Can the Crossover Make Us Forget the Hatchback?
A friend of ours, Steven, starts sending the text messages fast and furiously when he finds out we're testing a 2013 BMW X1. Steven's a father of one, a 30-something with a solid job, a good head on his shoulders and a stupid, childish, totally relatable love for going fast.
"What say you?" he says. "The Mazda CX-5 has a manual transmission, but the BMW X1 has power and isn't as tall."
"That depends," we say. "Are you and the wife done or is another infant in the cards?"
"We're done," he says. "Plus, the wife's getting an SUV. I just need something that'll look responsible to the HOA, the PTA, the in-laws and the other kids' parents when I pick her up from soccer. And obviously it's gotta rip when I'm alone."
The 2013 BMW X1 xDrive35i is right up his alley. No, it's not the five-door 1 Series hatchback that hard-core Bimmer fans so desperately want, but BMW's smallest crossover is better than we ever could have imagined. At the same time, the X1 has some flaws that might put you off, even if Steve's all ready to look past them.
The 2013 BMW X1 is available in three trim levels. First up is the sDrive28i. This entry-level X1 has a 240-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, an eight-speed automatic and is, as the sDrive badge indicates, rear-wheel drive. It's the least expensive and returns the highest fuel economy (28 mpg combined).
But most premium-brand crossover buyers are high on having multiple axles driven and will be drawn to the xDrive28i. Same potent four-cylinder, same eight-speed automatic, but now it adds all-wheel drive for an extra $2,500. This is the X1 everyone except Steve will buy and it is, thankfully, not the one we're driving.
Our test X1 is the top-of-the-line xDrive35i. Likely you're already familiar with BMW's taxonomy, but if not, this is the name given to BMWs with all-wheel drive and the powerful N55 3.0-liter turbocharged inline six-cylinder. It makes 300 hp at 5,800 rpm and 300 pound-feet of torque from the near-idle speed of 1,300 rpm.
That much power does not come cheap, as the xDrive35i starts at $38,450, a $7,800 bump up from the base model. That's a lot of money for 60 hp and two fewer gears in the transmission. That's right. The xDrive35i doesn't use the eight-speed, instead settling on the tried-and-true six-speed automatic. The EPA rates it at 18 city/27 highway/21 combined mpg.
Both the X1 xDrive35i and xDrive28i eschew BMW's complicated and often unfeeling electric-assist power steering system for the company's older hydraulic-assist setup. Apparently, the EPS just doesn't fit when you have AWD hardware up front.
Oh, and our tester's also got a hand-operated, lever-action emergency brake handle. The most expensive X1 is turning out to be the least technologically savvy and we're getting sentimental.
...For Big Bucks
Our joy fades slightly when we get behind the wheel, though. This particular X1 is equipped with BMW's $1,900 "X Line" package (18-inch Y-Spoke wheels, wood trim, special leather) and the flat, featureless seats that come with it. We don't expect the X1's buckets to hold tight like an M car, but with the sauce on tap here, we'd appreciate something with either bolstering or long-range comfort. These seats offer neither.
Both the Sport Line (also $1,900) and the M Sport Line ($2,500) packages come with legitimate sport seats. Unless you really love wood interiors, or you don't mind submarining under the dash on hard braking, we highly recommend one of these options.
All told, this 2013 BMW X1 xDrive35i is equipped with over $8,000 in options for a total as-tested price of $47,945.
For all that, there's still one option missing (besides tolerable seats) that we really want: proper paddle shifters. The X1 xDrive35i is fast, and the lack of wheel-mounted shifters feels like an omission, even if they are an inexpensive add-on (a mere $120 or you can get them with the M Sport package). Yes, we'd all love a true manual version of the BMW X1, but let's be honest. BMW is more likely to give us that 1 Series hatchback than it is to cut a hole for a third pedal.
13-Second Grocery Getter
We're not old guys, but we're old enough to remember when a 14-second sports car that you could drive every day was considered fast.
The 2013 BMW X1 xDrive35i runs the quarter-mile in 13.8 seconds at 98.7 mph and shows no sign of slowing down at the 1,320-foot mark. And the kicker? There is zero skill involved in this task.
Slip the shifter over to into Drive Sport, whack the throttle and wait. All-wheel drive takes care of the torque, electrons take care of the shifting and the meatsack weighing down the pedal is simply responsible for hitting the other pedal when he runs out of roadway. The 2012 BMW X3 xDrive35i takes 14.1 seconds to reach the same distance.
Zero to 60 mph takes 5.4 seconds (or 5.1 with a foot of rollout as on a drag strip) in the six-cylinder X1 versus 5.8 for the X3 with the same engine. Clearly, the extra 400 pounds the X3 carries around makes a noticeable difference.
Great Handling, Too?
BMW doesn't even need summer tires to achieve that kind of speed. Our X1 is riding on all-season, run-flat Pirelli Cinturato tires, sized 225/45R18 M+S all around, and its compliant ride quality and so-so performance in our handling tests reflect this tire choice.
With proper hydraulic steering and the handling prowess of the revered E90-generation 3 Series in the X1's DNA (they have the same wheelbase), you'd expect the addition of the AWD to result in pissed-off-monkey levels of grip and stellar handling numbers. Instead, xDrive scuttles power around to ever-slipping tires while traction control remains on at all times.
Stickier rubber could prevent this sort of computer infighting, but on the meats we had, the X1 snaked through the slalom at 65.9 mph and lapped the skid pad at a sustained g-load of 0.82. These aren't bad times, but they are awkward to achieve, as you must fight the car's intuition to get the best out of it. Attacking a mountain road nets the same feeling. The X1's non-defeat stability control prevents any sort of lift-throttle course changes or tail-wagging power-on hysterics. It's the X1's world; we just drive in it.
Jamming on the brakes reveals another liability in BMW's choice of tires. Sixty to zero comes up in 125 feet, roughly the same distance as it takes the heavier 2013 BMW X3. Pedal feel, at least, is what you'd expect from a BMW, as it's firm and linear.
Toddlers, Teens or an Empty Nest
The 2013 BMW X1 occupies an odd niche in the marketplace. It's smaller than your average wagon, taller than your average hatchback and has a smaller backseat than any sedan in recent memory.
Full-size adults with full-size legs will be pining for that time they flew coach on Southwest for 5 hours. But adults are flexible and, really, if you're riding in the backseat of your friend's car, you've got no right to complain. Taller rear passengers will either need to remove their head or spend the whole ride looking down at their shoes. There isn't adequate clearance to sit up straight.
More problematic is the rear seat's closeness to the front seats. Our standard rear-facing child seat fits, and latches easily, but it's still touching the front passenger seat, which we've preemptively scooted all the way forward. Parents looking into the X1 would be advised to have a small, booster-seatable kid like our friend Steven or else a teen with a driver license.
Thankfully, these seats can be folded flat for the empty nesters of the world. Doing this (and not having kids around) opens up a whole world of freedom, flexibility and potential. And BMW's don't-call-it-a-hatch will easily swallow 56 cubic feet of whatever you throw at it. The low liftover height is appreciated; the lack of a power liftgate on a $50,000 crossover is not.
Are You a Steven?
While hatchbacks don't sell in America, the jacked-up hatchbacks with sloping rear roof lines that we've taken to calling crossovers surely do. So, instead of building us a nice, rear-drive hatchback with classic BMW sporting intentions, the always-pragmatic German automaker has given us this high-riding compromise, the 2013 BMW X1 xDrive35i.
The driving dynamics don't quite come together like we'd hoped. No question, the X1 is very quick with BMW's turbo six-cylinder. It has way more speed than most crossover buyers will be expecting, and that's why Steven wants one. But the combination of all-wheel drive, modest all-season tires and an intrusive stability control system limits its handling potential and makes it less entertaining than a normal 1 Series or 3 Series.
Of course, this probably won't matter to most BMW customers, who will happily note that the X1 ticks all the right boxes with its decent ground clearance, winter-friendly AWD system, prestigious nameplate and urban-friendly footprint.
Not everyone has room in their lives for a fast compact crossover that routinely gets 17 mpg in freeway gridlock and seats two adults and a large dog. But if you're not a Steven, don't worry. BMW will happily sell you the more fuel-efficient four-cylinder BMW xDrive28i, or a 5 Series GT, or an X3 or, soon, a 3 Series GT. Really, they'll sell you anything you want, unless you're looking for a 1 Series hatchback.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.