Over at MotoringFile’s sister site, BimmerFile the previous BMW X1 has achieved an almost cult status. It was an E90-based (the 3 series from 2006-2012) short crossover that had excellent proportions, relatively low weight and great steering. The last bit is actually a special footnote to history. The previous X1 (in 28i xDrive form only) was the last BMW to be sold with a mechanical steering rack, endowing it with the type of linear feel and feedback BMWs have been known for since the 70’s. Couple that with the always excellent 8-speed auto (the only choice in the US) and you had a crossover that felt true to the BMW brand ethos.
So why do we care at MotoringFile? For one there’s plenty of crossover in the crossover market. And there are plenty of people who are looking at larger MINIs that have been (shall we say) X1 curious over the years. But there’s a more important reason this time around.
When BMW announced that it was replacing the E84 X1 with a front wheel drive version based on MINI’s UKL2 platform, we shuddered a bit. Not because the UKL platform isn’t good (it is quite good). But because it flies in the face of what the BMW brand has been built on – rear wheel drive based vehicles with balanced dynamics that rewarded the driver in a very specific way.
When we learnt that BMW’s last vehicles with a direct link to the glorious past was being refreshed with a front wheel drive platform that also underpins a minivan, it didn’t feel like a particularly positive development. But (and this is a big but) it did mean that we’d have a very obvious preview of the forthcoming 2017 MINI Countryman which will be based on the same UKL2 chassis and drivetrain as the X1. For MINI fans who are looking for crossover the X1 represents a peak into the future for the Countryman as well as a look at BMW’s latest small car offering.
With all that said the question remains. Could engineers overcome the stigma of a front wheel drive BMW and deliver a vehicle that is not only a better version of the X1 but actually feels like a BMW?
After some time behind the wheel it’s clear that new F48 2016 BMW X1 is a competent and even at times engaging vehicle that delivers more of what consumers want with more space and energy efficiency. No really. It’s a good follow up to the E84 X1 in a numbers of ways that make it a more competent daily driver with greater levels of refinement and utility that ultimately make it easier to live with. It feels more premium and is packed with the type of tactile quality that the best in the class offer (the Audi Q3 and Mercedes GLA). And without question it is miles ahead of the current R60 MINI Countryman in refinement, technology and luxury.
The new X1 is both shorter and taller than the previous version, 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.
All well and good but how does it feel? And more specifically can you tell you’re driving a front wheel drive-based vehicle? It doesn’t take too many miles to decipher that the X1 feels like a thoroughly transformed MINI rather than a successor to the previous X1. There’s less feedback through the wheel and that nuanced feel that the old X1 delivered is completely gone. In fact 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. It’s not a bad change of character and MINI owners will likely find the new X1 to be a refined version of what they’ve come to know and love in the Countryman. Comparing up the latter to the likes of the Audi Q3 it feels slightly more driver-oriented and generally more fun. But the driving experience is decidedly different than driving E84 X1, and not necessarily for the better.
It’s not all gloom and doom. The new X1 28i xDrive has lost some weight – 66 lbs in US spec. While we can’t say that translates into anything specific in regards to performance that we can feel, the X1 has slightly improved it’s 0-60 time to 6.3 despite being down on power by 12hp compared to the E84. Weight will be a concern as this platform transitions into the Countryman however. Loaded with all wheel drive the X1 weighs 3,660. That is (wait for it) over 400 lbs more than the current all wheel drive Countryman.
Those figures allude to the other big change in the new X1 – the 228 hp B48. The venerable N20 2.0L four cylinder that BMW has used for years has given way to a new generation of 4 cylinders. This version of the B48 (as you might have guessed) is basically the same found in the MINI JCW with refinement turned up a notch or two. What will be interesting will be what MINI slots into its new Countryman and if the Cooper S will still make due with the 191 hp output level. Even with the fast shifting 8 speed transmission the laws of physics won’t allow for it to be overly quick. And then there’s the Cooper. Will it still make due with 134 hp and will MINI allow for ALL4 to be an option? If that’s the case expect leisurely 0-60 times.
Back to the X1, the other big change is the base price which has increased by $1800 over the E90 based X1. That should give the Countryman plenty of room to make a case for itself in the BMW family.
From a materials standpoint the new X1 is an improvement. And there’s miles more refinement within the driving experience. Further BMW will point to more standard features that were options on the previous X1. Yet that price is tough to swallow knowing that the previous X1 was based on the E90 3 Series as opposed to the front wheel drive based UKL platform.
Visually the first X1 was more tall wagon than crossover but that appealed to us as wagon fans. The new F48 BMW X1 is proportionally much closer to the classic shape of the X5. It’s a change that we bet will appeal to most shopping for a small crossover. The higher seating position and taller roofline speaks to safety and utility even if neither actually influence that. What they really do is visually align the X1 closer with buyers’ expectations and the competition. Not a bad thing if you’re BMW trying to grow marketshare.
Over the years we’ve had numerous BimmerFile readers thank us for turning them onto the X1. And it’s easy to see why if you read any of our previous reviews. What is lacked in technology and refinement comes through in the driving experience. In short it was a pretty easy car to love. The new X1 will undoubtedly appeal to a broader demographic with its taller seating position, more interior space and smaller footprint. Yet within the context of this first drive, it doesn’t appeal to us. That’s not to say it won’t sell and (likely) sell in bigger numbers than the previous car. It just doesn’t move us like the previous X1. At least not yet.
Th truth is that the new X1 may be a better MINI crossover than a BMW. While its senses are a little dulled as compared to the current Countryman, it’s levels of refinement, technology and performance are leagues beyond it. While it’s heavier it also has more room and is well designed to accommodate the typical needs we have for these type of vehicles. In short it’s an excellent choice for those upgrading from a Countryman if the new MINI Clubman is doesn’t satisfy.