It took my wife all of 5 seconds to be impressed with BMW’s littlest SUV. “Hey, great seats,” she said sliding into the passenger seat. “Feels like a real BMW.”
My wife should know: While riding alongside me, she’s “test-driven” the passenger seats of hundreds—maybe thousands—of press cars. Just a few minutes later, after we motored down some city streets and zapped the S-shaped entrance ramp onto L.A.’s 405 freeway, I was already starting to agree. The 2016 BMW X1 might be the “baby” in the Bavarian maker’s X lineup, but it feels true to the blue-and-white propeller badge on its nose.
The X1 is all-new for 2016, the second-gen version of a model introduced stateside just three years ago. And it’s radically different from its predecessor. Whereas the previous version was based on a rear-drive platform and offered six-cylinder power, the new X1 rides on a front-drive platform shared with the Mini Cooper Clubman (BMW’s 2 Series Active Tourer also uses it, but it won’t be sold here). A 2.0-liter turbo-four is the one and only engine offering. The X1 has also grown dramatically in height; unlike its forebear, there is no mistaking this one for a tall wagon.
Frankly, prior to taking the wheel, I didn’t expect a whole lot. A front-drive-biased chassis, four-cylinder power only, a higher center of gravity … on paper, the new X1 seemed an obvious step backward. But that’s what test drives are for: We aimed the all-wheel-drive 2016 BMW X1 xDrive28i north for a roughly five-hour blast from Los Angeles to San Jose and back. During that road trip, and in the days that followed upon our return to L.A., the new X1 won me over. Below are a few impressions from my notebook:
- The interior is vastly improved. The standard SensaTec seat material, in an attractive Canberra Beige hue on my tester, could almost pass for genuine leather (which is optional). It’s soft, textured with a nice pebble finish, stitched to perfection. Optional “Fineline” wood-grain trim looks expensive but isn’t (just $350). The three-spoke leather steering wheel feels meaty in your hands. Adding the Premium Package ($3,250) nets power-folding mirrors, keyless entry, a massive panoramic moonroof, and more. This is a lovely and businesslike environment for long-distance touring, a massive step up from the low-rent materials and ambiance of the first X1.
- Rear-seat passengers now have it really good. Rear-seat legroom jumps up to 2.6 inches with the available $300 “Slide and Recline” option. It’s a boost in spaciousness you can really feel. The back seat is no longer tight; in fact, it’s inviting. And should you need to carry cargo, the rear seatbacks power-drop at the touch of a button; the voluminous resulting space is accessible via a foot-activated power liftgate and a low 28-inch load height.
- If you’re hungry for power and acceleration you’ll miss the inline-six, but otherwise you won’t. The turbo-four is an absolute gem on the freeway. At times, I was breezing along in a line of cars doing 80 to 90 mph, and the little mill just hummed quietly and happily—almost as if to say, “That’s all you got?” Around town, the eight-speed automatic deftly scissors through the torque band to keep the little four-banger working at max efficiency. (It’s worth noting, too: The full 258 lb-ft torque peak is on tap at just 1,250 rpm.)
- The iDrive control system still isn’t perfect—you have to skip from, say, controlling the audio system to the climate control without both screens being available simultaneously—but it’s getting easier to navigate. I don’t think I cursed it once. Speaking of navigation, the optional GPS system ($1,200) worked quite well, and on several occasions the Real Time Traffic Information (RTTI) system successfully navigated us around nasty backups.
- Yes, at its heart this all-wheel-drive crossover is indeed a BMW. Steering response is quite fine, and the chassis—riding on standard 18-inch alloys—nibbles into bends crisply, with little body roll. Even better, it does it without the compromise of beating your backside on broken asphalt.
All in all I came away from my week in the X1 pleasantly impressed. The new model might not be as driver-centric as the original, but it’s far better all-around—thanks to the cushier, roomier cabin and still-pleasing driving dynamics. Without a back-to-back compare, it’s difficult to make hard and fast judgments, but compared with such rivals as the Audi Q3, Mercedes GLA, Range Rover Evoque, and Lincoln MKC, BMW’s new baby X may well be the petite sport-ute to beat.
2016 BMW X1 xDrive28i Specifications
2.0L turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4/228 hp @ 5,000 rpm,
258 lb-ft @ 1,250 rpm
|Layout:||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV|
|EPA Mileage:||22/32 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H:||175.4 x 71.7 x 62.5 in|
|0-60 MPH:||6.3 sec (est)|
|Top Speed:||130 mph|