The X1 is BMW's ultimate compromise machine in the car-as-truck-as-SUV-as-wagon-as-city-vehicle category. It's aimed at undecideds who want a BMW that's attractive and can carry stuff while sitting high up, but not too high up. Being able to park it easily, even in downtown New York, is good too, as are the fuel and emissions efficiencies. The X1 has been a huge success elsewhere, and we ourselves thought it was a pretty good idea when we drove one last year.
Since shipments began worldwide from BMW's factory in Leipzig, Germany, the X1 has quietly sold over 300,000 units, almost all of those in Europe. For a small sport activity vehicle that costs a BMW-style premium, that really is a huge number of units. BMW is pretty accustomed to this sort of success with its Sports Activity Vehicles, as it likes calling them. When it started out in late 2003 and was the only small premium crossover vehicle out there, the original BMW X3 sold nearly 250,000 units through 2007, and the general public didn't seem to notice.
But other premium automakers did, and now everyone offers a small SUV or crossover. Either that or they're stupid because they don't. When we first drove the X1, we immediately understood what BMW was saying about its big plans for this trucklette. The X1 (no matter what you personally feel about its smallness) has nearly perfect proportions, the design details are solid overall, and it frankly makes a much better original X3 than the actual X3 did back at the end of 2003. And just ahead of the X1's imminent arrival on our own shores, this smallest of BMW activity vehicles has received its first mid-life update.
As a sign of the X1's wild popularity, BMW will soon start building the X1 in China in addition to selling Leipzig-built units in North America by October of this year. In Europe, there's a range of eleven model choices now. The seven diesel models – from an sDrive16d designation up to an xDrive25d – start at 114 horsepower and go up to 215 horsepower, and rate torque at between 192 pound-feet and 332 lb-ft. Meanwhile the four current gas models for the EU are the sDrive18i, sDrive20i, xDrive20i, and xDrive28i. These latter range between 148 hp and 241 hp, and between 148 and 258 lb-ft.
This thundering xDrive35i delivers 302 hp and 295 lb-ft while accelerating to 60 in 5.3 seconds.
Of the models sold in Europe, the United States will be getting only the xDrive 28i. Fortunately, that's not the only model we'll be getting at our launch, however. The North American rollout in October will also include a rear-wheel-drive sDrive28i model, as well as this thundering xDrive35i delivering 302 hp and 295 lb-ft while accelerating to 60 miles per hour in an estimated 5.3 seconds. Can we hear a holy moly of built-up expectations!
Not only are there all of these engine/drivetrain variants possible depending on the market, but you can also choose (yes, even in America) between the basic trim level X1, or add one of three available optional trims: xLine ($1,900), Sport Line ($1,900) and M Sport Line ($2,500 for 35i, $3,000 for either 28i). And don't get us started on the massive array of individual options possible. Pricing set (destination charges included) for the three X1 models coming to the U.S. are $31,545 for the base sDrive28i, $33,245 for the xDrive28i and $39,345 for the xDrive35i.
Every X1 trim on the menu in Europe comes available with a six-speed manual shifter standard and clutch pedal thrown in at no extra charge. The X1s for the U.S. spit on manual transmissions, getting only auto 'boxes.
The X1s for the U.S. spit on manual transmissions, getting only auto 'boxes.
We're familiar with the engine in the 28i models; the great N20 TwinPower Turbo four-cylinder and eight-speed automatic tranny – with 241 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque – will account for the lion's share of X1 sales in the U.S. But we had to spend as much time as possible with the U.S.-only 35i, in this case in Sport Line trim. Would it be a repeat of our feelings towards the 3 Series lineup where we consistently prefer the 28i versus the 35i?
Immediately upon sitting in the red leathery cockpit (a $1,450 option), we noticed that BMW had substantially upgraded the atmosphere inside the X1 over the launch model. Everything has been touched up, made to feel more premium, and frankly more BMW as we expect. The Sport Line trim includes several gloss black and matte black touches to the exterior, 18-inch wheels wrapped in Pirelli Cinturato P7 run-flat tires at 225/45 R18 91Y m+s, a special red-stitched three-spoke leather steering wheel and "BMW Sport" details in the door sills. In addition, the center console is restyled for simplicity and angled more toward the driver.
Cargo space is decent at between 14.8 and 47.7 cubic feet, but it's the flexibility that steals the show.
Interior room for four adults is just fine and the upmarket eight-way adjustable sport seats are one of the best things on the X1 in this trim. Cargo space is decent at between 14.8 and 47.7 cubic feet, but it's the flexibility of the cargo area and the 40:20:40 rear seat backs that steals the show. Space underneath the rear floor is also quite usable and keeps things from flying around back there. Also standard on the 35i is a full-length moonroof with two-pane retractable setup that we indulged in during our German visit.
Further touches outside include slightly more accentuated aero body touches, such as the side skirts, plus new LED fringe lamps in the headlight units, while Xenon headlights are standard on the 35i. The most effective change of all on the exterior, though, is the smaller border of plastic scuff material all around the lower part of the car. The change really adds class to the X1 look, plus the fact that this smaller scuff line is now painted body color.
As for this xDrive model with 35i performance, automatic six-speed and 18-inch wheel/tire setup, the 3,891-pound performer did alright for itself. In this particular configuration, the X1 is a strong vehicle and we soon found a groove over the Bavarian two-lanes. In fact, this particular X1 feels a lot like the finest 3 Series saloon as it cruises down the road. Steering here remains hydraulic and feels perfectly at home in this trim – and it didn't hurt that the Bavarian countryside is beautiful and we were just in a smooth carving mood.
That there is a six-speed automatic transmission on the 35i trim is completely confusing.
That there is a six-speed automatic transmission on the 35i trim is completely confusing, however. All other 35i trims from BMW get the eight-speed Steptronic, even the new M135i from M Performance, which will also have an xDrive version later on, so there are no physical excuses why we could not have had the eight-speed in our X1 xDrive35i. The veritable chasm between the first and second gear ratios on this old six-speed – 4.71 then 2.34 – helps create lagging moments that the eight-speed would fairly cure.
Also standard is a stand-alone Eco Pro mode button that's typically included in BMW's Driving Dynamics Control suite. But DDC with its Comfort, Sport, and Sport+ modes isn't an option in any trim on the X1. This lack of features at this level – i.e. xDrive35i – sticks out for us. Put it all together and we start leaning toward either of the 28i models versus this particular 35i built exclusively for North America.
It is with both Eco Pro mode and the standard start-stop function activated where the X1 achieves optimal fuel efficiency and lowest emissions. EPA figures aren't available yet, but BMW promises at least a 10-percent improvement in these figures.
Put it all together and we start leaning toward either of the 28i models versus 35i.
Frequently finding ourselves in inclement weather, we would definitely go for the 187-pound-heavier xDrive setup no matter the engine. The temptation is strong to get the costlier M Sport Line trim package that lowers the X1 chassis, gives it a more rigid suspension, and ups the thresholds of the Dynamic Stability Control suite of drive tools. In fact, another new feature is called Performance Control that works via the DSC. In this setup, the default torque split between front and rear axles during steady state cornering becomes 20-percent front and 80-percent rear. A type of torque vectoring also occurs, braking the inner rear wheel and giving light throttle to the outer to better get through the curves.
That our xDrive35i Sport did not have the optional sport steering wheel with shift paddles was just another omission to wonder about. With the default suspension setup of the X1, too, the run-flat tires felt a little, well, flat.
At the end of the day, we still have warm and good feelings toward the X1. But our thrill and excitement over this xDrive35i trim with all of its potential finished the day a bit of an over-puffed question mark. Either chassis (sDrive or xDrive) of the 28i trim with the eight-speed and sport steering wheel would be a better choice and cost pleasantly less.
At the end of the day, we still have warm and good feelings toward the X1.
Or we could just go and buy a 335i Sports Wagon with all of the things we need, with or without xDrive. The X1 xDrive35i is that odd of a duck.