EDITOR WES RAYNAL: The 2014 BMW X1 xDrive35i is like a tall 1-series. I don't know if that's BMW's intent, but there you go. I felt like I was sitting a wee bit higher than in, say, a 3-series, but the driving position felt way closer to a car than an SUV, even a small one.
According to the BMW site, the X1 is a half-foot shorter and almost 5 inches lower than an X3. I didn't feel like it was cramped inside, though. I had plenty of room. I was a little surprised at the hollowness of some of the materials inside -- not up to German standards.
It drives nicely, as one expects from 3-series. To me, the steering felt precise and weighting was spot on. Terrific brakes, too. The turbo six-cylinder is buttery smooth and has plenty of power. I felt little difference between this and the typical BMW sedan.
All that, of course, has the caveat that things like steering, brakes, performance and ride are hard to evaluate in this weather. For example, I've crabbed long and loud about BMW's runflats, but on snow-covered, pockmarked roads, I can't tell if there's been improvement. It goes like the devil in the snow, I can say that.
I won't complain about the price, except to say for that kind of scratch, I want heated seats and satellite radio.
ASSOCIATE EDITOR JAKE LINGEMAN: I drove the 2014 BMW X1 xDrive35i over the weekend before Wes, but I wanted to react to his thoughts on the car, starting with the heated seats -- as in, the lack of. Yes, an upright BMW, regardless of price, should have heated seats. I could see an M3 or M4 not having them, when speed is the most important factor. But this is an all-wheel drive, mini SUV, built to tackle winter: heated seats should be standard.
This car was great over the freezing, snowing weekend, even with those wide, 18-inch tires. The all-wheel drive system works perfectly and imperceptibly, except for when you turn the traction control off. Then it gets fun. The front wheels seem to give up first, then if you jab the throttle, the back end will straighten out. On my way to work on Monday a person in a van was stuck in deep ice in the road, the man trying to help her waved me off as if to say, “it's too deep, turn around!” I rumbled right by, barely slowing down.
The best thing about all-wheel drive in the winter is the takeoff ability. We all have the same ability, all-wheel drive or two, but getting out in front of traffic with a quick jump is the key to getting around town in this weather.
I may be in the minority here, but I like the size of this vehicle. It'll fit four, five people if you squeeze, with a little room left over in the back for cargo. With the seats folded down, I'm sure it would fit a decent-sized cabinet TV.
Mileage, well, mileage was around 20 mpg for me, but most of my driving was through snow on side streets. Still, it was a little disappointing. I'd bet it would do better in the summer or on a road trip.
I suppose the Audi Q5 is a competitor to the X1, though it's a little bigger and a little more expensive. It also comes standard with all-wheel drive. Actually, the new Q3 will probably be in direct competition with this, though that hasn't landed in U.S. showrooms yet. I'd also like to drive the four-cylinder X1, to see how it would feel compared to the I6. It costs about $7,000 less, which is a pretty good discount.
EDITORIAL INTERN BRAD WILEY: My time spent cruising around in a 2003 BMW 325i holds a special place in my heart. I even took my driving test in it. For that reason, I enjoyed the 2014 BMW X1 xDrive35i.
Now this is no sedan, but it still has that firmness and the typical road-gripping stance. I can get over the lack of heated seats, though as previously mentioned, it does seem a bit odd to drive a BMW without them.
And sure it brought out a chuckle when I saw the glow of the traditional radio stuck in the dash. Some might not enjoy this old relic, but it has a simple user interface and the overall sound quality is more than enjoyable. Why reinvent the wheel, right?
Driving through the snow-covered roads was no challenge for the AWD system; even hard accelerations only allowed for a small amount of slip before correcting and pulling back into the path of travel. Let's not forget the brakes; as much as I love a vehicle to haul, I equally enjoy it when said vehicle stops. From wet to dry and back again, the X1 had the proper equipment to get the job done. On a perfectly dry section of pavement, the X1 could throw you through the windshield with an aggressive application of the left pedal.
The interior of the BMW was as typical as the blue-and-white airscrew embossed on the hood. It was nothing too spectacular, but the overall quality was on par. A rather precarious thing that stuck out to me was the removable cupholder. I like the option to have it, but stowing away the massive attachment is for the birds. I enjoyed the storable holders in the 2006 BMW 325i; you could have them when you wanted, and push them away when you didn't.
ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: What a difference an engine makes. The previous X1 we tested -- an xDrive28i with the four-cylinder turbo -- was frustrating, largely because of its lack of features, disappointing material quality and annoyingly high price tag. As we all noted at the time, the underpinnings of a solid car were there; the good chassis and responsive steering were tough to ignore.
But the X1 lacked something big, something hard to quantify -- something that would let us buy into the idea that it was actually a luxury performance vehicle worth its sticker price.
Well, the interior is marginally better here. Leather seats are an improvement, even if they're not heated. There's still no infotainment unit, and the decade-old radio that takes its place in the central console is outmatched by nearly anything available as an option in an entry-level subcompact. Keyless entry? Keyless ignition? Don't even think about it.
It's hard to complain about this stuff without sounding like a privileged brat, but even the Toyota Corolla test car we had in here not too long ago -- which cost roughly half as much as this X1 -- had a keyless push-button starter. We really need to stop cutting supposedly premium automakers like BMW any slack here.
But this X1 benefits tremendously from the 3.0-liter turbo I6. It's not just a matter of a 60-hp, 40 lb-ft boost in output. It's the pleasant, eager exhaust note; it's the sense of having more-than-adequate power available at a moment's notice, ready for smooth delivery when you tap the throttle with no wheezing or straining to endure. You actually want to push the car, and even in the snow, you feel confident doing so.
The powertrain, at least, actually feels luxurious. And the body style -- a kind of jacked-up wagon -- actually seems useful, especially to the young, active and attractive couples that BMW probably thinks have the money to buy these sorts of vehicles.
Still, the entire package seems hard to justify at $42,000. BMW wouldn't be building and pricing them this way if they didn't think they could sell them, but it's disappointing that we're expected to fork over such a large pile of cash for a great engine wrapped in a decent ride.
Maybe that's just the way things are now. I can't say that I'm happy about it.
ROAD TEST EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: As car writers, we are often spoiled by test vehicles that are usually totally optioned out. Most of the time the options lists on cars are giant, and then many will grumble about how outrageous an as-tested price is with what sometimes can be a Toyota Yaris' worth of extras. It's the opposite with this particular 2014 BMW X1 xDrive35i that is more or less barebones by Bimmer standards. No heated seats, no central infotainment screen with an iDrive controller on the center console, no satellite radio and no backup camera or parking sensors. Instead there is a storage compartment where the center screen would normally be and we have the basic BMW radio unit with its amber texts. Oh, and there are manual seat adjustments, too.
Graham is correct in pointing out that cars that are priced substantially lower have niceties that you normally would expect in a vehicle from luxury automaker. Our long-term Kia Rio SX from a couple of years back is a good example. It had a crystal-clear backup camera that remains one of the best ones I've ever seen. It also had navigation, satellite radio and heated seats. So, sure, it's kind of a disappointment that there aren't a few more features on this X1. I can understand that.
However, if you can get past the spartan features list and consider the basic bones of this X1, things start making a little more sense. For me, like Graham, it begins with the turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine. It's a marvelous engine that is smooth, responsive and powerful. Peak torque of 300 lb-ft is available from 1,300 rpm to 5,000 rpm. There's no turbo lag to speak of, and the darn thing pulls hard all the way up to redline. It's just a spectacular piece of engineering that's bolted to a very good six-speed automatic gearbox that goes about its business quick and efficiently.
The chassis setup is typical BMW and is sprung on the stiffer side, which isn't ideal for rapidly declining road conditions here in Michigan. This winter has brought us even more frost heaves, and some of the potholes I've seen lately could easily swallow a Scion iQ whole. Throw in the runflat tires, and you have a ride around town that's a little rough. There's still some compliance in the suspension to absorb some of the blow from bumps, though.
When I did find myself on a road that wasn't too bad of shape, the X1 xDrive35i was good. It responds to being tossed around with weighty and responsive steering. The suspension provides a surefooted feel around corners and the brakes are nice and strong with grab available almost immediately when you dab the left pedal.
The cabin, besides being sparse of features, was alright with materials that look fine. Nothing looks overly cheap, but nothing looks top-shelf, either. Build quality is good with tight panel gaps, and the sport seats had decent support and were cushy enough.
If I was going shopping for an X1, it would definitely be the xDrive35i model (like our test car) for the drivetrain. I probably would throw on an option package or two, as well. Most likely the cold weather package to get heated front seats and the driver assistance package for a rearview camera. That would be an additional $1,500. As for navigation, I have my smartphone or I could pick up a TomTom for $100 and stash that in the glove box (right next to the cupholder attachment) for whenever I needed it.
2014 BMW X1 xDrive35i
Base Price: $39,525
As-Tested Price: $41,975
Drivetrain: 3.0-liter turbocharged I6; AWD, six-speed automatic
Output: 300 hp @ 5,800-6,000 rpm, 300 lb-ft @ 1,300-5,000 rpm
Curb Weight: 3,891 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway/Combined): 18/27/21 mpg
AW Observed Fuel Economy: 17.7 mpg
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