The first time I climbed behind the wheel of the BMW X1 it felt as if I’d stepped into an alternate reality, so similar was its cockpit to our beloved—but long gone—2008 BMW 335i. Same wonderful sports seats, steering wheel, shifter, climate controls.
The robust heft of the steering wheel during parking maneuvers brought back memories, as did the superb transmission of information through its rim, once at speed. The slickness of the six-speed auto was also familiar. Cue a forlorn sigh. But there were a myriad of differences to the X1. The material quality wasn’t up to that of the outgoing E90 sedans; plastics were harder and many materials of cheaper finish. This was disguised to some extent by the X1’s groovy flashes of red and silver piping, contrast stitching and other addenda, but the overall sense was that it was a bit cheap feeling inside for a vehicle sitting so close to 50-large.
Other X1 bugbears were the cramped back seat and the rear hatch, which was harder to open than any car I can remember; I have no idea what smaller or older people might have to do to gain access to the cargo area. Otherwise, all was as it should be in a modern BMW: the best infotainment system in the business, a well-damped if athletic ride, superb handling and rip-snortin’ acceleration thanks to the turbocharged N55 motor, whose 300 horses are clydesdales compared to competitors’ quarter horses.
The X1 is an interesting flashback in other ways as well, as it was on sale in Europe long before it came to our shores. Its styling exemplifies some of the worst excesses of the Bangle era, with its huge fender openings that hide the otherwise beefy 19 wheels, and its bug-eyed frontal visage. Yet, being based on an older architecture, its steering is so much more rewarding than that in any of the newer models, whose electric-assist racks are numb by comparison. The final analysis from this serial-BMW owner is that the X1 is getting a bit long in the tooth but still has a few tricks to show the newer breed, and that as long as one doesn’t go hog wild with options, thereby inflating the price beyond its real market, it makes an excellent crossover.
EPA ratings: 18/27; 21mpg combined
Price as tested: $48,395
Here is what BMW has to say about the X1.