In just a few months, BMW’s diminutive 2013 X1 SAV (sports activity vehicle, in BMW-speak), is gaining in popularity despite a minimal amount of advertising and promotion. Why? Easy! It’s the right size, right price and right fuel economy in a very popular and growing category of vehicle – the compact crossover. It’s a winner on paper as well as from the driver’s seat.
While the X1 is new to the US market (sales began in August), it’s been on-sale in Europe since 2009. It was supposed to be here 18 months ago, but BMW didn’t want it competing with the launch of the 2nd generation X3. There’s much more profit in the US-built X3 than the German-built X1.
The X1 is based on the last-generation BMW 3-series wagon and it’s made in the same factory with other 3-series derivatives in Leipzig, Germany. It’s also the only X vehicle not assembled in BMW’s sprawling Spartanburg, South Carolina facility.
Available in “sDrive” (standard, rear-wheel drive) or “xDrive” (BMW’s intelligent all-wheel drive system), the X1 is the least expensive BMW offered in the States, starting at $31,545 (including a $895 destination and handling charge).
If you see it by itself, it doesn’t look that small, but park it next to the X3 or X5, and the size difference is significant. It’s smaller than an Honda CR-V. It’s also only a couple inches taller than the 328i sedan, but in the minds of SUV-crazy Americans, the X1 still qualifies as an SUV, not a dreaded and much-maligned station wagon. That status alone should guarantee sales to exceed the 3er wagon when it arrives next year.
The compact size continues inside. However, there is plenty of leg, head and shoulder room for front seat occupants and my tall frame fit easily. The cabin is very-well built and has a tailored look, like a fine Italian suit. The colors blend well, the plastics and other materials are of high quality. Once you get below the normal sight lines, you can see and feel the cost cutting. Frankly, I like the X1’s interior better than the 328i sedan. One major ding is that the cup holders are all too small and awkwardly placed. The Germans hate cup holders.
The cargo space is also limited – 25 cubic feet with the seats up, 56 with them down. But the standard 40-20-40 split flat-folding rear seats allows for a very versatile interior. There is some flat storage space under the rear cargo floor as there is no spare. Rear seat leg room is tight, as you’d expect in a small vehicle.
I drove the X1 xDrive28i. The powertrain is the now-familiar N20 2.0L direct inject, dual-turbo 4-cylinder engine making 241 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque mated to the telepathic ZF 8-speed automatic found in almost all BMW vehicles. The X1 is a little slower to 60 mph than the sedan primarily due to the extra 400+ pounds. Motor Trend pegs it at 6.4 seconds.
The X1’s powertrain had no hint of turbo lag and whether crawling in heavy traffic or punching hard to get on the freeway, there seemed to be sufficient power. For those who want a completely different experience, the X1 also is available with BMW’s outstanding 3.0L dual-turbo inline six making 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. The X1 xDrive35i starts at $39,345, a healthy $7,800 premium over the base X1. I doubt BMW will sell many of them as the base 2.0L engine is terrific and delivers 25% better fuel economy. Plus, if you have that kind of money, you’ll probably get an X3.
The steering was light and sporty, not lethargic and the 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes felt firm and linear. The turning radius was tight too – a distinct advantage over some front-drive competitors.
I found the X1 to be an excellent, manageable size – terrific for urban areas where parking can be tight. Visibility was pretty good too. The ride height may not please all SUV drivers as it doesn’t provide the prestigious leather throne experience of a larger, taller vehicle like a Range Rover.
Fuel economy is quite respectable for this class of car. The xDrive28i model I drove is rated at 22 city, 33 highway, 26 combined. That’s only a 2 mpg penalty over the 28 mpg for the rear-drive sDrive28i. In fact, compared to the Honda CR-V 2.4L, the Ford Escape 2.0L Ecoboost, the Acura RDX 3.5L V6 and the Mercedes-Benz GLK 350 3.5L V6, the X1 bests all of them, whether in 2- or all-wheel drive configuration.
I found all the controls on the X1 intuitive and familiar, perhaps because I’ve owned two BMWs in the past. The iDrive infotainment navigation system is better than ever, with some short cut buttons now surrounding the mouse-like controller knob in the center console. I found the menus easy to navigate, but with my long arms, I had to crunch my hand backward to work controller knob. Most people won’t have a problem with this and you can get used to it.
One of my biggest complaints about all BMWs is the wholesale use of run-flat tires that are extremely stiff and unforgiving over rough surfaces, particularly with the sports suspension. Your spine is punished for wanting to enjoy the Ultimate Driving Experience.
This problem seemed muted in the X1 I drove. First, the all-season tires are slightly more forgiving and run-flat technology has progressed. Second, of the four X1 model lines – X1 sDrive28i, X Line, Sport Line and M Sport Line – only the latter adds the sports suspension, performance run-flat tires and sports power seats for an extra $3,000. I have a feeling that the M Sport Line model would renew my complaints about ride quality and comfort and I doubt many budget-conscious X1 buyers really care about the sports suspension.
For my money, I’d opt for the Sports Line model which, for $1,900, buys you BMW’s excellent sports seats with 8-way power adjustments for both the driver and passenger. The driver’s side gets a 3-person memory function (including side mirrors) and a nicer set of 18” wheels for the all-season tires.
As with all BMWs, the list of optional equipment is long, and many things that you’d think should be standard are optional. For example, BMW wants $120 for the small satin chrome steering wheel paddle-shifters. You have to pay $895 to upgrade to the excellent Harman Kardon sound system and another $350 for satellite radio with a 1 year subscription.
The Premium Package is almost a must, regardless of the model line you choose. It adds luxury amenities you’d expect in any premium car: Universal garage door opener, digital compass, auto-dimming mirrors, leather seats with power adjustment and memory and a panoramic sunroof. Depending on the model, that can run you a whopping $3,950. The $2,500 Technology Package adds a voice-controlled navigation. That’s painful, but that’s BMW.
A rear view camera should be standard on any luxury SUV – it’s standard on the 2012 Honda Civic – but BMW makes you buy a $950 Driver Assistant Package which includes park distance control. Oh, but in order to select that package, you are required to opt for the pricey $2,500 Technology Package. The head aches.
It’s important to note that all BMWs come with BMW Ultimate Service which covers all scheduled maintenance and routine wear items (except tires) for the 4 year/50,000 warranty period. I can’t emphasize what a powerful sales tool this is for BMW as it hooks in new and returning customers.
I think that as inventories build up, and awareness of the the X1 grows, it will become a very popular vehicle for BMW. It’s close in size to the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape – both of which sell over 200,000 units a year. If the X1 can capture a fraction of that market, it will be an unqualified success. And as Goldilocks would say, it’s “just right.”