Five years ago, BMW’s then-CEO Norbert Reithofer famously shared the observation that four out of five owners of the 1-series believed they had a front-wheel-drive car. That was shortly after the launch of the X1, a compact crossover based on the rear-wheel-drive 1-series platform. Now comes the second-generation X1, after a surprisingly short production run for the first iteration (even shorter in the States, where it only just arrived as a 2013 model).
The new, 2016 X1 xDrive28i, which launches in the U.S. this fall, does not share its platform with BMW’s current passenger cars. Instead, it switches to the front-wheel-drive architecture that underpins the 2-series Active Tourer and Gran Tourer people-movers sold in Europe, as well as BMW’s third-generation Mini.
While the previous X1, which was styled at BMW’s Designworks, served as a playful and unique interpretation of a crossover SUV, the new X1 conservatively toes the line with the proven BMW styling language. But unfortunately, it fails to hide the model’s front-wheel-drive pedigree. While it is slightly shorter than the outgoing version, its front and rear overhangs have grown considerably, and the windshield now stretches forward to the front wheel arches. It’s also a lot taller than before. This creates more room for the passengers and their baggage, but it also means that the X1 loses its wagonlike distinctiveness.
So Long, Six
Moving to the front-wheel-drive platform also sees the X1 lose its optional straight-six engine. That means the X1 35i doesn’t get a true successor, and a BMW executive privately tells us, “This is a problem.” The only available engine in the U.S. market will be the 2.0-liter four-cylinder in the X1 xDrive28i. The ubiquitous turbo four here produces 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. In normal driving, 100 percent of the torque is sent to the front wheels; if needed, it can be transferred to the rear wheels through a multiplate clutch. Before the end of the year, BMW will add an sDrive version with front-wheel drive. What we won’t get is the vast array of engines available in Europe, which includes diesels and three-cylinders—and a three-cylinder diesel that produces all of 114 horsepower. The only available transmission for Americans is an eight-speed automatic, although a six-speed manual will be available in some of the weaker models sold elsewhere. It comes with shift paddles if you opt for the M Sport package, which also includes a firmer suspension, an M steering wheel, and sport seats.
The new X1 is said to be lighter than its predecessor by some 65 pounds, but its factory performance estimates don’t change much compared with the previous 28i: The sprint from zero to 60 mph takes 6.3 seconds, BMW says, while top speed is 130 mph—or, optionally, 143 mph.
If the new look and architecture are not to your liking, perhaps the electronics will win you over. Adaptive LED headlights are available; power-folding rear seats are new as is hands-free operation for the power liftgate. Available driver aids include lane-departure warning, forward-collision warning, and automated parking. And the brand’s connectivity options are class-leading, as BMW’s ConnectedDrive app includes integration of Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, iHeartRadio, and Life 360.
The new X1 will face tough competition in the form of the Audi Q3, the Lexus NX, and the Mercedes-Benz GLA, not to mention an upcoming compact crossover from Cadillac. But if you always thought your X1 had front-wheel drive, the new version should meet your expectations just perfectly.