2016 BMW X1 xDrive 28i: The Smallest X Gets A New Platform

Strong points
  • More interior room
  • Great handling
  • Eight-speed automatic
  • Smooth transmission
  • Regular and run-flat tires available
Weak points
  • Limited engine choice
  • Slightly lower power than previous four cylinder
  • Options will drive the price up considerably
  • Untested reliability
Full report

BMW introduced the X1 to Europe in 2009 as an entry-level “Sport Activity Vehicle.” It arrived in Canada in 2012, a late arrival that wasn’t due to a possible lack of interest here, but instead because Canada is a relatively small global market and at first sales were focused elsewhere. The X1 has proven a relatively big seller for BMW, with the company claiming that the compact SUV holds 50 percent of the market share.

Well, the X1 has been in Canada for three years now, and it has been doing well here too. For the 2016 model year BMW introduced the next generation X1, and it is new from the tires up.

It’s bigger… on the inside

As expected with any generational redesign, the X1 has grown in size—mostly on the inside. It boasts 15 percent more cargo capacity, now at 505 litres behind the rear seats and 1,550 litres with the 40-20-40 rear seats folded down. That storage space is accessible through an automatic tailgate, which can be ordered with optional hands-free operation (just wave your foot under the bumper to open it).

There’s 3.8 cm more rear legroom (up to 6.6 cm more with the optional sliding rear seat) and more headroom front and rear (despite seating that is 3.8 cm higher than before). There are also plenty of convenient storage compartments scattered throughout the interior.

This extra interior space is available even though external dimensions have, for the most part, been reduced. Although the new X1 is 2.2 cm wider and 5 cm taller, it is 2.9 cm shorter, and has a 9 cm shorter wheelbase, now at 267 cm.

This dimensional conundrum is due to the fact that engineers have turned the engine sideways under the hood. Yes, folks, that means that the X1 is now based on a front-drive platform.

Front and forward

An early press release describing the first generation X1 stated that it was available with xDrive or “brand-typical” rear-wheel drive. Brand-typical no longer applies to the X1 now that this new generation is based on a front-drive platform. The X1 xDrive 28i, which is the only model available in Canada for 2016 (gone is the six-cylinder 35i variation), will drive the front wheels only under light, constant loads, like when cruising on a level highway. This is unlike the outgoing version, which favoured the rear wheels.

The xDrive system is constantly variable, however, and 100 percent of the power can be redirected to the rear wheels if needed. Power is transferred to the wheels through an eight-speed automatic, the only available transmission.

The modular EfficientDynamics 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder—the only available engine—is mounted across the frame, which has facilitated the additional interior space while allowing the shorter wheelbase. This is also why there’s no six-cylinder available in any market; there’s just no room under the hood.

It handles like a sports car

BMW held the press intro of the X1, as well as the new 340i, at Copper Canyon, Mexico, where there’s a gash in the earth that is bigger and deeper than the Grand Canyon. The scenery is spectacular, and serpentine roads wind up and down mountainsides and into gorges.

A surprising revelation that is directly related to the new front-drive platform and more rigid chassis is that the X1 is very nimble. I’m talking sports-car nimble. Although it sits higher than before, the short wheelbase and lighter weight (it has lost 30 kg) have really sharpened the handling. The X1 feels lighter on its feet than the 340i on these winding, sometimes bumpy roads. It turns in quickly and carves corners with impressive precision. Despite its height, it exhibits very little body roll.

Its 228-horsepower engine felt refreshingly strong at lower revs, though there was an undeniable lag when pressing on the gas pedal, more noticeable in Comfort than in Sport mode, the latter allowing higher engine revs at a given speed. Slowing the X1 are brakes that feel powerful, and are even a touch on the grabby side.

The roads were often diverted by the seemingly frequent rockslides in the area, yet switching the drive mode from Sport to Comfort allowed the X1 to mosey along over the broken terrain without a hiccup.

Best of the Xs

All the changes have brought the price up by $1,800, now starting at $38,800. Despite this increase, the 2016 BMW X1 xDrive 28i has lots to offer, and it’s probably BMW’s best X model yet.

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