2012 BMW X1 xDrive 28i review: a potent little ‘ute

For the past day and a half I’ve been driving around in a new 2012 BMW X1. And when I say new, I mean new – as in only 150km on the odometer new. And it’s not mine, so I’m very much responsible for returning this brand new machine in one piece…

I first sat in the captain’s chair longing for and expecting that glorious new car smell, but evidently not all new car smell is created equal. When you buy a car with leather, the first note to hit your ol’ factory senses is the deep, rich scent of cowhide. You know, a scent not dissimilar to the expensive yet rarely-worn calf skin dress shoes in the closet. But many manufacturers (yes, even the premium ones) have taken to using synthetic leathers (dubbed various names like “ARTICO leather” – despite having nothing to do with leather) and some do a better job than others. Sure, real leather is still available, but it’ll set you back around two grand. Mercedes’ synthetic ARTICO leather isn’t bad from a tactile perspective, and neither is Audi’s. But the leatherette on this BMW feels a little on the thin side and certainly doesn’t provide the ego-stroking aroma of success that sitting on something that has subsequently been turned into a Big Mac provides.

Getting past initial impressions of the leatherette I must say that the cabin is quite pleasant. The seat is perfectly comfortable (this X1 is not equipped with the “Sport Package” which offers sport seats). The steering wheel is thick and meaty – in a good way – as it’s very reassuring to grab onto. The sporting “bumps” in the steering wheel at 10 and 2 o’clock are in just the right spot to remind you that you could take the X1 to the track if necessary. (But don’t – the X1 isn’t designed for that). And it’s a good thing the wheel is so hefty as it takes quite a lot of force to turn at parking lot speeds. The power steering feels lazy, as if it can’t be bothered to help at low speed. The ability to adjust speed sensitivity in the power steering would be of great benefit as I don’t need to feel like Sebastian Vettel parking his F1 car sans power steering after a race.

The cabin controls are all accessible and placed in ergonomically sensible locations. I can’t fault the X1 much for its interior design and functionality; and for $1,900 one can upgrade to 100% beef seats if so inclined. But if you have kids or wear on your seats heavily then leatherette may actually be more functional over the long term. It’s easier to clean and less likely to crack and wear. But you will miss that smell.

Your ears, however, will not miss the ambient road noise as the cabin is well insulated and manages to keep things relatively refined inside. The turbo-charged four cylinder engine will creep into the cabin on occasion but nothing unmanageable. If you’re expecting silky-smooth 6-cylinder power delivery and sounds from the turbo four-cylinder, don’t. Initial throttle response isn’t sharp and the engine doesn’t purr. You most definitely know you’re driving a four-banger at low rpm. Raspy, unrefined and raucous might be the best adjectives. But the story changes entirely when you plant your right foot. It’s very willing and able to put all of its 241 ponies to work and they do a pretty spectacular job via the 8-speed auto trans once the single, twin-scroll turbo gets spooling. The engine note improves at higher RPM and the power is nothing short of impressive for a measly 2.0 litres of displacement. There may be a bit of disconnect between the sporting impression the meaty steering wheel exudes and the actual driving experience, but it’s kind of charming. It’s the little CUV that could. So if you can put lethargic throttle response aside, you’ll be thrilled with the performance and fuel economy from this little turbo four that thinks it’s a six.

This CUV can certainly ‘ute. It may be at the smaller end of the size spectrum, but interior space configuration is done to expected German efficacy that makes the most of what it has. And at 6’1 I have plenty of legroom; so much in fact that I don’t even have to put the driver’s seat all the way back – a first for me.
Check out these photos of the X1 and its interior:

It’s a pretty good car with great driving dynamics (throttle responsiveness aside), but then again it should be for a base price of around $40K in Canada with freight and PDI. If this will be stretching your budget by a healthy margin but you still want a good, practical CUV then I highly recommend checking out the new Ford Escape and Mazda CX-5. Starting at around $25K they make for a pretty compelling value proposition.

Lastly: BMW, please, please bring the diesel version of the X1 to North America. We want it.

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If you’re located in or around Toronto and in the market for an X1 (or any vehicle for that matter), I’d be pleased to be your car broker.

Angus McComb – Car Broker
www.carcompass.ca