Balanced tiny crossover with some base-level punch.BMW is known for squeezing every ounce of performance from even its simplest vehicles. Well, they get no simpler than the 2021 BMW X1. This tiny people mover has all the telltale signs carrying all the basics expected of a BMW with its surprising performance and clean design.

That said, it’s far from perfect, as it has serious issues keeping pace with more up-to-date competition in some critical areas, specifically outward style and interior finish.

Clean and tidy design, but a little bland next to the competition. The X1 has classic BMW styling that focuses on simplicity and class rather than being bold like newer models from the automaker. Though its size and front-wheel-drive setup may not engage traditional BMW buyers, the design certainly will.

The downside to this classic styling is that it’s a little bland. In most luxury vehicles, this isn’t a big deal. However, in the subcompact crossover segment, this vanilla design stands out – and not in the right way. With bold-looking competition that includes the Volvo XC40 and Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class, the X1 blends into the background, leaving younger buyers it targets looking for more excitement.

Spacious, just not in the rear seats. The X1 is small, yes, but it’s got spacious and comfortable front seats that are precisely what you’d expect from BMW. Plus, in its cargo area, you’ve got up to 58.7 cubic feet of total cargo room, which easily beats the GLA-Class (50.5 cubes), XC40 (47.4 cubes), and Audi Q3 (48 cubes).

The X1’s rear seats also have ample legroom at 37 inches, beating the XC40 and Q3 but 1.1 short of the GLA. The X1’s real sore spot is its rear-seat width, which isn’t nearly enough for three adults, despite claiming to be a five-seater.

The X1 has other interior issues too, including its fit and finish. Instead of slathering this luxury subcompact in premium materials, BMW resorted to some cheaper plastics that may disappoint some buyers. Also, while the X1 comes standard with an 8.8-inch touchscreen and Apple CarPlay, it lacks Android Auto. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard with the GLA and Q3.

Good engine, but the X1 lacks top-end oomph. The X1 has a strong base powertrain that pairs a 228-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine to a snappy eight-speed automatic transmission. Power heads to the front or all four wheels for a 6.3- to 6.6-second 0-60 mph time, putting it well ahead of most of its rivals’ base powertrains.

The X1’s balance and nimbleness are also top-notch, making it a prime candidate for the M treatment. Sadly, this is where the X1 leaves buyers holding the bag, as its only performance option is the M Sport package.

The GLA shows just what BMW could have done in this class with its 302-hp AMG GLA 35 and 382-hp AMG GLA 45. However, these come at a huge cost that may not make sense to most buyers.

Final thoughts. With a $36,395 starting price, the 2021 BMW X1 is an excellent option for buyers seeking that BMW feel and performance without all the associated cost, especially in its base format. However, a close examination reveals some gaps in its luxury and adding options sends the price soaring, killing the value.

While the X1 targets younger buyers in terms of price and size, its bland looks pull it in the opposite direction. The younger group prefers the more updated and bold looks of the GLA-Class, XC40, or even the Q3. Plus, the cheaper interior trim bits are sure to push away more value-oriented young shoppers.

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