2013 BMW X1 xDrive35i Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

Whatever you do, don't call the BMW X1 a crossover or a wagon, because it is neither. BMW would have you call it a Sports Activity Vehicle, although that doesn't really mean much, because both the X3 and the X5 get the same marketing moniker and they're both much taller-riding vehicles.

The thing is, the X1 really is a little different, being taller than a typical wagon but significantly lower than the average compact crossover: At 1,545 mm tall it's 63 mm lower than the upcoming Audi Q3 crossover, for example, but 117 mm taller than the Audi A4 Allroad wagon.

So what is the X1, exactly? The short answer is: it's really rather good.

The X1 was introduced to Europe for the 2010 model year, and brought into Canada for the 2012 model year carrying the somewhat unwieldy designation "X1 xDrive28i," with power coming from a turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine hooked up to an 8-speed automatic transmission.

For 2013, coinciding with its belated introduction into the U.S. market, a potent turbocharged 3.0-litre six-cylinder version of the X1 joins BMW's North American lineups, called X1 xDrive35i. BMW arranged for me to try a Le Mans Blue xDrive35i for a week, loaded up with the M-Sport, Premium, Navigation and Executive packages, and it proved to a perfect partner for the daily urban grind.

I have to admit up front, however, that the X1 isn't one of those vehicles that necessarily inspires love at first glance. If you were feeling charitable you could argue that form follows function and that the X1 is a thoroughly functional compact package with seating for five and 420 litres of cargo space (1,350 litres with the rear seats folded). If you were feeling uncharitable you might argue that BMW designers made it deliberately odd looking, with a big snout, outsized kidney grilles and a pastiche of curves and details. Certainly it doesn't have the classic grace of Audi's Q3, for example, or even BMW's own 3 Series sedans. On the other hand it's attractive enough from certain angles, and it does have plenty of character.

Slide into the driver's seat and things become much more clearly impressive. The X1 is one of BMW's least-expensive models, so soft-touch and hard-touch materials coexist side-by-side, yet the overall effect is classy and refined. My test car featured nice dark cross-brushed aluminum trim on the dash, with soft-touch materials on all upper dash and upper door surfaces. The door bottoms were hard plastic, which is okay but I'd prefer to have seen softer surfaces used in some other places throughout the cabin, especially above and around the centre stack.

I found the M Sport package's leather-upholstered front sport seats to be superbly comfortable and supportive, and there's plenty of room up front for average-sized adults. The A-pillars are somewhat less obstructive than most cars I've driven lately, contributing to good forward visibility, and there's reasonably good rearward visibility too. In the back, the rear seats offer decent space although legroom is bit tight for taller passengers. A nice touch is the recline-adjustable rear seatbacks with 40/20/40 split folding. You can have the seatbacks pretty much bolt upright if you need the luggage capacity, or otherwise your passengers can recline at a comfortable angle. The cargo cover is a two-piece affair, which means it stows easily but takes some fiddling around to remove.

It's on the road the X1 really comes into its own, with a truly rewarding driving experience. The ride is buttoned down yet still comfortably compliant. The power steering uses a traditional hydraulic rack that offers nice weight and feedback, and the chassis balance is quite superb, with very little roll in the corners and confident grip aided by BMW's xDrive all-wheel drive system. The result: crisp, agile handling that's leaps and bounds ahead of taller crossovers.

The 3.0-litre turbocharged inline-six gives the X1 potent, smile-inducing performance (0-100 km/h takes just 5.6 seconds) and sings a sweet song as it winds up. Although the X1 xDrive35i only gets a six-speed Steptronic automatic instead of the eight-speed unit used in the xDrive28i, there's enough power and torque on tap (300 horsepower and 300 lb-ft) that gear spacing is never a problem. Fuel economy is pretty reasonable given the engine's power, with official city/highway ratings of 11.4 / 7.4 L/100km. As expected my own results weren't quite this good - I used 11.6 litres to drive 86 mostly short-hop city kilometres for an average of 13.5 L/100km. The test car's indicated long-term average economy fell between the extremes at 12.5 L/100km, though one should note that the xDrive35i asks for pricier premium fuel.

The Steptronic transmission includes a sport mode that provides slightly higher shift points and holds gears longer for a more performance-oriented drive, and you can also shift the gears yourself in manual mode using the console-mounted shift lever. Sadly for those who want a sportier "shift-it-yourself" experience, paddle shifters are not available for the X1, and neither is a manual transmission an option - it seems even BMW, long a stalwart holdout when it comes to offering manual transmissions in its small sedans and coupes, is bowing to market realities these days when it comes to mix-it-yourself gearboxes in its Sport Activity Vehicles, at least in North American markets. Fortunately the automatic transmission's Steptronic design offers quick shifts and a nice hooked-up feel, although it could sometimes be a little abrupt on take-up when coming off the line or during low-speed manoeuvres.

BMW continues to do certain things in its own rather individual way, and the iDrive vehicle interface is one example, though other manufacturers are starting to use similar systems and BMW is refining iDrive to be somewhat more mainstream in execution. I found iDrive to be relatively intuitive to use, but sometimes it seemed a little overcomplicated, requiring several steps to do things that should only take one or two. The X1 got bonus points for its optional navigation system however, which features a good-sized wide aspect ratio display screen and nice graphics. The optional premium Harmon/Kardon sound system was likewise impressive with rich, full sound and brilliant clarity.

Price-wise the X1 xDrive35i starts out at $41,995 including destination fees, which is certainly competitive given its premium compact pedigree and potent powertrain. However, most buyers will likely take a significantly bigger hit to the wallet, because BMW's options list simply has to be seen to be believed and there are a lot of packages containing a lot of the most desirable equipment, that can be added on. The official product pricing guide runs to a bewildering 21 pages, and my test car came with its own lengthy spec sheet listing $13,250 worth of options. These included the M-Sport package ($2,900), leather upholstery ($950), Le Mans Blue paint ($800), Premium Package ($1,500, which includes the panoramic sunroof), Executive Package ($1,800, which requires the Premium Package and includes upgradable premium sound), and Navigation Package ($2,200), plus an apps package, parking distance control, the Harmon/Kardon audio upgrade and satellite radio, for an as-tested price of $55,245 including destination.

Because the X1 is a bit of a niche player it's difficult to make direct comparisons, but even loaded up the xDrive35i remains on par with similarly sized premium compacts such as the Range Rover Evoque, and pricing in international markets suggests the Audi Q3 will be in the same range. The difference is that only the BMW offers the advantages of a compact crossover and a wagon rolled into one.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Crossover, BMW, 2013, X1, $40,000 - $49,999, $50,000 - $74,999, Compact,

Organizations: BMW

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page