 is more enjoyable on an everyday basis while taking to corners well enough when required. An important note, the X1 tested was not in its sportiest trim, but rather came shod with even smaller 17s on winter rubber than the base model’s 18s with all-seasons, let alone the available 19s.
Speaking of options there’s no longer an available six-cylinder, the new X1 only available in four-cylinder turbocharged xDrive28i trim. While displacement is the same the engine isn’t, this one being the B46 version of BMW’s new modular 2.0-liter four, similar to the B48 used in the aforementioned front-drive 2 Series Active Tourer and the recently redesigned Mini Cooper S, albeit upgraded for JCW (John Cooper Works) Minis as well as this X1, making more power in this application yet still down 12 horsepower when compared to last year’s X1. It still produces a considerable 228 horsepower mind you, while its 258 lb-ft of torque remains the same, the X1’s overall engine performance more about smooth and seamless than abrupt and peaky. Still, acceleration felt quite quick despite a substantive 3,659-lb curb weight, which while hefty for a subcompact SUV is nevertheless 66 lbs lighter than last year’s X1 xDrive28i.
Despite the drop in power the new X1 gets the same fuel economy as its predecessor with an EPA rating of 22 mpg city, 32 highway and 26 combined, any lack of gain possibly to do with the new taller vehicle’s aerodynamics or more likely the choice of a new transmission supplier, the aforementioned eight-speed automatic now sourced from Toyota-owned (30-percent) Aisin instead of ZF, BMW’s usual supplier. It worked flawlessly throughout my weeklong test, providing smooth yet quick shifts that benefited from manual mode via a more conventional shift lever than the old joystick, plus the steering wheel-mounted paddles noted earlier.
The biggest difference between old and new could be felt at takeoff, incidentally, with the new X1’s steering becoming lighter than is usual for the brand, this being a combination of its softer suspension tuning and FWD-biased AWD. Any vehicle will squat at the rear end when getting hard on the throttle, with softer suspension tuning experiencing more squat, which adds traction to RWD vehicles (to a point) and removes grip from FWD vehicles, the latter also true for some AWD models based on FWD architectures like the X1. It takes a moment to shift power from the front wheels to those in the rear, while all the torque immediately going through the front wheels can mess with the temporarily lighter steering. This is why BMW has stuck to RWD and RWD-based AWD so adamantly over the years, but as it’s grown into a much more complete premium brand that targets traditional luxury buyers as well as performance enthusiasts, adherence to such core brand principles have become less critical to its overall success.
Like I said earlier, this change in X1 character will make zero difference to 99 percent of BMW buyers. I know this because I’ve witnessed the responsible way most of these owners drive, which isn’t at all how BMWs were designed to be driven but is nevertheless a very good thing here in the majority of U.S. states where laws prohibit autobahn speeds. For this reason the current X1 makes a lot of sense, because it’s a beautiful little luxury SUV that’s wonderfully finished, superbly economical, and still plenty of fun to drive, delivering road manners that come very close to BMW’s usual skillset while doing so at a price that’s much more reasonable than a dedicated rear-drive subcompact platform would otherwise be.
The X1 tested was very well equipped with both its Premium Package and Technology Package, the former adding LED headlights with cornering capability, power-folding mirrors, proximity access, ambient lighting, auto-dimming rearview and side mirrors, a garage door opener, sport seats with powered lumbar, satellite radio, plus a panoramic sunroof, and the latter including a head-up display, navigation, enhanced USB and Bluetooth plus smartphone integration, advanced real-time traffic info, plus BMW Online and Apps. Additionally, the Cold Weather Package combined three-way heatable front seats with a heatable steering wheel, the Driver Assistance Package added a rearview camera, front and rear parking sensors and self-parking capability, while the standalone 360-watt 12-speaker Harman/Kardon audio upgrade delivered sensational sound.
Along with all these extras and excluding items already mentioned (plus stuff that would obviously be included in any BMW) my $44,075 tester received everything else that’s standard with the $34,800 base X1 including an M Sport suspension, auto on/off headlights, fog lamps, LED DRLs, powered side mirrors with integrated turn signals, pushbutton ignition, rain-sensing wipers, dynamic cruise control, a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, leatherette upholstery, powered front seats with memory, Bluetooth audio streaming, a powered liftgate, hill descent control, tire pressure monitoring and all the usual active and passive safety gear, the latter, along with optional front crash prevention equipment helping the X1 achieve Top Safety Pick Plus status from the IIHS, whereas all X1s earned a five-star rating from its euroNCAP crash tests; it’s yet to be tested by the NHTSA.
Safe, filled with features, beautifully made, great to drive and stylish, the new 2016 X1 is a winner that should be very popular in its subcompact SUV class. Sales are already up more than 112 percent over the first five months of the year, which is a sure sign that both BMW faithful and newcomers to the brand like it a lot. With success like this it’s only a matter of time before we receive yet more blue and white roundel derivatives from this new UKL chassis here in the U.S.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Photo credits: Trevor Hofmann and Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press Copyright: American Auto Press