By Larry Printz
Tribune News Service
If any automaker has gone crossover crazy, it’s BMW.
It’s not just the X1, X3, X4, X5 and X6. After all, many manufacturers have a crossover for every size imaginable. But BMW goes further, offering vehicles that seem like crossovers but aren’t, like the 3 Series Gran Turismo and 5 Series Gran Turismo.
And, if you think that the ultimate driving machine is a car, remember that the X1, not the 2 Series, is the least-expensive model in the BMW lineup — and has been for several years. That makes it a very important item.
The first-generation X1, sold stateside from 2013 through 2015, used the fifth-generation 3 Series platform known as the E90, with either rear-wheel drive (known as sDrive) or all-wheel drive (known as xDrive). But that’s history now that the second-generation X1 is winning over new buyers.
The all-new model is 1.7 inches taller, 0.9 inch wider and 88 pounds lighter. The wheelbase has been hacked by 3.6 inches, but rear legroom — noticeably absent in the previous model — has increased by more than 2 inches. Cargo volume has grown by 2 cubic feet.
But there’s a catch. The new X1 is — gasp — front-wheel drive. A front-wheel-drive BMW might seem heretic, but indeed, the camel’s nose is now under the tent; the new X1 shares its underpinnings not with a 3 Series but with the Mini Countryman. That might explain the styling, which looks more like a family bus than the micro wagon it replaced.
You could ignore this brand abandonment by considering that the X1 competes with such combatants as the Audi Q3, Lexus NX, Mercedes-Benz GLA, Infiniti QX30 and Lincoln MKC — all front-wheel-drive vehicles with optional all-wheel drive. And so it is with the X1.
And, as in the previous version, a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder and eight-speed automatic transmission are standard, although the engine is rated at 228 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, down 12 horsepower and 2 pound-feet of torque. Nevertheless, with the vehicle having lost weight, most drivers will never notice the missing ponies. This X1 can still deliver the necessary strength to power down parkways as the transmission delivers smooth, prompt shifts, even if it’s slightly slower.
But BMW loyalists will miss the essential ingredient that makes a BMW special: feedback.
The X1’s steering is numb and fairly light and fails to telegraph any of the handling precision for which the brand is known. OK, the ride is still firm enough to deliver taut handling and firm shocks over bumps, but it never feels sporty. It’s remarkably less engaging than the previous X1, delivering an unexceptional driving experience, something rarely said of a BMW.
Of course, some buyers won’t care once they see the vehicle’s cabin.
The interior materials are beautiful and far superior to the outgoing model. Everyone sits higher than before, and all have a good view thanks to the vehicle’s generous amount of glass. Opting for the dual pane sunroof not only lets in more light, it greatly enhances this vehicle’s sense of space. Unlike riders in many crossovers, X1 occupants won’t mistake sitting in their car for sitting in a cave. However, longer-legged drivers might prefer longer seat cushions.
A 6.5-inch screen perched atop the instrument panel handles the infotainment system through BMW’s iDrive controller. An 8.8-inch screen is optional. If you’ve used earlier versions of iDrive, you’ll find the current version easier to use. Other controls are easy to understand and operate.
By this point, if you’re bemoaning the troublesome turn that the X1 has taken, consider this: The X1 now has a power tailgate, not unlike a minivan.
It’s not that the BMW X1 is a horrible car — far from it. Its handling is secure, its cabin is roomy for the X1’s size, cargo space is generous and fuel economy is good.
It’s just not a great BMW, lacking the driving dynamics one expects. If this doesn’t bother you, and you’ve always wanted a BMW, the 2017 X1 is your car.