Whatever You Want It To Be
If there’s anything car enthusiasts enjoy, it’s arguing about cars. We professional car reviewers are no exception, but in general, we tend to agree on whether a certain vehicle is basically good or bad. Sure, we argue semantics and degree of goodness or badness, but we tend to be on the same page if not reading the same paragraph.
This cannot be said of the new BMW X1. Rarely is the staff so divided about a car, truck, or SUV. Ask one editor, and it’s a great little luxury crossover. Ask another, and it’s an affront to everything BMW used to stand for.
It doesn’t help, either, that the X1 isn’t sure what it is. There’s a roundel on the hood, but it’s a Mini underneath. It’s based on a front-drive architecture despite those ads BMW used to run about how front-wheel drive sucks. It’s a crossover, but it has the same cargo capacity as an all-wheel-drive 3 Series Sports Wagon and can’t tow, either (though it does have an extra 1.5 inches of ground clearance). It’s the smallest crossover BMW makes but still weighs 3,708 pounds (1681.9 kg) as-tested.
With no clear direction from the people behind the car, the gulf between editors was quickly apparent. We can’t even agree on how it looks. Alisa Priddle thinks it looks nice, and Ed Loh finds it “very handsome.” Angus MacKenzie found it predictable, Christian Seabaugh didn’t care for it, and I think it looks like 10 pounds (4.5 kg) of BMW in a 5-pound bag.
There’s little consensus inside, either. I applied the same criticism to the interior as I did the exterior, but Seabaugh was more specific. “Interior materials are cheap, cheap, cheap,” he said. “What’s with the creaky plastic armrest?” Jason Cammisa was no kinder, declaring “the Ford Escape has a better interior.” Priddle and Frank Markus disagreed strongly, with the former calling it “very nice” and both particularly enamored with the wood trim. Most of us agreed the front seats were terrible, with Mark Rechtin convinced they had “no business in a BMW.” Priddle, though, found them supportive, and Chris Walton was happy to vouch for their comfort on long drives, much to the surprise of Jonny Lieberman, who though they were “the worst.” Everyone but Seabaugh agreed the rear seat was surprisingly spacious. There was less of a consensus about the size of the cargo area.
The gulf didn’t narrow much once we began driving, but it did narrow. Walton found the X1 “precise, predictable, and nimble,” and it had better steering than the 3 Series; Cammisa declared it “excellent … with great balance, good grip, and well-weighted (though completely numb) steering.” Markus was less impressed, deeming the handling “decent,” and MacKenzie blamed the tires for spoiling a good chassis. Lieberman thought it handled “unremarkably” and found the driving experience “quite forgettable.” Loh was likewise unimpressed, and I felt it had far too much body roll and not nearly enough grip. Seabaugh said the “steering rack feels as if it’s a Mini steering box on novocaine. Just dull, heavy, slow, and with no feedback. The RAV4 drives better.” For what it’s worth, the X1’s test track performance was nearly identical to a Mercedes-Benz GLA250 4Matic, a crossover we all like. The X1 pulled 0.85 g on the skidpad and ran a 26.8-second figure-eight lap at 0.65 average lateral g.
Despite our differences, there were places we (mostly) agreed. We all felt the powertrain was the best feature on the vehicle, and it showed on the test track. Our all-wheel-drive tester hit 60 mph in a spritely 6.8 seconds and went on to run a 15.2-second quarter mile at 90.5 mph (145.7 km/h). Pretty good for a turbo-four making only 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. The engine received high marks from many editors for smoothness and linearity. The eight-speed automatic was also widely praised for its quick, smooth shifts, although Markus thought the gear selection in Sport mode could be improved, and Rechtin got a couple hard shifts after a simulated panic stop.
The X1 also received near-universal praise for its off-road performance. Driven through deep silt and sand, the all-wheel-drive system acquitted itself brilliantly without engaging any special modes. The tires might not have impressed on pavement, but in the loose stuff, they dug in and kept the vehicle moving while the stability and traction control systems let the wheels spin and claw for grip rather than shutting everything down.
What, then, does all that make the X1? Is it “a respectable, affordable, professionally executed entry level BMW SUV,” as MacKenzie put it, or does it “fail to live up to the brand’s values,” as Seabaugh said? In this case, it falls right in the middle. It’s not as terrible as some editors made it out to be or as good as others defended it as. For an entry-level luxury crossover designed and marketed to customers who have no idea which wheels are driven or why it matters, the X1 is perfectly adequate.
Editor’s Note: Our test car was a 2016; the mostly unchanged 2017 X1 adds a front-drive base model and the M Sport package now includes the M Sport Suspension.
|2016 BMW X1 xDrive28i|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$42,595|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||2.0L/228-hp/258-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3,708 lb (57/43%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||175.4 x 71.7 x 62.9 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.8 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||15.2 sec @ 90.5 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||122 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.85 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||26.8 sec @ 0.65 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||22/32/26 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||153/105 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.76 lb/mile|