How much has BMW changed in the past decade? Consider this: In the U.S. market, the brand’s least-expensive vehicle is not a sports sedan or a coupe; it’s a compact crossover SUV.
Officially, BMW calls it the 2013 X1 sDrive28i, which doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue like, say, “BMW 128i,” BMW’s least-expensive car.
The X1 shares its looks with its larger truck siblings, the X3 and X5, but the X1 is closer to a tall wagon than a true truck. Park it next to the X3 and you’ll see that the X1 is almost 5 inches lower and 6.5 inches shorter. Parked next to a true SUV, like a Chevrolet Tahoe, you’ll discover just how small the X1 is.
But compared with the 128i, the brand’s athletic but cramped entry-level coupe, the X1 is positively huge. There’s ample room for two adults up front. While BMW might claim that three people can fit in the rear, in reality, it’s two. Rear seat legroom is adequate if front-row passengers pull their seats forward a bit. Cargo room is impressive, at 25 cubic feet. Given the X1’s compact length, there’s more than enough room for the vehicle’s target audience: young, upwardly mobile types or empty nesters.
And they can choose their X1 in one of three flavors.
The base model is the rear-wheel-drive sDrive28i. This is the one you’ll see advertised next to a $30,800 base price. If you want all-wheel drive, then you’ll have to step up to the xDrive28i. Both vehicles are powered by a 240-horsepower twin-turbocharged four-cylinder engine mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. BMW says that 0-60 mph takes 6.3 seconds.
If that’s not fast enough, opt for the all-wheel-drive xDrive35i with its twin-turbocharged V6 and a six-speed automatic transmission. A manual transmission is not offered with either engine. Choosing the V6 means toting around an extra 165 pounds, but that’s offset by the V6’s additional 60 horsepower. BMW claims the xDrive35i reaches 60 mph one second sooner than the xDrive28i, but you’ll pay for the privilege. Prices start at $38,600.
And, like any entry-level luxury vehicle, the X1’s luxury features are mostly optional. Here’s where you want to tread lightly; the X1 gets spendy quickly.
Consider the test vehicle, an xDrive28i, with its base price of $32,500. Options increased its price by an eye-opening $12,750. Of that, $550 was for its LeMans Blue paint color. Another $3,000 went to the M Sport Line interior, which includes a rearview camera and parking distance control. $1,200 went to xenon headlamps, ambient interior lighting and automatic high beams.
But it was the $6,000 Ultimate Package that added the biggest dollop of lavishness with keyless entry, universal garage door opener, auto-dimming mirrors, power front seats, navigation system, iPod and USB adapter and voice command capability. Other options included heated front seats, satellite radio and BMW Apps, among others.
The bottom line? Almost $46,000. That’s positively pricey for the X1’s size.
No matter what the options load, the xDrive28i’s four-cylinder engine does an impressive job juggling the conflicting demands of power and fuel economy. There’s more than enough power for the parkway grand prix, yet it doesn’t take a toll when it’s time to fill up the tank. In fact, the mileage was stellar for an all-wheel-drive trucklet.
Some of the credit should go to the X1’s stop/start function, which shuts the engine off when the vehicle comes to a stop sign or stop light. It restarts instantly when the driver lifts their foot off the brake. Unlike similar systems from competitors such as Honda and General Motors, which are so smooth that you don’t even know that it’s happening, BMW’s unrefined system makes itself known. The X1 shudders noticeably every time the engine shuts down and restarts. It’s extremely disconcerting. Thankfully, it can be shut off.
Another fuel economy program, Eco Pro, restrains throttle response and makes other adjustments to the vehicle to save fuel.
More satisfying is the X1’s handling, which, as expected, is athletic and inviting. Its steering actually feels as if it’s connected to the road, making this wagon fun to drive.
And, in that regard, it is a true BMW, even if its look and mission suggest otherwise.