Well, this is weird.
Doing the background research I always do before I start to spew my opinion about a new car, I discovered that while the “compact” size BMW X1 is smaller on the outside than the “mid-size” X3, it actually has more room inside for people.
And almost exactly the same amount of space for cargo.
Did I mention it’s just as quick, too?
And costs less?
I’m not sure what BMW was thinking… but I am willing to bet you’ll like their thinking. What’s not to like about a more space-efficient (and more attractively priced) X3?
Which is arguably what the X1 is.
Just don’t tell BMW I said so.
WHAT IT IS
BMW’s smallest SUV (BMW prefers Sport Activity Vehicle)… on the outside.
Nominally, it’s a compact and in the same class as the Audi Q3 — which is slightly smaller on the outside (and much tighter on the inside) and also the Lexus NX200t.
But because of its interior spaciousness (and cargo capacity) it really ought to be on your list if you’re shopping mid-sized models like its bigger brother the X3 and also the Acura RDX — the latter of which is very close to the X1 in base price and interior/cargo room. Its chief detraction — if exterior size matters to you — is that it’s nearly a foot longer overall. It also costs about $2,400 more than the BMW when ordered with all-wheel-drive, which is optional.
It’s standard with the X1.
BMW sells the X1 in just one trim, with just one drivetrain: 2.0 liter turbo four, eight-speed automatic and standard xDrive AWD.
Base price is $35,795 — vs. $40,950 for the same drivetrain in the X3 — with numerous individual and optional equipment packages available.
Nominally — as a “compact” (on the outside) the X1’s main rivals are the Audi Q3 ($33,700 to start with FWD; $35,800 to start with AWD) and the Lexus NX200T (base price $34,965 with FWD; $36,365 with AWD).
Both are slower, however — and also less roomy on the inside.
Especially the Audi.
On both counts.
Another possible cross-shop — if you don’t mind the size — is the new Mercedes GLC300 (which replaces the GLK350 in Mercedes’ lineup). It’s pretty — and also pretty quick. And it has a roomy first and second row. But, it’s pricier — $38,950 to start without AWD.
With the 4Matic AWD system, the GLC300’s base price rises to $40,950.
It’s also — like the RDX — sizable. On the outside.
And it’s got less room for cargo, too (20.5 cubic feet vs. 27.1 for the X1).
The ’16 X1 is all-new, with the most obvious change being the up-sized interior — which is now roomier than its bigger and more expensive brother’s interior.
A BMW X3 in almost everything except footprint — and price.
Half a foot more second row legroom than Audi Q3 (37 vs. 31.1 inches).
Much quicker to 60, too (6.3 vs. 8 flat).
About $2,400 less than comparably equipped Acura RDX — which has a big V6, but isn’t any quicker, either.
But is thirstier (19 city, 28 highway vs. 22 city, 32 highway).
Much more cargo room than Lexus NX200t (17.7 cubic feet vs. 27.1 cubic feet).
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
No manual transmission option.
No diesel engine option.
No drivetrain options at all.
UNDER THE HOOD
Possibly because the X1 overlaps (and washes over) the nominally higher-up-the-food-chain X3 in several areas, BMW decided to limit the X1 to a single powertrain — whereas the X3 offers several.
But the interesting thing is the X1’s arguably got a more-for-your money standard powertrain.
For instance, all X1s come standard with xDrive, BMW’s all-wheel-drive system. It’s extra-cost with the X3, which comes standard with rear-wheel-drive.
Both the X1 and the X3 come standard with a 2.0 liter “twin power” turbocharged four, with the X1’s version rated 228 hp while the X3’s version makes (so they say) 240.
This sounds like the X3’s got the advantage.
But even though it has (on paper) more power (as well as the advantage of being rear wheel drive, which usually means weighing less) the X1 is just as quick as the X3.
Both get to 60 in about 6.3 seconds — a very quick time for the class.
But the X1 uses less fuel: 22 city, 32 highway vs. 21 city, 28 highway for the xDrive-equipped X3.
Because it’s lighter … even with xDrive.
The X1 weighs 3,660 lbs. — svelte for a crossover SUV (whoops, Sport Activity Vehicle) with AWD. It weighs about the same — for a frame of reference — as a new Camaro, which is a sporty (and RWD) two-door car.
The X3, on the other hand, weighs in at two tons-plus (4,030 lbs. for the rear-drive version. With xDrive, you are looking at 4,150 lbs.).
Its zippers bust, its buckles break.
No wonder the X1’s right on the X3’s ass, even with xDrive.
It also puts the Audi Q3 in the Camel Clutch and makes it humble.
The Q has 200 hp — not far off the BMW’s alleged 228. But it also has 3,682 lbs. (with Quattro AWD) to haul. More weight — and less hp — equals slower acceleration. Zero to 60 takes about 8 seconds, a pretty slow run for a vehicle at this price point. The under-engined Audi’s struggles also manifest at the pump. EPA gives it 20 city, 28 highway with Quattro AWD – pretty bad numbers for a high-end car that’s about as speedy as a $17k Corolla (which gets close to 40 MPG).
The Lexus NX200t falls in between the two; it’s not as quick (0-60 in just over 7 seconds) as the BMW but it’s not as slow as the Audi.
EPA says the AWD-equipped NX is good for 22 city, 28 highway.
The Benz GLC (no more V6, it’s been retired in favor of a 241 hp 2.0 liter turbo four) is almost as quick (zero to 60 in 6.4 seconds) and nearly as fuel efficient (22 city, 28 highway) but — like the RDX — it’s larger.
And unlike the RDX, it has less room for cargo.
Worth a mention here is that both the Lexus and the Audi are default FWD while the BMW is default RWD — in terms of their basic layouts.
Even when they are all equipped with AWD, the BMW’s rear-drive-based layout is preferable for performance, especially high-speed handling — at which it excels. The reason being better weight distribution (more weight over the rear wheels especially) and also that with a RWD-based system, the engine’s power is typically sent to the rear wheels first until they begin to slip — at which point the system kicks power to the front wheels.
In a FWD-based system, it’s the reverse.
Usually, most of the power goes to the front wheels, until they begin to slip — at which point power is routed to the rear wheels.
ON THE ROAD
The numbers tell the story.
If you want speed — but not size — the X1’s the one you want.
This thing flies — relative to rivals and period.
I have always been suspicious (in a good way) about BMW”s advertised horsepower numbers. This X1 fuels my suspicions because it’s just too damned quick for “228” horsepower. The only slightly heavier (3,737 lb.) Acura RDX — with almost twice the engine (3.5 liters vs. 2.0) and a rated 279 hp can just about keep up with it in a 0-60 throw down.
The Benz GLC — which is much heavier — is just about as quick… but its engine makes… wait for it… 241 hp.
You tell me.
But, maybe it’s not a horsepower fudge.
Take a look at the torque number: 258 ft.-lbs peaking at 1,250 RPM. That’ll launch you in a hurry. The RDX’s much larger V6 only makes 252 ft.-lbs. and not until 4,900 RPM. It’s the difference between Right Now and Wait a Second (or two). Keep in mind that it’s chiefly torque rather than hp which gets a vehicle moving (it’s hp that determines how fast it goes, ultimately).
The BMW also has a gearing advantage.
An eight-speed transmission vs. the six-speed transmissions in the Q3 and NX200t. Tighter spacing between each gear is helpful in terms of both quickness and fuel efficiency (see those EPA numbers).
Regardless, it goes — that’s the thing to know.
Some small-engined rides have trouble in this department. That includes the X1’s bigger (on the outside) brother. It’s not slow, but it ought to be quicker than the X1. It’s not. To out-accelerate its littler brother, it must be outfitted with the available six — which definitely delivers (0-60 in about 5.7 seconds) but not for nothing. The X3 — when optioned with the 300 hp in-line six — starts at $46,800.
That’s an expensive second.
This X1’s smaller package — and lower curb weight — is also an asset come the curves.
Its shorter wheelbase (105.1 inches vs. 110.6 for the X3) means part of you isn’t still entering the apexes while the forward half is trying to exit. And with “228” hp on tap, powering out of the apexes is exactly that –powering out of them.
The Audi Q3 does ok entering the curves but coming out of them, you’re pretty much sailing on the inertia; push the accelerator and not much happens … except for “sad noises,” as my wife styles them.
The Lexus is better — but it’s not as good as the BMW, laterally or otherwise.
The Benz GLC is powerful — and pulls hard in a straight line. But like most Benzes, it’s beefy.
Two tons sloshing around isn’t the hot ticket for autocross play dates.
For the driver, the X1 is the one.
AT THE CURB
Here’s where size doesn’t matter.
The X1’s packing more than the X3’s got, in terms of first and second row space — and nearly as much as cargo space, too: A comfortable 40.4 inches of legroom up front and 37 inches of legroom in the second row — vs. 39.9 inches up front and 36.5 in the second row for the X3.
Which is eight inches longer overall (183.4 inches vs. 175.4 inches).
Usually, the catch would be cargo capacity — as it is with the Lexus NX200t.
The Lexus — which is also a longshanks, nearly as long overall as the X3 — has a bit more front seat legroom (42.8 inches) than the X1 and about the same second row legroom (36.1 inches) but when you pop the liftgate, all you’ve got to work with behind the second row is 17.7 cubic feet of space. The X1’s got 27.1 cubic feet of space (virtually the same amount as its bigger-on-the-outside brother, the X3, which has 27.6 cubic feet of space).
And don’t forget, the X1’s about eight inches more compact overall than the Lexus, too.
Speaking of compact… .
The Audi Q3 is the stubbiest of this group — just 172.8 inches long overall.
And feels it.
While the Q’s first row is spacious (40 inches of legroom) its second row is all-but-unusable for grown-ups (31.1 inches of legroom — about half a foot less room than in the BMW) and cargo capacity is a puny 16.7 cubic feet.
The take-home point is that the X1’s the most space-efficient of the bunch — and that includes its larger-sized kin (the X3) and possible cross-shops like the Acura RDX and the Benz GLC300.
While there is just one X1 trim, there are many options — among them a Technology Package ($2,550) that upgrades the iPad-style LCD infotainment screen from 6.5 to 8.8 inches and gets you all the latest smartphone apps. A Premium Package ($3,250) bundles a full-length panorama sunroof (fixed glass but moveable privacy screen), interior ambient lighting, LED exterior lighting and a hands-free/automatic opener for the power lift gate out back.
There are no drivetrain options but you can order up even better handling via the M Sport Package ($2,450) which upgrades you to high-performance 19-inch Summer tires and a firmer-riding suspension, along with M Sport exterior and interior trim. Be aware, of course, that the Summer tires are not the hot ticket for winter driving. Even with almost 8 inches of ground clearance and xDrive all-wheel-drive, the X1 is not going to get far on them if there’s snow on the ground.
You’ll want to change them out come fall.
While playing with the gadgets, I discovered a Tell about the X1’s real horsepower. This BMW — like all current BMWs — features a Sport display that shows you how much horsepower and torque the engine is making at any given moment, as you drive — with the peaks “pegged” by little markers. Well, the BMW press materials say “228” hp. But the horsepower gauge in the car says 240 — exactly the same as the 2.0 engine’s rated output in the X3.
My bet is both 2.0 engines are identical — and make the same (240) horsepower but BMW advertises the 2.0 engine in the X3 as being stronger for the obvious reason that the X3 is more expensive and people expect to get more when they pay more.
A cool feature is that the X1’s second row can be moved forward and backward.
Unfortunately, the Adaptive Cruise control — a genuinely useful feature that automatically adjusts the X1’s speed in relation to the ebb and flow of traffic — is bundled with an $850 Driver Assist Plus package that includes not-really-useful (unless you are a poor driver, in which case why are you looking at BMWs?) electronic nannies such as an automated parallel parking system and automated braking/collision mitigation with pedestrian detection.
This is not a clunky, cumbersome vehicle with lots of blind spots that’s awkward to maneuver. If you can see — and know how to drive — you can save money by skipping the Driver Assist stuff. It’s a shame you can’t buy the Adaptive Cruise al la carte.
A word on the diesel thing.
Much as I like the idea, Uncle — via his emissions edicts — has made diesels not particularly fuel-efficient. The X3 diesel’s mileage — 27 city, 34 highway — is good but not that much better than the gas-engined X1’s 22 city, 32 highway. Now of course the 2.0 liter turbo-diesel would probably do better, MPG-wise in the much lighter X1. But we’ll never know — because of Uncle.
BMW won’t offer this engine in the X1 — and it’s a solid bet BMW may pull it from the X3’s roster, too. The high cost and not-so-great mileage make it a hard sell.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The typical crossover SUV is mostly about hauling people and cargo, not ass.
The X1 does all three.
*** Photo courtesy of Caricos