Customers are driving compact crossover SUVs off dealer lots like never before, so BMW has started importing its X1 crossover to the States. Pete ’n’ Pam just spent two weeks in a lovely $45,600 X1 xDrive 28i.
Pete: I seem to live in two worlds, Pam. The one I see in the news tends to be gloomy and negative about money, but I see a new $50,000 BMW at every stoplight.
Pam: Clearly the folks driving Beemers aren’t in the newspaper business, are they? I loved living the life — if only for a week — in this good-looking, functional and sporty little number. Which reminds me, what separates a small crossover from a station wagon, besides marketing? Because this one seemed to lean more to the wagon side.
Pete: It’s a wagon, you’re right, but the focus groups say “crossover” sells better. Whatever it is, I loved the good life in the X1, too, except for that cognac I sloshed on the carpet!
Pam: What? You got cognac in my caviar?
Pete: Caviar? I thought they were fish eggs. Whatever. Last year, I drove BMW’s new 330i sedan, which is supposed to be a driver’s car. But I enjoyed the X1 lots more. It felt sportier and lighter on its feet. The X1 proved the expression “driver’s crossover” is not an oxymoron.
Pam: It stuck to the road like gum to the bottom of a stadium seat, that’s for sure. But even though I’m all about saving fossil fuels, I had a hard time getting used to the fuel-saving start/stop feature. I kept thinking I’d stalled out, when the engine was just momentarily switching to a more economical mode.
Pete: Get used to it, Pam. That start/stop system will be common in a few years as the feds’ gas mileage rules tighten up. At traffic lights, the X1’s engine automatically shuts off, like in a hybrid. When the driver touches the gas pedal, it starts again. Not the slickest start-stop system I’ve tested, understandable with the X1’s 2-liter, 240-horsepower turbo engine, but it can be turned off with a dashboard switch.
Pam: Speaking of dashboards, I liked the interior of the test car — snazzy black leather, a driver’s seat that sort of cradles your rear end, a gigantic (and optional) moon roof and a basic, functional layout. The on-board navigation system works like Siri on an iPhone. You ask it questions, then hope it understands your West Texas twang well enough to answer them.
Pete: I’ve been told my so-called West Texas twang sounds suspiciously like a Northeastern Ohio twang. I also have to challenge your assertion about the functionality of the dashboard. What’s a simple radio control on most other crossovers requires an extra step or three in the BMW.
Pam: I was talking more about where things are positioned. Two big dials right in the middle of the dash. You do need a Ph.D. to figure out the radio.
Pete: Small SUVs like the X1 often have limited driver legroom, but even my pale, white, pipestem legs found a comfortable place, though rear seat legroom can be tight. What the heck, put the kids and dogs back there. And the bicycle? Eh, Ms. Fitness?
Pam: Oh yes! I had to flip those back seats forward and pop the front wheel off my commuter bike to make it work, but it fit just fine. So did all the fixings for a backyard barbecue, swim gear and a stray neighborhood dog or two. This car was built for folks with an active lifestyle.
Pete: Yes, I could easily see myself owning an X1, but there is no spare tire. Instead, BMW uses run-flat tires, which seem like a good idea but can be expensive and inconvenient to replace or repair. Out in the Davis Mountains, where I do most of my driving, stray nails and mesquite thorns are a problem. Tire shops and gas stations out my way won’t touch these run-flats. They’re for city drivers who call a BMW dealer when they get a flat.
Pam: I have a solution, Pete. Only drive on smooth streets free of pointy objects.
Pete: Brilliant, Pam. That’s why they keep you on the payroll.
According to Pete ’n’ Pam
Target audience: Young drivers jumping up to their first BMW, BMW-driving families buying for a college student or recent graduate, sticker-shocked BMW X3 shoppers who might be heading to the Audi dealer for a Q5.
Pricing: $31,700 to about $49,500
Fuel mileage: 22 city, 33 highway, premium fuel required.
Highs: Pete — Silky 8-speed transmission, beautiful paint and bodywork, roomier than it looks, quick. Pam — Dashboard orientation, comfy seats, road grippiness and drive appeal. Plus, my bike fits!
Lows: Pete — Run-flat tires instead of spare, pointlessly complex radio tuning, expensive options. Pam — Expensive once you’ve added options, fuel-saving start/stop system takes getting used to.
Bottom line: Pete — The best way to dip your toe into the BMW waters. Pam — Tell my bosses to give me a raise so I can get one, please.
Three other vehicles in the BMW X1’s class.
$40,500 to about $57,000
Highs: Elegant interior, lively engine, wagon utility, street presence
Lows: Not really all-road capable
Land Rover Range Rover Evoque
$42,000 to about $67,000
Highs: Off-road capable, slick styling, ride and handling, powertrain
Lows: Not much cargo room
$25,000 to about $37,000
Highs: Fuel efficiency, ride comfort, nicely styled, reasonably priced
Lows: Insufficient power