2013 BMW X1: Perfect for Goldilocks

January 4, 2013

 

In just a few months, the diminutive BMW 2013 X1 SAV (sports activity vehicle, in BMW-speak), is gaining in popularity despite a minimal amount of advertising and promotion.

Why? Easy! It’s the right size, right price and right fuel economy in a very popular and growing category of vehicle – the compact crossover.

The BMW 2013 X1 SAV is a winner on paper as well as from the driver’s seat.

While the X1 is new to the US market (sales began in August), it’s been on-sale in Europe since 2009.

It was supposed to be here 18 months ago, but BMW didn’t want it competing with the launch of the 2nd generation X3. There’s much more profit in the US-built X3 than the German-built X1.

The X1 is based on the last-generation BMW 3-series wagon and it’s made in the same factory with other 3-series derivatives in Leipzig, Germany. It’s also the only X vehicle not assembled in BMW’s sprawling Spartanburg, South Carolina facility.

The front of the 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i is distinctively BMW. The badging is a mouthful.

The front of the 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i is distinctively BMW. The badging is a mouthful.

 

Available in “sDrive” (standard, rear-wheel drive) or “xDrive” (BMW’s intelligent all-wheel drive system), the X1 is the least expensive BMW offered in the States, starting at $31,545 (including a $895 destination and handling charge).

If you see it by itself, it doesn’t look that small, but park it next to the X3 or X5, and the size difference is significant. It’s smaller than an Honda CR-V. It’s also only a couple inches taller than the 328i sedan, but in the minds of SUV-crazy Americans, the X1 still qualifies as an SUV, not a dreaded and much-maligned station wagon. That status alone should guarantee sales to exceed the 3er wagon when it arrives next year.

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The X1 is just tall enough to qualify as an SUV. The rear kick plate is supposed to establish off-road creds; but it's more style than substance. The X1 is, at best, good for soft roads, plowed mountain roads, bad weather, etc.

The X1 is just tall enough to qualify as an SUV. The rear kick plate is supposed to establish off-road creds; but it’s more style than substance. The X1 is, at best, good for soft roads, plowed mountain roads, bad weather, etc.

 

The compact size continues inside. However, there is plenty of leg, head and shoulder room for front seat occupants and my tall frame fit easily. The cabin is very-well built and has a tailored look, like a fine Italian suit. The colors blend well, the plastics and other materials are of high quality. Once you get below the normal sight lines, you can see and feel the cost cutting. Frankly, I like the X1′s interior better than the 328i sedan. One major ding is that the cup holders are all too small and awkwardly placed. The Germans hate cup holders.

Occupants are tucked neatly in the the X1.

Occupants are tucked neatly in the the X1. The Fineline Bay Matte Wood trim – pictured above – looks quite nice (and real) when you see it.

These cup holders are small by American standards and they are located by your elbow, not exactly in a convenient location.

These cup holders are small by American standards and they are located by your elbow, not exactly in a convenient location.

More detail of the dash in the X1. I like it better than the all-new 2012 328i sedan.

More detail of the dash in the X1. I like it better than the all-new 2012 328i sedan. The colors, textures and flowing lines work very well, in my opinion.

 

The cargo space is also limited – 25 cubic feet with the seats up, 56 with them down. But the standard 40-20-40 split flat-folding rear seats allows for a very versatile interior. There is some flat storage space under the rear cargo floor as there is no spare. Rear seat leg room is tight, as you’d expect in a small vehicle.

This is the cargo area of the X1 xDrive35i with the seats folded down.  There is plenty of space for most small families , couples or singles.

This is the cargo area of the X1 xDrive35i with the seats folded down. There is plenty of space for most small families , couples or singles.

 

I drove the X1 xDrive28i. The powertrain is the now-familiar N20 2.0L direct inject, dual-turbo 4-cylinder engine making 241 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque mated to the telepathic ZF 8-speed automatic found in almost all BMW vehicles. The X1 is a little slower to 60 mph than the sedan primarily due to the extra 400+ pounds. Motor Trendpegs it at 6.4 seconds.

BMW's four cylinder 2.0L direct-inject dual turbo engine in the X1

BMW’s four cylinder 2.0L direct-inject dual turbo engine in the X1

 

The X1′s powertrain had no hint of turbo lag and whether crawling in heavy traffic or punching hard to get on the freeway, there seemed to be sufficient power. For those who want a completely different experience, the X1 also is available with BMW’s outstanding 3.0L dual-turbo inline six making 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. The X1 xDrive35i starts at $39,345, a healthy $7,800 premium over the base X1. I doubt BMW will sell many of them as the base 2.0L engine is terrific and delivers 25% better fuel economy. Plus, if you have that kind of money, you’ll probably get an X3.

The back seats are nicely detailed, but a bit flat and legroom is tight.  Only a child would fit comfortably in the middle seat.

The back seats are nicely detailed, but a bit flat and legroom is tight. Only a child would fit comfortably in the middle seat.

 

The steering was light and sporty, not lethargic and the 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes felt firm and linear. The turning radius was tight too – a distinct advantage over some front-drive competitors.

BMW wants to show the versatility of the X1. You can cram a lot of stuff in the back and with xDrive, you can navigate the sand of a beach.

BMW wants to show the versatility of the X1. You can cram a lot of stuff in the back and with xDrive, you can navigate the sand of a beach.

 

I found the X1 to be an excellent, manageable size – terrific for urban areas where parking can be tight. Visibility was pretty good too. The ride height may not please all SUV drivers as it doesn’t provide the prestigious leather throne experience of a larger, taller vehicle like a Range Rover.

The X1 is a slightly taller 3-series wagon. It's the right size for a very large number of customers.

The X1 is a slightly taller 3-series wagon. It’s the right size for a very large number of customers.

 

Fuel economy is quite respectable for this class of car. The xDrive28i model I drove is rated at 22 city, 33 highway, 26 combined. That’s only a 2 mpg penalty over the 28 mpg for the rear-drive sDrive28i. In fact, compared to the Honda CR-V 2.4L, the Ford Escape 2.0L Ecoboost, the Acura RDX 3.5L V6 and the Mercedes-Benz GLK 350 3.5L V6, the X1 bests all of them, whether in 2- or all-wheel drive configuration.

A comparison of similar-sized compact SUVs from the FuelEconomy.gov website.

A comparison of similar-sized compact SUVs from the FuelEconomy.gov website.

 

I found all the controls on the X1 intuitive and familiar, perhaps because I’ve owned two BMWs in the past. The iDrive infotainment navigation system is better than ever, with some short cut buttons now surrounding the mouse-like controller knob in the center console. I found the menus easy to navigate, but with my long arms, I had to crunch my hand backward to work controller knob. Most people won’t have a problem with this and you can get used to it.

The cabin of the X1 looks a bit tight, but there is plenty of front seat room and all controls are easily accessible.

The cabin of the X1 looks a bit tight, but there is plenty of front seat room and all controls are easily accessible.

 

One of my biggest complaints about all BMWs is the wholesale use of run-flat tires that are extremely stiff and unforgiving over rough surfaces, particularly with the sports suspension. Your spine is punished for wanting to enjoy the Ultimate Driving Experience.

This problem seemed muted in the X1 I drove. First, the all-season tires are slightly more forgiving and run-flat technology has progressed. Second, of the four X1 model lines – X1 sDrive28i, X Line, Sport Line and M Sport Line – only the latter adds the sports suspension, performance run-flat tires and sports power seats for an extra $3,000. I have a feeling that the M Sport Line model would renew my complaints about ride quality and comfort and I doubt many budget-conscious X1 buyers really care about the sports suspension.

For my money, I’d opt for the Sports Line model which, for $1,900, buys you BMW’s excellent sports seats with 8-way power adjustments for both the driver and passenger. The driver’s side gets a 3-person memory function (including side mirrors) and a nicer set of 18” wheels for the all-season tires.

As with all BMWs, the list of optional equipment is long, and many things that you’d think should be standard are optional. For example, BMW wants $120 for the small satin chrome steering wheel paddle-shifters. You have to pay $895 to upgrade to the excellent Harman Kardon sound system and another $350 for satellite radio with a 1 year subscription.

BMW's electronic shifter - found in most new BMWs - is easy to use once you get used to it. Note the third swing-out cup holder for either the passenger or driver. It's right in the way of the passenger's knee. It's beautifully-engineered, but not terribly sturdy.

BMW’s electronic shifter – found in most new BMWs – is easy to use once you get used to it. Note the third swing-out cup holder for either the passenger or driver. It’s right in the way of the passenger’s knee. It’s beautifully-engineered, but not terribly sturdy.

 

The Premium Package is almost a must, regardless of the model line you choose. It adds luxury amenities you’d expect in any premium car: Universal garage door opener, digital compass, auto-dimming mirrors, leather seats with power adjustment and memory and a panoramic sunroof. Depending on the model, that can run you a whopping $3,950. The $2,500 Technology Package adds a voice-controlled navigation. That’s painful, but that’s BMW.

The rear badge of the X1.

The rear badge of the X1.

 

A rear view camera should be standard on any luxury SUV – it’s standard on the 2012 Honda Civic – but BMW makes you buy a $950 Driver Assistant Package which includes park distance control. Oh, but in order to select that package, you are required to opt for the pricey $2,500 Technology Package. The head aches.

The aluminum satin roof rails are a $250 option. They do look nice.

The aluminum satin roof rails are a $250 option. They do look nice. The panoramic moonroof, part of the pricey Premium Package, gives the cabin an airy and open feel.

 

It’s important to note that all BMWs come with BMW Ultimate Service which covers all scheduled maintenance and routine wear items (except tires) for the 4 year/50,000 warranty period. I can’t emphasize what a powerful sales tool this is for BMW as it hooks in new and returning customers.

I think that as inventories build up, and awareness of the the X1 grows, it will become a very popular vehicle for BMW. It’s close in size to the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape – both of which sell over 200,000 units a year. If the X1 can capture a fraction of that market, it will be an unqualified success. And as Goldilocks would say, it’s “just right.”

 

For many years, Todd "Evan" Bianco has written about cars and Los Angeles on his website acarisnotarefrigerator.com from his West Hollywood base.

Mr. Bianco's focuses on the car biz and cars as they exist with us here in WeHo and Los Angeles, not in Detroit.

He covers subjects as diverse as hybrid hype, the influence of the Asians in So Cal, trends, etc.

Mr. Bianco had a weekly radio show on Sirius Out-Q for a year, and appeared on The John McMullen Show on KNEWS AM 870 * 1140 * 1250 knewsradio.com.