I know a guy who used to own a BMW 318ti, like most 318 shoppers he paid way too much for a hatchback because it had a roundel on the front. At some point he realized that 25-grand (in 1997) was an awful lot to have been paid for an asthmatic 138 horsepower rattletrap and sold it. Likewise the fog lifted at BMW and they refocused on their volume models. Then came the 1 series, a fantastic little car that hasn’t exactly set the sales charts on fire. The Germans are a persistent race however, so for 2013 they are fishing with fresh bait. Join us as we look at the cheapest BMW in America, the 2013 BMW X1.
OK, so BMW would probably prefer that we called the X1 “the most affordable” BMW in America, but I suffer from political incorrectness. So what is the X1? It’s a crossover of course. While that term has lately become synonymous with “ginormous FWD soft-roader” the X1 is more of a “true” crossover in that it looks like a pregnant hatchback. The over all look and proportions of the X1 appear to be a handsome BMW version of a Subaru Outback of Volvo XC70. The comparison isn’t far off the mark since the X1 is a cousin of the 1-Series (E87) and 3-Series (E90).
Germans car engineers don’t understand America. Sure, they understand driving dynamics and styling, but the Burger King drive-thru is incomprehensible to the German engineer. It’s obvious they are making effort to understand us, bless their little hearts, but I think an American field-trip is in order for the guy who designs center consoles in Bavaria. Go to the south, my friend, go to the south. When the X1 arrived, I was starving. Being a lover of convenience, I headed to Taco Bell. It was at that point I noticed I had only one cup holder. Behind my right elbow. After consulting the instruction manual, I found the other one. If you look at the picture below, you’ll see it: a funky little thing that inserts into a slot in the center console to the right of the shifter. When it’s not inserted, you have an odd little hole with a springy-cover concealing its depths. When it is you have a cup holder positioned to splash its contents on your iDrive controls and your passenger will complain about their knee hitting it all the time. BMW: you got the X5 and X6’s cupholders so right, what happened?
Part of what went wrong with the 318 was the drivetrain. Instead of jamming an engine Americans were familiar with under the hood, they used an asthmatic 138HP four-banger from Europe. Learning from that lesson, BMW fit their latest and greatest 2.0L turbo engine and 8-speed automatic in the sDrive28i and xDrive28i. Producing 240HP from 5,000 to 6,000RPM and 260 lb-ft of twist from 1,250 to 4,800RPM, and pitted against a base curb weight of 3,527lbs, performance is more than adequate, but decidedly “un-BMW” is you are used to the old inline sixes. The Kansas-flat torque curve that drops precipitously after 6,000 RPM is a stark contrast from BMW’s old engines that loved to sing at high RPMs. Proving that BMW loves America we get an optional powertrain that’s not available anywhere else. For $38,600 BMW will jam their 300HP twin-scroll turbo six under the hood but you loose the 8-speed auto in favor of the older 6-speed ZF unit.
The X1’s wide rubber pays real dividends when you encounter a corner with more grip I had expected. That grip combined with a neutral weight balance makes the X1 predictable and confident out on the road in a way that reminded me of it’s big brother X5M. I attribute some of this great feel to the hydraulic power steering that somehow makes its way into the xDrive28i model. Should you prefer RWD driving dynamics or that extra MPG, you have to give up steering feel because the sDrive28i uses BMW’s lifeless electric assist unit.
Adding AWD to the 2.0L turbo drops those numbers to a still respectable 22/33/26 MPG. Over 544 miles I averaged a lower 22.9MPG, largely due the way the X1 devours winding mountain roads. That oddly brings me to the Mini Countryman, which is really the only competition for the X1 since the VW Tiguan doesn’t play in the upper-crust playground. This is a perfect example of the right hand stabbing the left hand. The Mini Countryman is a nice enough vehicle, but driven back to back the X1 is a hoot-and-a-half while the Mini’s FWD manners, less powerful engine and skinny tires register half a hoot. Now I know why the Mini doesn’t come up as a competitive vehicle on BMW’s website.
As the 318 proved, there’s more to life than a low sticker price. The X1 on the other hand is more than just the least expensive BMW on the lot, it may very well have the highest fun/dollar ratio of any modern BMW. It’s also one of the few vehicles I would actually buy if my money was on the line.
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