Tested: 2023 BMW X1 Is Practical, Not Experimental
There's nothing radical about the new version of BMW's smallest SUV, but it offers a lot for a smallish price.
Despite a name shared with a rocket-powered aircraft, there's little chance of mixing up BMW's X1 with Bell's. We're sure Chuck Yeager would have appreciated such luxuries as interior mood lighting and the option of a bangin' Harmon/Kardon 12-speaker stereo. Unlike his radical experimental plane, the BMW X1 is a pleasant small SUV that offers an attractive entry point to German-brand motoring. And it isn't breaking barriers or speed records—even if you dropped it from the belly of a B-29.
BMW's skunkworks have recently been experimenting with dramatic design elements inside and out. The X1 is a more traditional offering with a smooth exterior and a small, almost square kidney grille—understated next to the flared nostrils of most of the current BMW lineup. Still BMW's smallest SUV, the X1 has grown to nearly the size of a first-generation BMW X3, Now in its third iteration since its 2009 introduction, the ute is 1.7 inches longer and taller, and it's almost an inch wider than last year's all-wheel-drive equivalent. The wheelbase is 0.9 inch longer, and the track width is greater by 0.8 inch. The result is more interior room and a hint of bulldog stance.
A Revised Engine and a New Transmission
Under the hood is a good-old gas burner, a turbocharged 2.0-liter Miller-cycle four-cylinder with a few extra horses squeezed in. (An electric version, the iX1, is available in other markets but won't come here.) Changes to the combustion-chamber geometry and the new port- and direct-injection system bump the powerplant to 241 horsepower (from 228) and 295 pound-feet of torque. In our testing, the X1 at full thrust reached 60 mph in 5.4 seconds and covered the quarter-mile in 14.1 seconds at 99 mph. Replacing the previous eight-speed automatic, a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox has a wider ratio spread and allows coasting. If you want it on high alert for grabbing gears, the Sport mode shifts with more vigor, and the M Sport package ($2300) provides paddle shifters that put the decision making in the driver's hands.
We found the powertrain to be quiet and smooth in traffic and highway cruising but a bit sluggish when asked to make high-speed passes or accelerate uphill, despite the X1’s reasonably zippy 4.3-second 50-to-70-mph passing time. There's some turbo lag to be found here, even in Sport mode, which helped contribute to a relatively pokey 6.6-second pull from 5 to 60 mph. EPA fuel-economy estimates are 28 mpg combined, 25 mpg city, and 34 mpg highway, which are some 2 to 3 mpg better than last year's all-wheel-drive model. Running the X1 hard through Southern California's mountain roads, we averaged only 23 mpg, though.
One big change to the X1 for 2023 is that all-wheel drive is now standard. During easy motoring, the front wheels handle the majority of driving duties, but any loss of traction sends power to the rear. Dynamically, the X1 is fun to drive, scooting happily around corners. Its small size makes it well matched for narrow roads—and, when you're done, narrow parking spots. Neither the steering wheel nor the brake pedal offers much feedback. Even so, on its optional 20-inch summer tires, our test car needed 167 feet to stop from 70 mph and generated 0.86 g of grip on the skidpad.
Interior Style and Tech
BMW has been on it with interior design in its new models. The X1's cabin makes good use of texture and color to add interest to swaths of plastic. The door panels in particular are appealing, pretty enough that you might leave the door open a few extra minutes so your neighbors can admire the tweedy-patterned speaker grilles and the Gateway Arch of a door handle. The console offers a lower shelf space, although it's not easy to access with a larger handbag. Cupholders sit low and out of the way, and the optional wireless charging pad leans back at the angle of a grandpa in a Barcalounger—a nod to those of us who sneak a look at the screen at stoplights.
Speaking of screens, the X1's single curved display panel runs from behind the steering wheel to the center of the dash. Modes offer different instrumentation designs, and the right side showcases navigation, music, and phone interfaces. Unfortunately, the screen is also the only way to control the climate system and the seat heaters, and it’s a long stretch for the driver, even for those of us sitting far forward. The sound system can be adjusted from the steering wheel, but to turn off the heated steering wheel or adjust the A/C fan, you have to do some poking around onscreen—never an ideal action while driving.
LOWS: Novocained steering and brake feel, some challenging screen-based controls, ho-hum acceleration in the real world.
The seats in our sample car were the optional Sport seats. For a commuter SUV, they're deeply bolstered. While the seating position was good and highly adjustable, the cushioning was too firm for a long drive, a scenario in which the bones in one's posterior will quickly make themselves known. The rear seats are also stiff, and passengers may find the backrest angle too reclined, although the laid-back shape does make installing a child seat easier. Cargo space is generous, with a side net to corral small objects, a total of 26 cubic feet behind the rear seats, and 57 with them folded.
X1 Pricing and Equipment
Shopping for an X1 should be relatively easy, as there are no alternative engine or transmission choices, and the standard model comes with many features you'd want, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, LED headlights with cornering lights, a power liftgate, and roof rails. The xLine package adds bigger wheels and more interesting interior trim, and a sunroof is available with either the Convenience package ($1950) or the Premium package ($4200). Nudging the price up from the $39,595 starting point is pretty easy, and our $50,795 example packs a lot into a small SUV. It may not be Chuck Yeager's Glamorous Glennis, but even an experimental test pilot could use a practical runabout when it's time to hang up the flight suit and drive home.