Auto review: With BMW X1, crossover go upscale
"Is that the new BMW X5?" asked my neighbor.
When I tell him it is actually the X1, two sizes smaller, he looks perplexed. "It has grown up!"
Exactly. It has grown up — casting a wider shadow from a body that's noticeably more sophisticated. It's pretty nice inside, too. But is it a real BMW — a legitimate driving machine?
Unlike the previous generation, the 2016 BMW X1 looks more like a crossover than a station wagon, presenting itself as a scaled down X3 or X5. BMW's trademark twin-kidney grille, quad headlamps and Hofmeister kink window line all return for this fashion show, but the body sides are more chiseled and the rump more sculpted. Planted over 18-inch alloys, the bigger wagon looks more sophisticated and a proper addition to ritzy little driveways.
The 2016 X1 is 1.7 inches taller and more welcoming to rear passengers with 2.6 inches more rear legroom. Unlike some competitors that pack legs tightly, the X1 has enough space for real humans to ride in the back for long distances. Power-folding rear seats and a power liftgate open a cavern for their cargo.
It seemed Tupperware outfitted the last-generation X1's interior. Doors, consoles and dashboards were filthy with hard plastic. Designers apparently received the memo because they specified more soft-touch surfaces that are in line with BMW expectations. Door stitching and styling could have come from a 7-Series. Choose your favorite aluminum-look or wood grain trim, but the "fine-wood oak grain" in our car added ambience.
Beyond legroom, passengers ride comfortably. The bottom seat cushions look one size too small, but they're comfortable, heated, and the side bolsters hug you in the right places. You can barely tell they're faux leather, though the ivory color attracts jean rub-offs like sweaters collect cat hair. Automatic climate control and rain-sensing wipers make driving easier while the thick heated leather-wrapped steering wheel and classic analog gauges make driving more enjoyable. Sunlight flows through the panoramic roof.
It's taken a decade and a half, but I'm slowly warming to BMW's iDrive infotainment system. It's still a confusing array of menus for adjusting audio, navigation and vehicle functions when simple knobs and buttons would suffice. But at least it's comprehensive. Twirl the dial to click into the sweet-sounding 12-speaker Harman/Kardon audio system. A rear camera and lane keep assist enhance safety — as does park distance control, which shows which parallel parking spaces can accommodate the vehicle.
Quick spirit flows from the 2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that delivers 228 horsepower, 258 pound-feet of torque — good for a 0-60 mph run in just 6.3 seconds. Drive with less throttle to see 22 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. Thank the eight-speed automatic transmission and auto stop/start for the latter. Moving power to pavement is BMW's xDrive all-wheel-drive system that can shift up to 100 percent of the engine's power to the front or back wheels.
The X1's chassis is firm when you want to plant it into a corner, but compliant over rough pavement. Selectable drive modes adjust the throttle, steering and transmission. Eco Pro mode saves fuel by disengaging the powertrain when the driver lifts off the throttle between 30 and 100 mph. Clever regenerative braking powers the electric power steering and fuel/coolant pumps. Hill descent control helps the crossover creep down hills during gentle off-roading, but I'd stay away from the Rubicon Trail.
I liked the first-generation X1, but it fell short of what BMW buyers would expect in terms of style, features, powertrain refinement and interior space. It was a host of compromises made to draw more buyers into the BMW fold. That's not the case with the new X1. It's still the most affordable BMW crossover for attracting younger and less-affluent drivers, but it also appeals to buyers who simply do not want a larger vehicle. If BMW continues working on the interior details, including the confusing iDrive system, the X1 will be near top-of-class.
My neighbor was really surprised by window stickers that start at just $34,800, but came to $43,120 as tested. Competitors include the Acura RDX, Mercedes-Benz GLA, Range Rover Evoque, Buick Encore, Lincoln MKC, Infiniti QX50 and Audi Q3.