Up: Fun to drive, tons of standard equipment, even more options.
Down: Those same options drive the price up. Fast. Would like some more fun paint colors.
Neutral: Other manufacturers take note: this is what the young professionals want.
SUVs are stupid. They are enormous, ungainly, and come with a sense of entitlement enclosed with a free pass to take up as many parking spots as they want. Some aren’t even built with enough heart to earn the “S” or the “U” in their own acronym. To me, SUVs are just large, monotonous vehicles that can haul 10 kids and a boat for a day at the lake.
Now I don’t mean to bag on SUVs just for the sake of it because some are quite good. A supercharged Range Rover that can literally go anywhere or a turbocharged Volvo XC60 can very easily brighten my day. But I, and most of my generation, don’t have a pot load of offspring and a nice schooner we can take out on the weekends. We have studio apartments, the latest smartphone, and a desire for efficient, modern, and affordable vehicles. While a big ol’ Chevy Tahoe may not be in our sights, a certain German company may have a solution for our contemporary lifestyles.
BMW has conjured up a line of small to large SUVs called the X-Series. The X-Series starts with the X1 as the smallest and the X6 as the largest, but there’s a twist: they don’t call them SUVs. BMW’s given code for their not-a-car-but-not-a-truck is Sport Activity Vehicle, or SAV. BMW’s latest addition to their non-SUV line is also their tiniest, the X1, and it has room for pretty much everything and unrivaled performance, according to the website. I was fortunate enough to get to drive the fully loaded 2015 BMW X1 xDrive35i and determine if it’s the real sporty activity vehicle for the modern person, or just a shameless title that gives the appearance of change.
At a glance the BMW X1 looks a little quirky, and that’s a good start. Being unique is very important in this day and age, and the X1 does a good job of not looking like a raised up 2 or 3-Series and not looking like a smaller X5 at the same time. While it does resemble an X3, the X1 is noticeably smaller and has some unique features of its own. My favorite part is that there aren’t any hard angles on the X1 and all body lines follow a slight curve that gives the SAV its own groovy appearance. Austin Powers would be proud.
The other fun thing about BMW is the loads of options you can tack onto their vehicles to make it your own. On top of the base vehicle you can get the Sport Line, the M Sport Line, Cold Weather and Premium Packages, different colors and materials for both seats and trims, different wheels, and the list goes on and on. Naturally, this does drive the $31,000 base price up, but you got to pay to play, amiright? Also, the one I drove was Mineral Grey Metallic, but you can’t go wrong with their signature Valencia Orange.
The interior of the X1 is where the real magic happens for me. Yes it has comfortable seating for five, navigation, and a sunroof, but that’s not what I’m talking about. What I loved the most is how BMW is evolving how we interact with the vehicle as we drive. For example, I could tap on the turn signal indicator stick and it would give a other drivers a 3-blink notification that I was turning right or left. If I wanted it to indicate for longer, I could hold down the stick for a solid second or two and the indicator wouldn’t go off until I had finally turned. The same went for cruise control. If I wanted to increase or decrease my speed by 1 mph, I would tap the lever whereas if I wanted to do the same but in increments of 5 mph, I would hold the lever in for longer. it may not sound like much, but these are intuitive features that we use every day. Not sure what I’m talking about? Compare it to a tap or a long press on your smartphone or tablet and it’ll all make sense!
As for other features, I found that I could pretty much do everything I wanted from the steering wheel when I was driving. This I like. I could manually change gears, take phone calls, choose audio sources, and even turn on and off the air circulation! Every other function of the car can be manually adjusted via that knob by the armrest and the 8.8″ display. There is still a tiny volume knob and a slot to put CDs in on the center console, but BMW could have eliminated that entire thing and I wouldn’t have even noticed. I mean, who has CDs anymore?
So how is it to drive? Well the one I drove was the BMW X1 xDrive35i with the Sport, Cold Weather, and Ultimate Package which put the price tag at right around $47,500. I know I know, that’s more than most people my age can afford but these are all optional add-ons. I’m also going to talk about the primary features that are included in the base sDrive28i model for $20,000 less.
First, however, the expensive fun stuff. The 300 horsepower turbocharged 3.0 liter inline-6 engine is superb. Zero-to-sixty in 5 seconds in an SAV is both insane and insanely fun. (Feel free to creep up on unsuspecting GTIs and blow their doors off!) I also had the heated sport seats which were very comfortable and have a cool red stripe on them to match the other red accents in the cabin. The rest of the extra stuff included bigger wheels, electric everything, parking cameras, BMW Online, and some other bells and whistles that make the X1 feel like a luxury vehicle.
Now take away the $20,000 worth of cool stuff and what do you have left? Still a bunch of cool stuff! The base X1 sDrive28i comes standard with a 240 horsepower turbocharged 4 banger, an 8-speed auto transmission with sport mode, alloy wheels, power seats, the same awesome steering wheel, cruise control, and… whew, I’m running out of breath! The point is, the base 28i still comes better equipped than most SUVs and crossovers on the market. The only thing I would highly suggest, especially for us Midwesterners, is adding the Cold Weather Package for a measly $700. Your butt will thank you.
The last test is can it go off road? Well, I didn’t go too crazy but I found a nice empty field to shoot photos and play around in. The X1 easily navigated the bumps and the snow without breaking a sweat. Even when I got heavy on the gas, I never felt wheelspin for more than a second or two. This is all due to BMW’s intelligent xDrive AWD system. Normally most power goes to the rear wheels but the wizards inside the computers will automatically send power to the wheel with the most grip when you start to feel slippage. This ensures that you stay in control when things get hairy.
Finally, let’s talk money. You can get the rear-wheel-drive X1 sDrive28i for a cool $31,000 and that will be enough car to brag to your friends about for many years on your daily commute inside the city. If you live outside the city, the X1 xDrive28i might be more your style. It’s less than $2000 more and you get the assurance of BMW’s xDrive on those snowy days. (In car loan talk, that’s around $10 more a month onto your payment.) Now if you have money to blow and want the ultimate small SUV, excuse me, SAV experience, you would be hard pressed finding a better example than the fully loaded 2015 BMW xDrive35i that I drove.
So what do I think? I still hate SUVs. But I’m not thinking of this small, agile, and well equipped vehicle I just drove, I’m thinking of the neanderthalic more-is-more idea of the old generations of SUVs. BMW has found a smarter way to make a sport utility vehicle work in the modern world, and the fresh new label is the perfect place to start standing out. The SUV had a good run from the late 90s to the early 2000s, but now it’s time to evolve and let the SAVs have their go!
*Special thanks to Jake Fredrickson at Luxury Auto Mall of Sioux Falls. Hit him up if you want to drive the new X1 or any other BMW vehicles!