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2013 BMW X1 - First Drive

This new 300hp sub-compact SUV feels like a dragster.

Greg Emmerson
Oct 15, 2012
Epcp 1211 01+2013 bmw x1+cover Photo 1/5   |   2013 BMW X1 - First Drive

As we were being bounced and jostled along country roads, we discovered two important things about the new BMW X1 xDrive35i: its steering was numb and it really didn’t need the 300hp turbo engine under the hood.

We’re slightly ashamed to be suggesting a car is too fast, since that’s usually anathema to our entire being, but driving the X1 xDrive28i made far more sense. However, the X135i is a model exclusively engineered for the US market and will be sold nowhere else, so we had to give it a try at least.

Its arrival in the US should be welcomed by anybody looking for a small, high performance crossover. Very high performance, as it turns out: the X135i will hit 60mph in 5.3sec, with the xDrive28i not far behind at 6.3sec.

We learned that this over-engined crossover is the product of a fertile German imagination, rather than the demands of the company’s North America product planners. There’s a rumor the US specialists felt it might threaten 3 Series sales and politely suggested it wasn’t needed, but it will surely be another strong seller since its comic-book acceleration will certainly win fans.

It’s a fine automobile, built to BMW’s very high standards, with a cockpit and controls familiar to anybody who has driven the company’s recent offerings. Where it falls unusually short is that the high output requires AWD for stability, adding weight and penalizing the economy to some extent; its numbers only reaching 18/27/21mpg, which is rather poor for this segment.

The 3.0T application is only available with the older six-speed auto as well, rather than the sublime eight-speed offered in both RWD (sDrive) and AWD (xDrive) versions of the 28i. Add to that the 35i’s steering, which was numb around the center, making it difficult to aim the car accurately, and we didn’t fall in love with the X1 xDrive35i.

Epcp 1211 02+2013 bmw x1+full view Photo 2/5   |   2013 BMW X1 - First Drive

Don’t get us wrong, it’s far from being a bad car, but the X128i is a smarter option. It’s lighter, more economical, more responsive with its 8AT, and starts from $31545 in RWD format, rather than $39345 for the X135i.

With the 240hp N20 2.0L turbo engine putting less weight in the nose, and its steering having better feel, the X128i was a superior proposition on all fronts (except scaring your kids witless away from traffic lights!). It allows you to better appreciate the fine chassis balance, cabin ambience and the plethora of technology loaded into every BMW.

As BMW’s premium sub-compact sport activity vehicle, the X1 has proved very popular overseas. Sales to date have reached 275000 worldwide, although it remains the only BMW X model not built in its US Spartanburg facility. In fact, the X1 will soon be assembled in China as well as the existing German plant.

Among its laundry list of options are the usual Sport and M Sport Lines as well as a new xLine that sees exterior trim and underbody elements finished in matte Titanium silver. It also has a Dark Copper interior trim line and an “X” on the headrests.

Aesthetically, the X1 isn’t high on our shopping list. It’s not unattractive but it didn’t stir an emotional response. It does ooze premium quality though, which is important in this segment.

The seating position doesn’t tower over the traffic. You sit relatively low, so the SUV command position isn’t an obvious selling point. It’s small size also means space isn’t particularly abundant, although folding down the rear seats obviously relinquishes more room.

For our money, we’d take the recently announced 328i Sports Wagon, which we’ll review next month. It has similar space but is dynamically and visually superior. However, the US isn’t a wagon market, so we expect the X1 to outsell it significantly.

2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i

Front-mounted longitudinal engine, AWD
1997cc i-4 N20 DOHC twin-scroll turbocharger, direct injection, Valvetronic, double-Vanos
Eight-speed Steptronic automatic, xDrive AWD
Double-joint spring strut thrust bar axle f, five-link axle with longitudinal control arm and double wishbone r
Wheels & Tires
17x7.5", 225/50 R17
MSRP: from $33245 (inc. destination)


Power: 241hp at 5000-6500rpm
Torque: 258 lb-ft at 1250-4800rpm
0-60mph: 6.3sec
Top speed: 130mph
Weight: 3726 lb
Economy: 22/30/25mpg city/hway/combined (estimated)

By Greg Emmerson
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