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

2013 Mazda CX-5: a lot of versatility from a little package (with an even smaller price)

Today I had the pleasure of taking the new Mazda CX-5 GS out for a test drive. It originally drew my attention at the Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto as I’ve always liked the idea of a compact or “baby” SUV (or crossover if you really prefer) and wanted to see what Mazda was bringing to this relatively new crossover party. Well, as it turns out, they’ve brought a lot. I guess a quick synopsis for those that don’t wish to read further into the more granular review elements is that it’s a fantastic and well-rounded value proposition. For the money, it feels like a well-built and thought out vehicle. From the fit and finish of the materials and interior plastics, to the ergonomics of the controls, it’s a solid little crossover. I drove the AWD GS trim level with auto trans and cloth seats (the upgraded cloth, which I feel looks worse than the basic cloth due to its questionable pattern).

REVIEW CONTINUED AFTER THE PHOTOS

Despite having only a seemingly meagre 2.0L naturally aspirated 4-cylinder engine and the added weight of the all-wheel drive system to haul around, power was readily available and left little to be desired. Granted, I only got up to around 100km/h on the DVP, but I wasn’t left wishing for more. And I’m sure I’d be thankful of that when it comes time to fill up the frugal little SkyActiv powertrain at the gas pumps.

Seating was quite comfortable as the lateral support was clearly (and thankfully) not designed for our larger (er… big-boned?) friends to the south, but for a more average to slender frame. Headroom was plentiful for me (I’m 6’1), as was foot room in the back seat which is no small feat for a smaller vehicle. Knee room in the back seats is fine, but the foot room is what makes it brilliant – the designers have managed to create loads of space for the rear passengers’ feet so they won’t feel remotely cramped or confined. It’s almost possible to feel like you’re stretching out a bit because of how far forward your feet can go under the driver’s and passenger’s seats! The cabin space is very cleverly utilised indeed.

And the suspension setup seems as if it were designed for Toronto as it ate up our potholes and imperfections without making those in the cabin aware of what was just traversed. Comfortable but not sloppy is how to best describe it, which from me is high praise. Not spine-shakingly stiff, and not like driving a bowl of Mr. Cosby’s favourite pudding – the perfectly balanced middle-ground right in between.

Of the three trim levels (GX, GS and GT), certain desirable options are only available on specific trim levels which is a pretty standard and annoying practice here in Canada employed by almost every manufacturer. There’s not much in the way of à la carte feature adding to your vehicle. For example, on the mid-trim GS I drove, I found out that lumbar support is only available when stepping up to the GT model! My lower back was fine on the shorter test drive, but I suspect on a long-haul trip I’d be glad to have some lumbar support… adjustable or otherwise – and I don’t want to have to buy the GT just to have it equipped.

I didn’t drive the manual transmission, but I gave it a throw in a GX on the showroom floor and that is one sweet 6-speed! Nice crisp, short throws. Rarely would I consider buying a stick shift on a SUV (excuse me… still getting used to this “crossover” moniker), but in this case I’d be seriously tempted. The auto trans performed reasonably well, but the added performance and fuel economy of the manual paired with the enjoyment such a sweet 6-speed reminiscent of the much-loved gearbox on the MX-5 / Miata makes for a compelling argument.

Cabin noise was pretty average. At times it seemed rather quiet as the engine and tires aren’t particularly noisy until thrashed. But noise from other vehicles was more perceptible. This is likely a result of the SkyActiv approach to creating an extremely efficient design which includes weight reduction measures, probably sacrificing extra insulating material in the doors. But it’s far from being too noisy to put me off owning one.

My test drive was at Gyro Mazda on Laird Dr. a little south of Eglinton in Toronto (I will always hold a soft spot for Gyro Mazda as they tirelessly sponsored hockey teams in the league in which I played growing up at Leaside arena) and a nice young rep named Ziad kindly accompanied me on my test drive and toured the vehicle’s features and specs in a no-pressure, informative fashion. Worth asking for Ziad if you’re not going to be using Car Compass‘ services – he was very amicable and courteous.

This new contender from Mazda is an amazing choice as a practical, efficient, affordable (this certainly doesn’t mean “cheap” in execution) and enjoyable urban crossover. I really love its design, both inside and out. Ergonomics are good and everything has obviously been well thought out. Starting at around $23K, it’s an outstanding offering. And what gets me the most excited about the CX-5 is the 2.2L turbo diesel that might be sold here in Canada down the road – an engine that will prove more powerful (with waaaay more torque) and even more impressive fuel economy. It’s about time we (North Americans) shed our outdated and preconceived notions about diesels and realize that contemporary diesels are absolutely amazing. They’re not noisy like a rattling tin can, they don’t spew plumes of dirty-looking black smoke out the tailpipe, and they are not hard to find fuel for (especially when you’re only filling up half as often as a petrol counterpart!). And they’re grin-inducing with their abundant torque. Sign me up for the diesel when it lands in about a year or so!

Angus McComb

Founder, Car Compass – Steering you in the right direction

855-STEER-ME (783-3763) or 416-477-9328