It felt like a return to form for the Bavarian purveyors of “Ultimate Driving Machines.” Here was a car where less was more; a back-to-basics approach yielded the cheapest new BMW on the U.S. market at the time. As such, the X1 avoided the complication and bloat that BMW builds into so many of its models these days and offered a simpler, more connected driving experience as a result.
Of course, many of the things that we loved about the X1 as a fun-to-drive CUV, most folks didn’t care a darn about. Even though BMW sold 68,000 first-gen X1s, customers had plenty of gripes. For example, there wasn’t enough cargo space in the back, the seating position was too low and carlike, and the X1 felt more like a lifted hatchback than a proper sport-ute. There were also the glaring reminders that this was an entry-level BMW. If you didn’t opt for the optional navigation system, you were left with an empty hole in the dash where the display screen would otherwise be. That was handy for storing small items but hardly upscale in appearance.
And so, BMW has made the X1 a better CUV for more people. It’s bolder looking for sure, with a more upright mounting of the venerable kidney grilles. Overall dimensions show the new 2016 BMW X1 is 1.7 inches taller and over half an inch wider. Inside, the inside seating position is taller front and rear (by 1 inch and 2.5 inches, respectively), the cargo area is larger with a wider entry point, the rear seat back has 40/20/20 split-folding and a lower center console allows for more cubby space. Rearward passengers will enjoy extra legroom: 1.5 inches with the standard rear seats and up to 2.6 inches with the optional sliding seats. New 6.5- or 8.8-inch displays are available with the optional navigation unit and BMW’s latest full-color head-up display will prove irresistible to some buyers. BMW’s Driver Assistance Plus package rounds up safety features such as lane departure warning, frontal collision warning, and active cruise control (among others) for those willing to plunk down a little extra cash. A multifunction sport steering wheel is standard.
Just one engine is available: an all-new, all-aluminum 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4 good for 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. The sole transmission is also new, a Steptronic eight-speed automatic engineered by Aisin. The X1 is the first BMW to use this new powertrain, and it’s a modular unit, meaning it can be scaled up in cylinder count by pairs of 500cc cylinders at a time. That said, BMW has nixed the six-cylinder engine option from the X1 lineup blaming a low take rate. One rep estimated said percentage to be in the single-digit range -- no surprise in this class where consumers are typically more interested in value and fuel economy than they are brute power. All 2016 X1s are equipped with all-wheel drive.
So while it’s true that the new 2016 BMW X1 is a more practical, usable vehicle, it’s also true that it’s slightly less fun to drive than before -- even with the optional M Sport package and suspension. Not only does the X1 feel larger and not quite as hunkered down, the new turbo-four has a bit of throttle lag at low rpm. The roads BMW chose to highlight the X1 were twisty, mountainous switchbacks, which of course made it irresistible to push our cute ute tester in as much as we could. The result to a bootful of throttle was always the same: a small delay before an adequate surge of power. Driving in a more spirited fashion than most X1 buyers ever will, the new eight-speed gearbox was also reluctant to keep up, even in Sport setting. Switching to manual mode allowed for better progress. We also experienced a few rough, jerky shifts while driving at a slower pace. Given that this is a brand new powertrain, we expect BMW will continue to tweak the 0s and 1s both its engine and gearbox software, hopefully minimizing or eliminating these problems. In any case, daily-grind types will likely only take issue with the occasional rough shift.
Otherwise, the X1 is a comfortable cruiser, with the retuned M Sport suspension giving a firm but compliant ride. The raised seating position, while not as sporty as before, allows for better outward visibility, something that city dwellers should especially enjoy in busy traffic and tight parking lots.
The 2016 BMW X1 goes on sale in the U.S. this month with a starting price of $35,795.
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