The BMW 3 Series
was all-new for 2019 and that’s great in that it brings new interior tech, looks and space to the platform.
However: when BMW giveth, BMW also taketh away and so the 3 Series Touring (read: “wagon”) has been axed for the North American market. Which means that if you want the handling, parking stall-friendliness and efficiency of a compact car and the practicality of a wagon or small crossover than you’re left with this: the BMW X1. Yes; there’s an X2 and an X3 as well, but the former is more “hatch” than “wagon” and the latter is larger and much more SUV-like.
So enter the X1 Sports Activity Vehicle (SAV) which, for 2020, has been given a facelift and a few new bits n’ pieces. It may not be the new 3 Series Touring (indeed, it actually shares a platform not with the 3 Series, but with the Mini Countryman), it at least looks a bit like it thanks to an enlarged kidney grille, new headlight lenses with hexagonal bulb inserts (no laser lights, though; those are reserved for the X5/6/7). There are also new 3D taillight lenses with LED inserts that look like upside down hockey sticks and do a nice job of streamlining the look of the rear fascia. Then there are the exhaust tips, which are so big and chrom-ey that they look like they belong on one of BMW’s “M” cars or SUVs. They’re eye-catching, to be sure. As is my tester’s “Misano Blue” paint, which is also new for 2020.
Inside, things get a little darker due to the charcoal colourway, but by car did have an optional full-length moonroof that does its part to brighten things up inside. And of course, there are also lighter interior colour options to chose from.
What would also help brighten things up inside would be BMW’s new iDrive 7.0 infotainment system. Alas, that is not an option for the X1 and so we’re left with the 6th
-gen system which eschews the new system’s larger infotainment screen and digital gauge cluster. It also means you don’t get the new system’s tiled layout, so there’s more scrolling through menus required in order to access the commands you want.
It’s in the cargo department that the X1 really gets to show its wagon chops; the rear seat isn’t all that big, but a look in the cargo area shows why as it is nicely large, made even more so (to the tune of 1,662 L) if you decide to fold the 40/20/40 split folding rear seats, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite features in cars when it comes to practicality. With this system, you never have to spare an entire full-sized seat in order to fit longer items; just drop the middle seat, slide in your skis, and you’re on your way. If that’s not enough, a massive underfloor storage compartment means you can stow your wet items or hide your valuables with ease. My tester also had a tonneau cover, but I think I’d go without it as fitting an adult-sized hockey bag in there with it in place was a bit of a challenge. If I wanted to hide my wares, hopefully I’d be able to do so in the floor below.
The question, then, is how quickly you’ll be on your way once loaded in.
Well, power from the X1’s four-cylinder turbo is rated at 228 hp and 268 lb-ft, fed to all four wheels (but mostly the rears unless otherwise required) through an 8-speed automatic transmission. That’s your only combination when it comes to the X1, so at least the buying process is nicely simplified.
So, while the power figures may not seem huge on paper (for its part, the X3 makes 248 hp and 258 lb-ft from its standard turbo-4), they nevertheless get the X1 up and moving in satisfyingly short order. The 8-speed works well in conjunction with the motor to ensure that the most is being made of those figures to ratify the sense that you’re driving a wagon as opposed to a small CUV, regardless of how BMW classifies it.
It handles like a Bimmer sports sedan, too. As mentioned before: power is sent mainly to the rear wheels (as opposed to the Countryman, which gets a front-drive bias) unless it’s needed elsewhere, meaning the chassis is more than happy to oblige as you start to send it through turns. It will allow the rear end to rotate just a little, until power is needed elsewhere in order to keep everything on the straight and narrow. Then, as you start to hit more slippery surfaces to the cabin in winter or campsite in summer, you’re confident the AWD will be there doing its level best to make your progress that much easier and stress-free. Unfortunately, during my test the most “adverse” the conditions ever became was a greasy, leafy road during a typical Vancouver rainstorm but even then, trying to unseat the car over some particularly gritty bits was an exercise in futility. BMW knows AWD, that’s for sure.
Niggles? Yeah, I have some. It doesn’t run especially quietly but you can level some of the blame there to my car’s winter rubber. There are a few annoyances like the back doors not unlocking once parked (that actually gets pretty infuriating) and I don’t love having to navigate through the main display in order to switch off stuff like lane keep assist or the blind spot system. It’s good that there’s a button mounted at the top of the centre stack that provides quick access to the driver aid menu, but a few redundant buttons to make it that much quicker would be nice.
That’s about the extent of it, though. The X1 may be hard to place in that it can so easily be seen as a wagon or small crossover, but the more I let that melt away and just accepted it for what it is – a fine-looking thing that drives well and has earned the propeller badge on its snout – the more I came to appreciate it. It’s a good entry into the world of the BMW SAV, and as viable an alternative to the 3 Series Touring you’re going to get form BMW right now.