MF Review: The BMW X1 vs the MINI Clubman

The BMW X1 2.8 xDrive has the same chassis as the Clubman. It has the same engine as a JCW. It is for all intents of purposes a MINI in BMW clothing. So how then does it stack up to an actual MINI? We’ve wondered this since we first drove the X1 last year. Over the last week we finally had a chance not just to drive both back to back but to love with them both as daily drivers. Here’s our take

The first thing you notice about the new X1 are the looks. They’re much more generic this time around than the previous E90 3 Series based version. There’s a bland crossover look to the shape as well as the styling details. So much so that even my 4 y/o son pointed it out when he kept telling Mazda CX5s, Suburu Foresters and Hyundai Tuscons looked just like the X1. Looking around the Starbucks parking lot reveals that that list is just the start – the new X1 look so a lot like other front wheel drive based crossovers. BMW knew this and in fact have embraced it. Gone is the tall wagon feel of the previous X1. Gone too are the excellent driving dynamics and rear wheel drive based architecture. In its place a smaller vehicle with more interior room, less weight and less power. Oh and a generic BMW look wrapped around a generic small crossover shape.

BMW_X1_0030

The MINI Clubman on the other hand is full of character. On American roads there’s simply nothing else like it. More wagon-like in its approach, the Clubman feels like the anti-crossover in a lot of ways boasting similar levels of space with a lower, more responsive driving experience.

Compared with other MINIs the Clubman has by far the most comfortable and controlled ride we’ve ever felt. Driving the car on old midwestern highways in comfort mode, expansion joints almost disappear entirely. Likewise the wider track contributes to this more grown-up feel by increasing the stability of the car at highway speeds. All told this is by far MINI’s best highway cruiser.

F54_NYC_199

The X1 has even more isolation and thus feels more refined at highway speeds. It’s also slightly more comfortable than the Clubman but not by much. Most of that is due to the softer spring settings and less aggressive anti-rollbars on the standard X1.

In the corners the extra weight of the X1 is evident in the way it responds to inputs compared to our long term Clubman Cooper S. The X1 28i xDrive is 3,660 lbs compared to our front wheel drive Clubman Cooper S at 3,235 lbs – a substantial 425 lbs difference. In comparing the new Clubman Cooper S All4 to the X1 things get closer but the Clubman is still 215 lbs lighter at 3,445 lbs. but it’s not just weight that makes the Clubman feel more lively. The X1 has a slower steering rack with a ratio of 15.7:1 vs the Clubman’s 14.1:1 making inputs and reactions feel noticeably slower and more deliberate in the BMW.

Our X1 28i xDrive came fairly well equipped (you can see for yourself here) at just under $44k compare to our better equipped Clubman which cost just over $37k. Granted the X1 has a few higher quality components compared to the Clubman (the larger sunroof and powered tailgate are a few examples) but it’s hard to get past the pricing differences given how similar these cars are. Then there’s what’s missing on the $44k X1. Fun size navigation and sport seats were the biggest omissions. Speaking of those seats, the standard X1 seats our test car had are identical to the standard MINI seats normally not found in anything but the most base Cooper models. I had forgotten truly how mediocre they are offering very little support in almost every measurable way. At 6’2″ they felt more like a perch offering little thigh support. The fact that MINI offers them standard on a sub $30k Cooper S and BMW won’t throw them in without the M Sport package (or as a $400 option) seems like an overly cheap move.

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The X1 does take advantage of it’s front wheel drive roots. Compared with the previous version it’s both shorter and taller allowing for better visibility and more room in tighter quarters. It’s also shod with more tech-like adaptive cruise and self parking which is quickly becoming mandatory in the small premium crossover market.

Yet nothing can hide the X1’s MINI roots. They’re great roots. We at MF love the recent UKL based MINIs. But applying a BMW badge (and brand) to the UKL front wheel drive platform doesn’t make it a BMW. The X1 feels like a thoroughly transformed MINI rather than a successor to the previous 3 Series based X1. There’s less feedback through the wheel and the balanced rear wheel drive feel that the old X1 delivered is simply not here. The driving experience itself feels less fluid than before with the vast majority of the power going through the front wheels rather than the rear.

BMW_X1_0007

Yet the X1 is entirely successful within its segment. It’s confident and nimble with well-weighted controls and competent performance. Compared to a Audi Q3 or even a Suburb Forester it feels more driver-oriented. But the driving experience is decidedly different than driving E84 X1, and not necessarily for the better. And compared to the MINI Clubman it lacks a more involving driving experience that we know the UK platform can deliver. The X1 adds some space and an additional dose of premium but it never quite makes a clear case for its higher cost in terms an enthusiast driver could get behind.

After a week with both of these cars a couple things became evident. First the Clubman is simply a better MINI than the X1 is. Secondly and perhaps most damning, it may just be a better BMW than the X1 is. The Clubman endears itself to the enthusiast driver in ways the X1 doesn’t seem interested in with more responsive steering, more driver oriented suspension settings (even in stock form) and 425 lbs less to lug around. Despite the X1 having 39 hp more than the Clubman, the X1 never rewards the driver the way the MINI does. For our money the extra room and luxuries that it delivers can’t overcome that.

Vehicle Specifications:

BMW X1 28i xDrive

MINI Clubman Cooper S

MINI Clubman Cooper S All4 (not tested)

Gallery:

  • heat_fan1

    While I appreciate the article, the comparison does feel a bit self-satisfying and doesn’t really recognize the distinctions between the brands.

    You conclude by saying the Clubman is the better Mini and the better BMW. Now, it sure as heck better be the better Mini, seeing as it’s the only one that is. But saying it’s a better BMW rejects what this X1 is for. For BMW, it’s a gateway, and a natural step up from a Mini. Of course it’s not as unique and exciting as a Mini, in style or dynamics. But it’s not meant to be; It’s meant to be a luxury car.

    The seats are reflective of that as well. I agree that the standard seats, which my wife’s X1 has, are totally lacking in support. But it’s what most buyers want. Again, remember the target market. The X1 is meant to be a family car, one that gets a family into the BMW brand. The Clubman has a smaller potential market and is looking to be Mini’s family car, but the Mini buyer isn’t necessarily a luxury buyer.

    You’re comparing cars on a shared platform and informing your audience, a “Let’s Motor” audience, and which is most suitable for them. But your Mini audience isn’t interested in the X1’s virtues compared to the Clubman: even more premium interior, a lot more passenger and, especially, cargo space, and, yes, brand cache. I’m a big fan of the Clubman and am so, so anxiously awaiting news of the JCW (and hints), but my wife and I have different needs and wants, which is why having two affordable and great cars from BMW is, well, great.

    • Generally I agree. In reviewing the X1 for MotoringFile I’m doing it through the eyes of a MINI enthusiast and not a general consumer. I’ve written about the X1 several times for BimmerFile calling out everything above but calling it a better X1 for the majority of consumers. It just happens to be step back for MINI and/or BMW enthusiasts. The MINI is far more engaging in the ways that BMW have historically been than despite the front wheel drive.

  • CA-MINI

    The big question is can BMW/MINI engineer out your complaints about the X1 (high weight, slow steering, mediocre driving experience) to make a more interesting F60 Countryman. The steering is easy to fix, suspension is probably doable, but 425lbs, ouch–that will be hard to overcome. Very interested to see a road test on the F60

  • Tacoman03

    Interesting read indeed…..we just got my daughter(in college) a X1 last week…..she loved everything about it, style to driving. In fact her first comment on the test drive was..”this drives just like my old MINI…” Realize that she has had a 2011 Countryman and a 2013 Paceman. Her last car was a 2015 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited….so I see that as a compliment to both brands. I have never been, nor will I ever be a BMW driver, although I’m footing the bill for the X1….Haha….My current daily driver is a 2014 F56… I had a Clubman for a Loaner a few weeks ago and I found it non-engaging, not fun to drive, and I had a 2009 Clubman as my first MINI….so I guess it’s all in what you like and what you can drive!

  • les

    We purchased a very well equipped Clubman 1.5 over a month ago, and we love it. We test drove the new X1, but it lacked character that the MINI has. The X1 also doesn’t really compare to our E90 when it comes to a drivers car either. We were expecting something more from the X1, and therefore bought an equally priced Clubman. Couldn’t be happier! The adaptive sports suspension is well worth the extra money too. It completely changes has the car drives. It can be softer than a Lexus IS or as sporty as the R56 we used to have.

    Great write up Gabe!

  • Nick Dawson

    First and foremost, it is essential to dispel the myth – or misplaced perception – that the F48 BMW X1 is based on a MINI. Let’s be absolutely clear here – F48 X1 is 100% BMW. It is based on the UKL platform that cost billions of dollars to develop, and was specifically designed – from the outset – to underpin a range of new generation of BMW vehicles, to compete effectively in the ferociously competitive ‘C segment’ FWD/4WD global market place.

    Few people realise just how close the BMW board came to shutting down MINI. It is well documented that MINI 1 made no money for BMW, and that MINI 2 was subsidised by the more profitable R60 Countryman. The stroke of genius with the UKL platform is that it was designed at the outset to be scaleable, and so was born the shorter and narrower UKL1 version of the platform, to underpin the MINI F55/56 and F57, making them a commercially viable proposition.

    The reality is, therefore, that F-series MINIs are BMWs dressed up in MINI designed clothes. Outside of the US, the global market place thoroughly gets that MINI 3 is underpinned – and underwritten – by BMW, and that is why the F-series MINIs are a now such a huge global success story. BMW has done a remarkable job in keeping the MINI brand alive and well – using 100% BMW components – and yet still maintaining the ‘lifestyle’ image of MINI. Long Live The MINI.

    • There’s no myth – it exists solely because of the MINI business case problem. It is based on a front wheel drive architecture and thus not (historically speaking) a BMW.

      • Nick Dawson

        I understand how painful the cultural change is for conservative BMW devotees. The world, however, is changing fast, and with it the world’s motor cars. Even if BMW had never bought MINI, it would still need to build front-wheel-drive cars.

        With the next generation Golf and Focus on the horizon – both moving the game on – the next generation 1-series Hatch would be hopelessly uncompetitive without a front-wheel-drive platform.

        UKL2 Based BMWs:

        X1 X1 Li (Long wheelbase 5-seat China only) 1-Series Sedan (China only – for now) 1-Series Hatchback (On sale 2018) 2-Series Active Tourer 5-seat 2-Series Gran Tourer 7-seat X2 (On sale 2017)

        • I can’t imagine how a car platform change could be considered emotionally painful.

        • Nick Dawson

          It’s not the platform change, but the cultural change from rear-wheel to front-wheel-drive that causes some outpouring of grief from a very small number of BMW devotees. The new X1 is, however, a huge global success. The same small group of devotees will probably slash their wrists when four-wheel-drive becomes standard on M cars.

  • Aurel

    I think the X1 is the best looking SUV in the entire X range. Not sure what you guys are seeing as bland there. Anyway I would love to see a comparison of the Forester XT vs X1 since your brought up Subaru. There are tons of similarities there between the two.

    • Hoover

      You know, I thought the same thing, but I based that opinion on the images I saw online. I finally saw one in person today, and I was surprised by how much I didn’t like it. Something about the grill. Was seriously considering it when I move from my R56 in a few years. We have the Forester, but not the XT. I hope the XT doesn’t wallow like our model does. It’s more than fine as a family hauler, but I wouldn’t take a corner too hot. On paper the XT and X1 seem really similar. Our Forester looked much bigger than the X1, at least to my eyes. The interior materials in our Subaru are truly terrible. I think I could breathe heavy and scratch the plastic. Will be interested to see the new Impreza when it debuts.