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The BMW X1 joined the brand's U.S. lineup just two years ago, though it's been a known quantity in Europe for much longer. At least conceptually, it seems like the perfect solution to nailing down style-savvy urbanites with an occasional hankering for off-pavement travel—no matter the continent. However, the X1 has a couple of serious handicaps: It's offered at a price that may cause even BMW shoppers to wince and it's not as space-efficient inside as some might expect.
Thanks to its taller ride height and available all-wheel drive, the 2015 BMW X1 might appeal to rugged types, or it may simply boost the confidence of snow belt dwellers. However, it's smaller than the mid-size X3 crossover, which should still be your go-to if you plan on putting adults in the back seat.
The X1 resides somewhere between hot hatchbacks and curt crossovers. At first glance you might think of a 3-Series wagon, mashed a little shorter and lifted a few inches in height. It has BMW's "Sport-Activity Vehicle" profile down pat, yet it's not all that convincing that this isn't a car; there's little in the way of design cues to suggest a pavement-free adventure could happen at any moment. The controls are right where existing BMW drivers expect them; but Any 3-Series driver will take command at the X1's wheel in an instant: the controls are just where BMW drivers expect them. For the rest of us, the very anatomical look is good, but the smattering of dissimilar controls isn't.
Unless you need a vehicle that's almost quick enough to deserve the M badge, you'll be perfectly happy with either of the four-cylinder X1 models. Otherwise, we wouldn't describe many crossovers as eager, but the X1 really seems to earn it. All-wheel-drive X1 xDrive28i and rear-wheel-drive sDrive28i models move plenty quick with BMW's natty 2.0-liter turbo four under the hood. It's direct-injected, with 240 hp, and teamed with a paddle-shifted eight-speed automatic. The potent 300-horsepower, turbocharged 3.0-liter in-line six that's found in the X1 xDrive35iscoots this sled to 60 mph in about 5.3 seconds, but drops the EPA Combined figure to 21 mpg. The sDrive28i gets precise-feeling electric power steering, while the 35i xDrive models have excellent, well-weighted hydraulic power steering, as well as excellent vehicle dynamics.
Refinement is one step down than the X3; there's a little more engine exhaust resonance than we'd like, a little road noise as well, and more body roll than you'll find in other vehicles with the sport package, but the X1 handles really well, even over terrible pavement surfaces.
Front-seat accommodations are fine for even tall adults; although a tight center console limits the storage bin, and only permits one front-seat cupholder on the console; instead of folding out, a second one hangs aside to knock passengers' knees. The driving position is one of the lower and more carlike among these kinds of vehicles. In back, the X1 is missing only a little legroom compared to the X3, but you're not going to fit three adults across. Cargo space is what's missing compared to its larger sibling; but those back seats recline and fold nearly flat.
The 2015 BMW X1 is respectable for safety, but its roster of safety options is nowhere near as impressive as that of BMW's larger vehicles. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has given the X1 top 'good' tests for frontal, side, and rear impact, as well as a 'good' score for roof strength—albeit with a potentially worrisome 'marginal' score in the new, more rigorous small overlap frontal test. A rearview camera is also missing from the standard-features list.
The X1 does offer a standard USB port; power features; automatic climate control; and HD radio. But a sticker price over $40k is easily within reach if you dip into the options list, which shows a panoramic glass roof; mobile-app connectivity; satellite radio; a cold-weather package; and Harmon Kardon audio.