It's fashionable for automotive critics to dismiss crossover SUVs as station wagons with worse handling, but the 2014 BMW X1 is a different animal. Sure, it rides higher than a regular car, but the X1 is based on one of the best-handling 4-door cars ever: the previous version of the BMW 3 Series. From behind the wheel, the elevated driving position is the only clue that you're in a crossover. In all other respects, the athletic X1 does a convincing impression of a high-performance luxury hatchback.
If you're wondering why this BMW uses an older platform, well, that's because it's only brand-new to us. Elsewhere, the X1 has been on sale for a while now. As such, we've noticed a few signs of age despite that timelessly brilliant chassis. For example, the xDrive35i model employs a 6-speed automatic rather than the superior 8-speed unit offered in newer 35i BMWs. Also, while the interior certainly has a premium vibe, it looks a bit dated compared to the revamped cabins in the latest X3 and 3 Series.
But given that the X1 starts at around $31,000, we're willing to forgive its not-quite-newness. Whether you're looking for a cheaper Range Rover Evoque or a more practical MINI Countryman, or perhaps just a higher-riding 3 Series wagon, the 2014 X1 model's genuinely car-like character is bound to please.
What's New for 2014?
The X1 is essentially unchanged for 2014.
What We Like
Superb turbocharged engines; excellent 8-speed transmission; world-class ride/handling mix; stellar 4-cylinder fuel economy; reasonable base price
What We Don't
6-cylinder models use an older 6-speed transmission; limited cargo capacity; pricey options
$31,725 to $39,525
The rear-wheel-drive sDrive28i and all-wheel-drive xDrive28i are powered by a turbocharged 2-liter inline-4 rated at 240 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. The transmission with this engine is an 8-speed automatic. Fuel economy is a whopping 23 miles per gallon city/34 mpg highway in the sDrive28i, while the xDrive28i is nearly as frugal at 22 mpg city/33 mpg hwy.
The all-wheel-drive xDrive35i steps up to a turbocharged 3-liter inline-6 good for 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque, though it downgrades to a 6-speed automatic. Fuel economy takes a dive, checking in at a pedestrian 18 mpg city/27 mpg hwy.
Standard Features & Options
The 2014 BMW X1 is offered with rear-wheel drive as the 4-cylinder sDrive28i, or all-wheel drive as either the 4-cylinder xDrive28i or the 6-cylinder xDrive35i.
The sDrive28i ($31,725) has standard niceties like 17-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, LED brake lights, automatic start/stop, 8-way adjustable front seats, Bluetooth, automatic climate control, an 8-speaker stereo with iPod/USB connectivity and even the iDrive infotainment system, so it's pretty well-equipped right out of the box.
The xDrive28i ($33,425) is an all-wheel-drive version of the sDrive28i with minor equipment variations.
The xDrive35i ($39,525) steps up to 6-cylinder power, 18-in wheels with run-flat tires, adaptive xenon headlights, a panoramic sunroof, power front seats with driver-memory functions and wood-interior trim.
Some of the xDrive35i model's standard features can be ordered on the 28i models as options. Other extras include a Harman/Kardon surround-sound stereo, heated front seats, leather upholstery, paddle shifters and enhanced iDrive with hard-drive-based navigation.
Note that four trim levels are offered for each model: base, X Line, Sport Line and M Sport Line. The X Line adds special 18-in wheels and shiny styling accents, while the Sport Line features its own 18-inchers along with darker exterior trim and sport front seats. The M Sport has a sport-tuned suspension, a sport steering wheel, M-spec 18-in wheels and plenty of M badges to go around.
The X1 comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and six airbags (front, front-side, full-length side-curtain). Available safety technologies include a rearview camera and BMW Assist telematics, which brings real-time crash response and comprehensive roadside assistance.
The X1 received the top Good rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in all categories except the new small-overlap crash test, where it was rated as Marginal (the second-lowest of four ratings).
Behind the Wheel
In our interior evaluation, we deemed the X1 a pleasant mix of where BMW has been and where it's going. The matching analog speedometer and tachometer are classic BMW: simple and clear. Materials are generally high-quality, with none of the cost-cutting that compromises the related 1 Series' cabin. The driving position is high enough to please crossover fans, but low enough to feel secure. Standard iDrive technology gives every X1 a forward-thinking feel, though the optional wide-screen version with navigation is clearly the one to have.
The X1 model's rear seat is predictably less roomy than that of the X3, but it's still adult-friendly as long as the folks in front don't slide their seats all the way back. Cargo space, however, is decidedly hatchback-grade, measuring 14.8 cu ft behind the rear seats and 47.7 cu ft with the rear seatbacks folded down.
On the road, the base turbo four is one of the very best of its breed. Acceleration is swift, and unlike most small turbocharged engines, this one keeps pulling all the way to redline, thanks in part to the astoundingly refined 8-speed transmission. As for the xDrive35i, it's very fast for a vehicle of this type, but the 6-speed transmission isn't as smooth or quick as the newer 8-speed.
Whichever engine you choose, we think you'll agree that the X1 is quite simply one of the best-driving crossovers on the road. We're not immune to the appeal of sitting up a little higher than usual, and since the X1 lets you do that without compromising handling, it's really the best of both worlds. Watch the ride quality with the optional run-flat tires, however; those 18- and 19-in wheels may look cool, but we'd rather have the more supple rubber that comes with the standard 17-in wheels.
Other Cars to Consider
Audi Q5 -- The generally sprightly Q5 actually feels large and a bit ponderous relative to the X1, but it's a great-looking crossover with a desirable supercharged V6.
Land Rover Range Rover Evoque -- The Evoque's avant-garde styling has grown on us and it has the convincingly upscale interior that the X1 lacks.
MINI Countryman -- If you like MINI's sense of style and can make do with even less cargo capacity, the eye-catching, athletic Countryman is worth a look.
We do love BMW's turbocharged inline-6, but since it comes with the lesser transmission and costs more, we'd opt for the attractively priced sDrive28i instead (or the xDrive28i if we needed all-wheel drive).