After a brief stay in Michigan, our Four Seasons BMW X1 xDrive28i was quickly dispatched to our two editors based in New York.
"You know me, I'm the first to bemoan every new SUV or crossover that hits the market," writes Jamie Kitman, Automobile's New York bureau chief and noted SUV-phobe. "There are too many of them, they all look the same, and they're overpriced relative to the better-handling, often more practical sedans that they almost all owe their existence to.
"Then there's the new BMW X1, which I find myself really liking in spite of its/my-self. For one thing, it's based on a pretty small car, which if you're going to go soft-roading seems to be the most acceptable stratagem; you may be riding high in a fantasyland in your SUV, but you're not harming anyone by doing so. Still, at 3800 pounds the X1 is a bit porky, weighing almost 600 pounds more than a front-wheel-drive Mazda CX-5. But it's a hell of an improvement next to BMW's 5225-pound X6, which won't seat any more passengers. Or carry much more luggage, except in that it telegraphs a lot more about its owner's wealth.
"The other thing that excuses the X1 in my opinion is that as crossovers go, it has foregone form for function -- that is, rather than aping the rugged SUV meme, it lines up squarely in the clown car camp, where practicality rules the day. I'm not talking about the 1- or 2-clown clown machine, like the short-lived Suzuki X-90. I'm talking seriously practical clown car, with room for the whole clown family and their collapsible minibike. Things like the Mitsubishi Expo of years ago; they looked goofy, but they sure had a lot of room, including head, shoulder, and cargo room.
"To me, the BMW X1 is not an object of desire but rather an object of considerable utility. Its price -- $41,000 as tested -- isn't very cheap, but it doesn't feel too cheap, either (though I did manage to brutally pinch my left pinky finger while releasing the driver's interior door handle). Its performance is on the sedate side with the standard four-cylinder turbo engine. And the economy hasn't been anything to write home to mother about, even with its stop/start function active, but it's not terrible. After 256 miles of mixed city and suburban driving, with a fair bit of highway miles thrown in, it showed 23.7 mpg.
"The X1 rear-drive chassis is composed and faithful more than it is inspiring, but it will process and execute all requests quite nicely. In that sense, it is a true BMW. That its body style is dictated in part by function rings a long-lost BMW chord, too."
Senior editor Joe Lorio isn't so sure about Kitman's take on the X1's aesthetics, noting "one look at the X1 makes you instantly realize how awkwardly proportioned other small crossovers are." Still, he does echo Kitman's comments on how well the X1 drives.
"While some other crossovers can be made to handle as well as passenger cars, you still feel as if you driving an SUV. The X1 is different," Lorio writes. "Driving home the other day on the hilly twists and turns of the country roads near my house, it felt exactly as if I were driving a BMW station wagon. That is a good thing. I like the heft and precision of the X1's steering, but it seems nervous on-center. The ride quality is also quite firm, which is fast becoming a BMW character trait.
"The direct-injected turbo four sounds positively diesel-like from outside -- and even sometimes from inside -- particularly at light throttle. It does sufficiently motivate the X1, however. You'd move up to the six-cylinder more for its sound and smoothness than for its power. I got an indicated 28 mpg on my drive from Michigan to New York, which is pretty disappointing for such a small SUV. Here at home, the auto stop/start system is coming into play quite often, although not when the A/C is working hard. After a stop, the engine chugs to life quite noticeably; this is not one of the smoothest auto stop/start systems out there.
"Besides the long drive home from Michigan, I made another highway trip, this time upstate with a party of three. Closer to home, I've been ferrying middle-school kids around. My passengers report that the rear seat is tight but acceptable. Trying it myself, I find the X1 back bench much less roomy than a 3-series sedan. On my ultra-long drive, I had no complaints about front-seat comfort. Stowage space, however, is painfully lacking. The panoramic sunroof really brightens this otherwise drab interior. And unlike the sunroofs in most cars today, you can actually drive with this one open even at freeway speeds with no buffeting.
"The promise of the crossover -- as much as there is one -- is to occupy the middle ground between a passenger car and an SUV. Most, however, hew much more closely to the SUV end of that spectrum. The X1 is an exception. Much more than others of its ilk, it is closer in look and feel to a passenger car (or, more accurately, a BMW station wagon). It really does seem to split the difference between car and SUV."