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2016 BMW X1 Pros and Cons: Why (Not) This Car?

BMW X1 front quarter view
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Introduction

BMWs have long been renowned for the handling afforded by their balanced rear-wheel-drive chassis. I've often recommended the 2013-2015 X1 quasi-crossover as the last of the old school Bimmers, with a purity in how it drives lacking in the latest, higher-tech models. For 2016, though, the X1 has not only been redesigned, but transferred to a front-wheel-drive platform shared with the new, super-sized Mini Clubman. Could this be anything but a disaster for the BMW brand, maybe even both brands? I spent a week with the new X1 and took a comparison drive in the new Clubman to find out.

Land Rover and Mercedes-Benz also offer small crossovers with transverse powertrains. When I reviewed the old X1 I compared it to the Range Rover Evoque. I haven't yet driven the GLA, but wasn't impressed by the closely related CLA "four-door coupe." Aside from its lack of refinement, if you need a back seat for much of anything then the GLA isn't viable. Both the Range Rover Evoque and GLA seem like oranges to the new X1's far more conventional apple. The Lincoln MKC and Lexus NX come closer, but are somewhat larger (at least on the outside) and lack the cachet of the European brands. To check the X1 against a more direct competitor I took the Volkswagen-Golf-based Audi Q3 for a spin.

X1 Reviews: BMW X1 front quarter view

The new BMW X1 a thoroughly conventional compact crossover with BMW cues. What more is there to say? more X1 photos

X1 Reviews: BMW X1 interior

Light beige doesn't do the X1's interior any favors. Arfully U-shaped center console trim.

Tested: 2016 BMW X1

4dr SUV turbocharged 228hp 2.0L I4 8-speed shiftable automatic AWD

Compared: 2016 Audi Q3

4dr SUV turbocharged 200hp 2.0L I4 6-speed shiftable automatic AWD

Why the 2016 BMW X1?

  Compared to the Q3
Rear seat room & comfort
Rear seat room & comfort: Much better Better Worse

When the engine and transmission are mounted sideways, much more space can be allocated for passengers and cargo. Compared to the BMW X3, which has a longitudinal powertrain, the X1 is nine inches shorter (175 vs. 184), two inches narrower (72 vs. 74), and two inches lower (64 vs. 66), yet it has a little more headroom, rear shoulder room, and legroom.

A funny thing: according to the official specs, the 2013-2015 X1 had only an inch less combined legroom than the new one. The difference feels much greater. It helps that the seats are mounted higher in the new X1. Even the largest feet can fit beneath the front seats at a comfortable angle. Want to tap your toes while riding in back? Go for it, there's plenty of space under there--a rarity among upscale cars. This combined with the relatively high rear seat cushion means that the average adult (e.g. 5-9 me) enjoys sufficient thigh support, which is often lacking in much larger crossovers.

When all the way back, a $300 sliding and reclining second-row seat adds another inch of rear legroom. Though worthwhile overall, its seat backs return to a fully vertical position after being folded. Each of its three sections must then be reset one by one at a comfortable angle, a nuisance.

The Audi Q3's rear seat is far tighter. The spec sheet suggests a mere 31 inches of rear legroom, a considerable half-foot less than in the new X1. In reality the Audi's rear seat doesn't seem quite that tight. I can sit behind myself with at most two inches of knee room to spare, vs. about five in the BMW. Still, with a tall driver the Q3's rear legroom would becomes essentially zero. The Lincoln MKC's rear seat isn't much roomier than the Audi's, while the Lexus NX has about as much rear knee room as the BMW but a lower seat cushion and less foot room beneath its front seats.

Though the new Mini Clubman shares both the new UKL platform and a 105-inch wheelbase with the 2016 X1, its roof is seven inches lower, a big difference, and its seats are mounted lower than those in the average car, much less a crossover. There's perhaps an inch more knee room than in the Audi. The next Mini Countryman should be close in size to the X1.


Cargo capacity
Cargo capacity: Much better Better Worse

The switch to a transverse-powertrain architecture pays even bigger cargo carrying dividends. Compared to the old BMW X1, the Audi Q3, and the Mini Clubman, the new X1 can hold about another ten cubic feet above its floor. This makes the biggest difference with the rear seat up, as it's the difference between 27 cubic feet (in the new X1) vs. 15 (old X1), 17 (Q3), or 18 (Clubman). Fold the seat and the new X1 leads all three of the others 59 to 48. The Evoque, MKC, and NX all have specs in the low to mid 50s. None can match the new X1 in this area. The GLA? A mere 44.

Plus the BMW has an eight-inch-deep compartment beneath its cargo floor (a big chunk of which is sacrificed if you get the optional spare tire).

The X3 can hold about the same amount of cargo with its rear seat up, but 63 cubic feet with it folded. Not a large difference despite its greater exterior dimensions.


X1 Reviews: BMW X1 rear quarter view

BMW cues abound. Plenty of glass for outward visibility.

X1 Reviews: BMW X1 instrument panel

The X1's display perches atop a slender instrument panel, where it's safest and easiest to view.

Fuel economy
Fuel economy: Better Better Worse

Fuel economy was a "why to buy" with the original BMW X1. Probably owing to its additional height, in the EPA's tests the new X1 rates one mpg lower on the highway but the same in the city, for a still very competitive 22 city / 32 highway. These are good numbers for a quick all-wheel-drive (AWD) crossover with plenty of room for four people and their stuff. Though smaller and less powerful, the Audi Q3 scores lower, 20/28. The Mini Clubman, with the same engine and transmission but without AWD and with less weight and frontal area to push through the atmosphere scores a little better, 24/34. Within the class only the Mercedes-Benz GLA does better, and then only in city driving (24/32).

In my driving the X1's trip computer ususally reported suburban averages around 26 mpg, but as low as 23 in harder driving and as high as 31 when driven in what I call "Prius mode." On a 70-mph highway the trip computer reported a two-way average just over 30. These numbers are a little better than those I observed in the old X1.


Handling
Handling: Better Better Worse

Other auto reviewers will have little if any praise for the new BMW X1's handling. They tended to love how the original X1 handled--I did, too--but that car is gone, and the new one is much different.

Though the new X1 has AWD standard in North America, unlike in other xDrive BMWs the system defaults to the front wheels rather than the rears. It also has a nose-heavy weight distribution--though 56/44 is more balanced than competitors with similarly transverse powertrains. As a result of these basic differences, the new X1 doesn't drive like a traditional BMW when hustled. It has more of a tendency to understeer (plow toward the outside of a curve) and no option of counteracting this tendency with the throttle. What BMW and Mini call "performance control" selectively applies the brakes to limit understeer, and this helps, but it doesn't make the new X1 feel like the old X1. The new X1 also rolls more, to be expected since it's a little taller, and the front end can feel a little underdamped (i.e. bouncy) in hard turns despite a standard M Sport suspension.

Many BMWs have become insulated and cushy at the expense of driver involvement. Not the new X1. Every detail of the road surface seems to be transmitted through the steering and seat. The steering doesn't communicate tire grip as thorougly, but I suppose you can't have everything. Given this better-than-the-low-average feedback plus precise control over a capable, no-surprises chassis, I found it easy to exploit the X1's potential. This potential would be higher with grippier tires than the standard 225/50VR18 Pirelli P7 all-season treads. (Lower profile of the same width on 19-inch wheels are optional.)

The Audi Q3 remains based on the same platform as the 2006.5-2014 Volkswagen GTI, rather than that of the current GTI and Audi A3 sedan. As a result, it lacks the newer platform's much-improved precision, sharpness, and steering feedback. Compared to the X1, the Q3 feels softer and less involving, but considerably more polished. The tested Q3 was fitted with optional 255/40HR19 ContiProContact tires. Quite wide for a vehicle the size of the Q3, these seem to grip the road better than the X3's 225s. But they do little if anything for the level of feedback. In terms of handling I prefer the more visceral BMW.


Why Not the 2016 BMW X1?

  Compared to the Q3
Quietness
Quietness: Much worse Better Worse

There's a reason the great majority of cars (even those costing under $25,000) don't provide gobs of feedback: many people perceive such feedback as undesirable vibration and it tends to be accompanied by gobs of noise. The new BMW X1 rumbles and/or roars (depending on speed and pavement type) across all but the smoothest roads. Even around town I had to turn up the audio volume a few extra clicks so the music wouldn't be drowned out. On the highway the noise and associated vibrations proved tiresome. They also made the X1 seem like a car with a price far below the $45,920 on its Monroney. It doesn't feel like a premium car. Even the related Mini Clubman rides more quietly and smoothly and generally feels more refined. The Audi Q3 rides much more quietly and smoothly, though outside this comparison I probably wouldn't find its performance in either area worthy of much note. Within the class, the Lexus and Lincoln are the quietest.


Ride smoothness
Ride smoothness: Much worse Better Worse

See "quietness." While the new BMW X1's ride doesn't often cross the line into harsh, its suspension does an especially bad job of soaking up the small stuff. Hit even a modest pothole and the sound and feel of the impact will have you checking for a tire pressure warning. It's not a good choice for a relaxing commute. And yet the standard M Sport suspension somehow manages speed bumps well.

As much as I'd personally tend to check the box for a sport suspension option, I wonder why BMW made the M Sport suspension standard on the new X1. Perhaps they were hoping to blunt adverse reactions to the platform swap with overtly sporty suspension tuning. (Yet the X1's cornering isn't all that flat.)

Though I also criticized the Range Rover Evoque for lapses in refinement, it was smoother and quieter than the X1. The Lincoln MKC, despite a near-total lack of sporting pretensions, both rides and handles well. It's the premium compact crossover I most enjoyed driving.


X1 Reviews: BMW X1 front view

The face is clearly that of a BMW.

X1 Reviews: BMW X1 rear seat

Plenty of room for heads and feet in back seat. Slides, reclines, returns to fully upright position.

Exterior styling
Exterior styling: Worse Better Worse

The original BMW X1 wasn't a beautiful vehicle, but with a longer hood, lower roof, and tighter overhangs than most crossovers it had intriguing drive-me-hard proportions. The new X1 looks like a typical compact crossover (CR-V, RAV4, CX-5, etc.) with BMW cues. One of those was already available in the latest Hyundai Tucson (which arguably looks better than the actual BMW).

To be fair, the new X1 isn't an unattractive vehicle. I just don't see anyone buying one because of how it looks beyond its clear identity as a BMW (thanks to a large "double kidney" grille). Maybe that's enough.

The new Clubman can look oddly long or wide from some angles--it's gigantic for a Mini--but it does retain a distinctive style. The Q3 looks much like an Audi Q5, just one with the proportions of a toy. Audis being Audis (unless they're the new Q7), its surfacing is more artful and it appears more tailored. Some might find it adorably cute.

The Lincoln MKC's exterior was clearly cribbed from Audi, but its proportions are much more Q5 than Q3. The Lexus NX has the most aggressive styling in the class. It's a longer vehicle than the others, but much of this additional length is in its distended nose ahead of the front wheel. The Range Rover Evoque is the most stylish of the bunch.


Other features of the 2016 BMW X1

  Compared to the Q3
Interior styling
Interior styling: Worse Better Worse

The new BMW X1's interior also didn't do much for me, but I'm giving it the benefit of the doubt. I suspect a different color than the tested car's light beige and the optional sport seats could really help. Only the most lavish interiors can make light beige appear upscale, and the X1's includes too many plastic surfaces to qualify as lavish. Plus the standard seats have an oddly rounded leading edge.

Some details of the interior work. The optional black-stained, matt-finished oak trim looks and feels easily worthy of the X1's price. The upholstered trim that runs along the right side of the center console then swoops over it is a more artful execution than we usually see in BMWs (though its hard plastic interior surface is one of those parts that looks a bit cheap in light beige).

For much more distinctively styled interior on the same platform, check out the new Mini Clubman. Its interior materials are easily the nicest to date in a Mini, and (if you check the right boxes) can seem a cut above those in the BMW.

The Q3's interior styling is very much that of a pre-2016 Audi, so it's clean and subtly stylish--and less futuristic than Audi's latest interiors (so far seen in the TT , Q7, and A4). The Lexus NX and Lincoln MKC arguably have nicer interiors than either the BMW or the Audi. The Range Rover Evoque has the most stylish, most richly appointed interior in the segment, but this is reflected (and then some) in its price.


Driving position & visibility
Driving position & visibility: Better Better Worse

You sit a little higher in the new BMW X1 than in the old one, but not so high as to feel tippy or to make the X1 difficult to step into. Though the new car doesn't feel as sporty as the old one partly as a result, the new driving position is about perfect for the typical crossover buyer. Tall drivers will appreciate vast headroom. Drivers of all sizes enjoy good outward visibility.

You could sit at a similar height in the Audi Q3, except that the steering column might not tilt down far enough. I had to raise the seat more than I otherwise would have so that the steering wheel would be comfortably positioned.

The front seats in both small crossovers provide good if not great support and comfort. As equipped, both have 8-way power adjustments plus 4-way lumbar on the passenger as well as the driver seat. Some people will find the seat bottom undersized on the X1. Sport seats with power-adjustable side bolsters and manually adjustable thigh supports are part of the $2,450 M Sport Package. If I were getting an X1, I'd want these seats in it.

The Lexus NX and Lincoln MKC both have exceptionally comfortable front seats.

The center console is lower than in rear-drive BMWs. Though this might take away from the X1's sportiness, it enhances perceived roominess. I might mind the lower console more with a manual transmission, but as with the old X1 one isn't offered in North America.


Controls and instruments
Controls and instruments: Much better Better Worse

The X1's low center console does make the iDrive infotainment controls a little less easy to reach and operate. You can't safely look at the iDrive buttons in this lower, more rearward location (compared to most other BMWs), but by the end of the week I'd leaned how to find the desired button by feel. The volume knob remains on the instrument panel.

At least the X1's primary infotainment controls are on the console. In the Q3, unlike in more recently designed Audis, the MMI (multimedia interface) knob and buttons are on the instrument panel's center stack even with navigation. In that location they aren't nearly as easy or as safe to operate while driving. No doubt this will be rectified when the Q3 is redesigned.

In both the BMW and the Audi the infotainment display is mounted on top of the instrument panel, making it high enough to view without entirely taking your eyes off the road. Others tend to mount the display lower. Some people will mind that these displays look like they should retract, but they do not.


Powertrain performance
Powertrain performance: Better Better Worse

With a 228-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and a manually shiftable eight-speed automatic transmission, the BMW X1 can get to 60 mph about a second ahead of the 200-horsepower, six-speed Audi Q3; figure seven vs. eight seconds. The Mercedes and Lincoln with its optional engine are about as quick as the BMW, the others (including the Lincoln with its base engine) are about as quick as the Audi. The spread from quickest to slowest isn't broad. None are thrillingly quick. For that you want the Mercedes GLA in 375-horsepower AMG form.

BMW did offer a 300-horsepower six-cylinder engine in the 2013-2015 X1, but offers no engine, transmission, or drivetrain options for the 2016 in North America.


Price or payments
Price or payments: About the same Better Worse

With a $34,800 starting price and a $45,920 as-tested price, the 2016 BMW X1 isn't inexpensive. But if you think these prices are crazy high, you haven't checked those of competitors.

When similarly equipped, an X1 costs $2,320 more than the Audi Q3, but if you adjust for the BMW's additional content the difference is only around $1,000. The Lincoln MKC costs $1,355 more before such an adjustment, but only about $500 more afterwards. The Lexus NX costs $580 more before the adjustment, but about $2,000 more afterwards. All four are probably close enough that sticker price isn't likely to be the deciding factor among them. Then there's the Range Rover Evoque: $4,525 more before adjusting for the middling content of the Pure trim, and over $6,000 more afterwards. You can get higher trim levels, but then the price difference widens.


Conclusion

Too often I find a car difficult to write up because, middle of the road in pretty much everything, it has no clear strengths or weaknesses. This isn't the case with the new BMW X1. Compared to other premium compact crossovers, the new X1 most involves the driver, has the most passenger and cargo room, is the quickest, and gets nearly the best fuel economy. To undermine this formidable group of "why to buys," it has a bumpy, noisy ride and is no feast for the eyes (though as long as the front is in view no one will mistake it for anything other than the BMW).

The Audi Q3? It's more stylish and quieter, but it has a much tighter interior and it's more boring to drive. The Lincoln MKC is the flipside of the new X1. Though surprisingly enjoyable to drive it rides much more quietly and smoothly. Unfortunately, like the Audi it has a tight interior, and its fuel economy is the worst in the class. The Lexus NX has the sportiest styling and the second most usable rear seat in the bunch, but it doesn't come close to delivering the sportiest driving experience. Quietness is more its thing, and it could also prove the most reliable. The Range Rover Evoque? Great style, but so-so refinement, somewhat tight interior, and pricey even in this context. None of these compact crossovers does everything the best. Know your priorities, and you'll know which one to buy.

One thing that won't be a deciding factor: the orientation of the powertrain. With the old X1 gone, they're all sideways. While I miss the 2013-2015 BMW's more dynamic, potentially tail-out handling, and would certainly prefer it on a track or challenging road, the key faults of the new one vis-a-vis competitors can't be attributed to its transverse powertrain, while some of its strengths can be.

Why is the chassis of the X1 so lacking in refinement? Perhaps because BMW, like Mercedes with the CLA and GLA, doesn't have the depth of experience with front-wheel-drive platforms that VW/Audi has, and even now hasn't made their optimization a priority. A desire to blunt criticism of the new X1 as insufficiently sporty also could have been a factor. That accomplished, at least in my mind, BMW can work on refining the new X1. Once it does, the X1 could emerge on top in nearly every area, and not merely performance, fuel economy, driver involvement, and interior space.

X1 Reviews: BMW X1 engine uncovered

Horrors: a sideways powertrain, in a BMW. Brand loyalists are aghast.

X1 Reviews: BMW X1 cargo area seats folded

Class-leading cargo space with the rear seat down.

See more 2016 BMW X1 photos

BMW provided an insured car for a week with a tank of fuel. Suburban Audi in Farmington Hills, MI, helpfully provided a Q3 for a test drive. Matt Goebel at Motor City MINI did the same with a Clubman. Matt can be reached at 248-204-4600.

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2016 BMW X1 pros and cons, according to Michael Karesh: the best reasons for buying (or not buying) the 2016 BMW X1. Join TrueDelta to post your own impressions.

Response from gslippy

9:19 pm April 6, 2016

It's refreshing - even shocking - that a compact CUV would have such a roomy interior, especially in the back seat.

At 6'6", interior room is a big factor in my car choices.

No real comments about the 8-speed transmission - I take that as a good sign that it did its job without being offensive.

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Response from mkaresh

10:03 pm April 6, 2016

I thinks it's the Aisin 8-speed, which tends to be well-behaved. That said, I don't find fault with automatics as often as some reviewers do.

On room, I'm only 5'9", and while I try to evaluate how tall a person will fit once someone is as tall as you are there's no substitute to sitting in the car yourself. I'd like to compile a list of cars people of X height find acceptably roomy.

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