Upward mobility is woven into the socio-economic fabric of modern culture, and the 2020 BMW X1 is the most affordable way to obtain a new vehicle with a blue-and-white propeller badge on the hood. At the same time, once the kids have flown the coop, downsizing from the big SUV, the big house, and the big bills in advance of retirement is common amongst the more fortunate members of society. Something the size of the BMW X1 serves this purpose, too.
When it comes to entry-luxury SUVs, the X1 was one of the first to market, going on sale in Europe a decade ago and arriving in the U.S. for the 2013 model year. In original recipe format, it was rear-wheel or all-wheel drive, a platform arrangement that put a smile on a driver’s face but forced compromises in terms of passenger room and cargo capacity.
A 2016 redesign put the X1 on a space-saving front-wheel or all-wheel-drive platform, solving the interior roominess issue at the expense of outright driving enjoyment. Half a decade later, the X1 faces more competition than ever, especially from primary rivals Audi and Mercedes-Benz.
To keep the 2020 X1 on consumer shopping lists, BMW updates the styling. Highlights include new bumpers, lighting, grille, wheel designs, and larger exhaust outlets. The optional M Sport design package is tweaked, too, and three new colors join the paint palette, including the test vehicle’s compelling Storm Gray metallic.
Inside, the iDrive6 infotainment system includes a standard 8.8-inch touchscreen this year, and contrast stitching adds an extra sense of luxury to the cabin. The transmission lever is new for 2020, too, operating what BMW says is an upgraded 8-speed automatic with revised gear ratios.
For this review, J.D. Power evaluated a BMW X1 xDrive28i equipped with extra-cost paint, 19-inch aluminum wheels, leather upholstery wrapped around sport front seats, upgraded wood trim, a sliding and reclining back seat, a Premium Package, and adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability. The price came to $48,645, including the $995 destination charge.
What Owners Say…
Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2020 X1, it is helpful to understand who buys this small premium SUV, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.
According to J.D. Power data, BMW X1 owners are about the same as all small premium SUV buyers when it comes to gender, with 56% of X1 owners identifying as female (vs. 54% for the segment). The BMW owners are more affluent, however, enjoying a median annual household income of $158,333 (vs. $148,481). They’re also older in terms of median age (59 years vs. 56 years) and only 8% of BMW X1 owners identify as members of Generation Y or Generation Z (vs. 19% for the segment).
Performance is a greater draw for BMW X1 owners, with 59% identifying as Performance Buyers (vs. 42% for the segment). Fewer X1 owners agree that a vehicle is just a way of getting from place to place (22% vs. 28%), and fewer X1 owners agree that a first consideration when choosing a new vehicle is fuel economy (43% vs. 52%).
At the same time, BMW X1 owners are more likely to agree that they avoid vehicles they think will have high maintenance costs (84% vs. 78%), while 59% of BMW X1 owners strongly agree that a first consideration in choosing a vehicle is reliability (vs. 52%).
BMW X1 owners are less likely to agree that they will pay extra to ensure their vehicle has the latest safety features (78% vs. 86%), and they are less likely to agree that they like a vehicle that stands out from the crowd (78% vs. 88%).
Owners say their favorite things about the X1 are (in descending order) the engine/transmission, driving dynamics and interior design (in a tie), exterior design, and visibility and safety. Owners indicate their least favorite things about the X1 are (in descending order) the seats, infotainment system, climate control system, storage and space, and fuel economy.
In the J.D Power 2019 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, the Volvo XC40 ranked highest among all small premium SUVs, while the BMW X1 ranked lower than competitors.
What Our Expert Says…
In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own perceptions about how the 2020 BMW X1 measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the APEAL Study.
Though the X1’s styling changes are subtle, they’re intended to better align the SUV’s details with the current BMW design ethos. Consider that mission to be a success, though individual preferences will determine whether or not the modifications are appealing.
People who prefer a more rugged look or simply wish to save some money will want the standard xLine styling treatment. People who seek a sportier, monochrome appearance will want the M Sport package, which also adds more standard safety and infotainment equipment to the SUV.
In any color except black, the BMW X1 has a 2-tone interior with a dashboard trimmed in gloss black, aluminum, or wood trim with pearl chrome accents. Rock-solid construction and quality materials help to take the edge off of the price tag, and the simple, traditional analog instrumentation is refreshing in a segment rapidly adopting digital display screens.
Get into the BMW X1, and you sit tall with a good view forward. Larger people may not like the optional front sport seats, which remain narrow at the love handles even with the side bolsters deflated, but the manually adjustable thigh supports add to comfort levels.
Rear seat legroom is tight and the hard plastic trim on the front seatbacks does not help taller passengers to find a comfortable position. The seats themselves, however, are supportive, and both rear air conditioning vents and USB-C charging port keep complaints from your offspring to a minimum.
Climate Control System
Ranking toward the bottom of the list of X1 owners’ favorite things about the SUV, the climate control system is easy to use but struggled to cool the vehicle down on a sunny 90-degree day – even with the panoramic sunroof’s shade closed.
The problem proved three-fold. First, solar heating though windshield made the front seating area quite warm. Second, the dual-zone automatic climate control system failed to account for this, making it necessary to switch to manual operation to increase airflow through the dashboard vents. Third, BMW does not offer ventilated front seats for the X1.
If you live in a cold-weather climate, the BMW X1 has you covered with available heated front seats and a heated steering wheel.
Nearly 20 years ago, with its original iDrive infotainment system, BMW was among the first automakers to try to solve the problem of increasing technological complexity and driver distraction. Today, iDrive is among the better infotainment systems available in a luxury vehicle.
The BMW X1, however, does not offer the latest iDrive7 version of the technology, which includes natural voice recognition and gesture control. It uses iDrive6, which is still a fairly intuitive system that offers touch, voice, and physical controls to operate its many features and functions.
Equipped with a newly standard 8.8-inch touchscreen display, iDrive6 boasts quick response to input, pleasing graphics, and an organized if complex menu structure. Once you get the hang of how the system works, it is fairly easy to use – though not as easy as iDrive7.
For example, the voice recognition technology is good, but not great. It properly responded to most of my standard voice-prompt tests, but had a difficult time understanding me when asking to change the satellite radio station to channel 36. On the first attempt, I got channel 6. On the second attempt, I got 86. Then I switched the prompt to request Alt Nation, and the resulting action proved accurate.
If you love music, you’ll want to upgrade to the optional Harman Kardon sound system. The standard speakers are capable of volume, but lack depth, clarity and an immersive sound experience.
Storage and Space
The BMW X1 is clearly a small SUV, positioned below the X3 and X5 in terms of size and price. Nevertheless, owners rank storage and space near the bottom of their lists of favorite features.
Practical interior storage is lacking. The glove compartment is large, as are the bins carved into the lower door panels, but otherwise there is scant space for the items people typically carry with them.
Cargo space measures 27.1 cu.-ft. behind the rear seat and 58.7 cu.-ft. with the rear seat folded down. These are respectable numbers for the segment. The X1 includes a hidden storage area under the cargo load floor, a deep well to the left perfect for securely holding bottles of wine, and a netted area to the right. The 40/20/40-split folding rear seat offers maximum utility and flexibility, too.
Small SUVs are, naturally, small inside. But BMW does a good job of maximizing the space, aside from the limited room in the center console.
Visibility and Safety
Thanks to its standard 8-way power adjustable front seats, the driver and passenger can sit up high in the X1, enjoying an expansive view forward and to the sides. The test car’s panoramic sunroof also contributed to the BMW’s open and airy feeling.
The view to the rear through the mirror isn’t great due to the seats and their head restraints, but a standard reversing camera and other driving aids make this a non-issue. The test vehicle also had the optional head-up display, which is hard to see while wearing polarized sunglasses.
Standard advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS) include forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, low-speed automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and automatic high-beam headlights. Additionally, the test vehicle included adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability. It works accurately and with refinement, and the lane departure warning system operates in subtle fashion.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the BMW X1 earns top marks for crashworthiness, but misses a Top Safety Pick due to incomplete testing of the most recent version of the SUV.
BMW X1 owners love this SUV’s engine and transmission, and it’s easy to understand why. The turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder makes 228 horsepower between 5,000 rpm and 6,000 rpm, and 258 lb.-ft. of torque from just 1,450 rpm to 4,500 rpm.
Translated, these facts and figures mean the engine is making either peak torque or peak horsepower from just after you step on the gas pedal nearly to the engine’s rev limit. And that means the X1 quickly responds to requests for more power, especially if you drive it in Sport mode instead of the Comfort or Eco Pro settings.
In fact, BMW says the X1 sprints from a stop to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds with the optional xDrive all-wheel-drive system. If you’ve got the standard sDrive28i front-wheel-drive version of the SUV, 60 mph arrives in 6.6 seconds.
When equipped with xDrive, the BMW X1 is rated by the EPA to return 23 mpg in the city, 31 mpg on the highway, and 25 mpg in combined driving. On my testing loop, with the SUV’s Sport driving mode engaged for the mountainous portion of the route, the X1 averaged 23.2 mpg.
BMW X1 owners like the way this SUV drives, but I was less enamored of it compared to newer designs like the current Audi Q3 Prestige and Mercedes-Benz GLB 250 4Matic.
Handling and grip are decent, and the steering and brakes are excellent aside from some occasionally inconsistent brake pedal modulation issues. However, I thought the X1 xDrive28i produced too much suspension movement on twisty undulating roads, a fairly busy ride quality on local freeways, and plenty of road noise.
If you’re seeking a genuinely fun-to-drive but compact and relatively affordable BMW SUV, consider the X2 M35i. It uses the same platform as the X1, but this smaller and sportier version benefits from a much more powerful engine and a full M Sport mechanical massage.
“Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number,” sang R&B star Aaliyah back in the early 1990s. When it comes to the automotive industry, that’s not true, and the BMW X1 is getting old, fast.
Nevertheless, this BMW’s increasing need for a redesign wouldn’t affect the reasons X1 owners like their vehicles. From the styling, layout and materials to the excellent powertrain and impressive crash-test ratings, the 2020 BMW X1 offers small premium SUV buyers a compelling choice in an increasingly crowded segment.
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