Yesterday's trendsetter. It was 2013 when the first BMW X1 debuted, and at the time, it was a novel concept: a small, affordable, front-wheel-drive crossover that essentially brought BMW ownership to a new cohort of buyers that otherwise wouldn't be able to afford something wearing the famed blue-and-white roundel.
Despite an influx of more trendy competitors – including the related BMW X2, which offers more style at the expense of practicality – the 2020 BMW X1 retains its appeal with an affordable price, quality materials, and a relatively muscular powertrain. This baby BMW punches above its weight, even if it isn't the trendsetter it once was.
Strong powertrain. One of the X1's biggest strengths lies under the hood. Most crossovers in this space don't boast the most exciting engines, but the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine in the X1 surprises with its off-the-line sprightliness. You're never wanting for more power, despite there being just 228 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque on hand. For this 3,600-pound crossover, that output proves plenty.
BMW pairs this engine to an eight-speed automatic transmission, and the match is a good one. It's never unsure of what gear it needs to be in, and a quick stab of the throttle is all it takes to call up a downshift. In "Comfort" mode, its operation is unobtrusive; in "Sport," it's engaged and predictable. Paddle shifters are available, but only with the $4,650 M Sport Design.
Our thoughts on that package? Skip it. Spending nearly five grand for paddle shifters, slightly better seats, and a marginally more sporty aesthetic isn't worth it. If you care about sportiness, get a BMW 3-Series.
The X1 also maintains poise through twisty roads, a nice reminder that BMW hasn't forgotten their roots even as they embrace crossovers as enthusiastically as any other automaker. The steering is decent, the brakes are firm but not too much so, and the ride is stiff but not unforgiving.
Roomy cabin. The X1 is a compact crossover, yet there's plenty of room to go around. We were most impressed by the cargo space, which stands at a full 27.1 cubic feet. That number trumps every other compact crossover we looked at. The Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class, Jaguar E-Pace, Volvo XC40 – you name it, the X1 beats it.
The passenger space isn't too shabby, either. Rear-seat passengers enjoy 37 inches of legroom, which is better than the aforementioned Volvo, Mercedes, and Jaguar. It also outdoes the Lexus UX and Audi Q3.
Front passengers will enjoy ample room and good sightlines – better, in fact, than the X2. That model also suffers in headroom and cargo space compared to the more utilitarian X1.
Front passengers will also appreciate the materials and touchpoints BMW has fitted to their baby crossover. Look down low by the footwells and you'll find cheap-o black plastic that doesn't jive with the luxury of BMW, but closer to eye level there's nothing to suggest the brand cut corners.
Still, we'd pony up the $1,550 demanded genuine leather and real wood trim. This is supposed to be a luxury car, after all, and the base synthetic leather doesn't cut the mustard in that regard.
Safety, economy, value. For the price, the X1 has something that few luxury cars do: a sense of value. This is derived from not only an attractive base price, but from good fuel economy and a pleasing array of standard safety and luxury features.
The X1's safety scorecard significantly factors into the value equation. The NHTSA has issued a five-star overall safety rating to the X1, and the IIHS has awarded it their highest rating of "Good" for all six of their various crash test simulations. Along with this perfect report card, the X1 also includes automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, lane departure warning, and automatic high beams as standard equipment.
In terms of comfort and convenience features, a happy abundance of niceties can be found even on the base model. These include rain-sensing wipers, eight-way power front seats, and an 8.8-inch infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay compatibility (Android Auto should arrive summer 2020). Standard 18-inch wheels and body-color trim will keep the neighbors from realizing you bought the base model.
As for fuel economy, don't expect it to run away from its competitors in an efficiency race. The X1 is EPA-rated at 24 miles per gallon city, 33 mpg highway, and 27 combined, putting it about mid-pack among its competition.
Of its competitive set, the Q3 is the drunkard of the group, and can only muster 19 mpg city. On the other end of the scale are the UX Hybrid and its EPA rating of 41 mpg city. Besides the Audi, the X1's 24 mpg city beats out the XC40 (23 mpg), E-Pace (21 mpg), and Land Rover Range Rover Evoque (21 mpg).
Final thoughts. For a luxury crossover, the 2020 BMW X1 makes for a formidable competitor. It has more cargo room than anything else in its class; its powertrain has the character of a BMW and doesn't suffer at the pump for it; it's well equipped for the price. On all counts, the X1 is a winner.
If there's any big drawback here, it's a subjective one. The X1 is no longer quite so unique and distinctive as it once was, having been usurped by fashion-forward rides like BMW's own X2. Will buyers pass over the dowdier X1 for the more svelte X2?
If they do, they forego much of what makes the X1 so great: its room, size, comfort, and price. The smallest BMW might not be a style leader, but it leaves little to be desired otherwise, and that should be plenty reason for shoppers to keep this luxury crossover on their radar.
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