Getting back behind the wheel of the BMW X1 was an interesting experience for a couple key reasons.
Those who know me will recall my soft spot for BMW, being an ex-BMW technician who put down the wrenches at the end of 2015, and someone who has owned and/or leased no less than seven BMW models thus far. That said, I by no means land in the fanboy camp, as my time with the brand was spent watching curb weights rise, steering and suspension feel soften, and breadth of product offering expand exponentially. Being all too familiar with the original and much more utilitarian X1, the opportunity to drive a high spec X1 xDrive 28i, complete with M Sport trim and other niceties, proved to be an interesting experience.
BMW By Design
Let’s face it, BMW has been taking a lot of flak lately over the evolution of its design language—especially when talking about its ever-growing kidney grilles. Some of the latest product is stepping out of traditional lines with the same sort of gusto as the famed Bangle-era BMWs (think E60 5-series, from 2003–2010), but when looking at the X1 in MSport trim, the definitive BMW DNA is still alive and well. Its grilles are proportionate to its body—even though BMW did slightly enlarge and modify the kidney grilles for this 2020 refresh—and its front air dams add an appropriate level of sporting character to the tall wagon.
The LED-powered angel-eye headlights are also ever-present, paired with new LED fog lights, though the lower profile of the headlight design doesn’t entirely make sense in relation to the rest of its bumper lines. To be fair, this is a minor gripe overall, especially when compared to the overall exterior aesthetics of the current 7 Series. The optional and rather punchy shade of Misano Blue metallic paint is also a happy reminder that BMW still keeps some playful color choices in its repertoire, although this is the only bold offering currently listed for the X1 model range.
SEE ALSO: 2020 BMW 330i xDrive Review
Much as BMW is working to change up its exteriors, its interior design remains very familiar. The overall leather and trim work in the M Sport interior is nicely executed overall, and though the lower door panels are a little cheaper in feel than I’d like, the rest of the regular touch/contact surfaces have a proper quality and feel to them. This is in part due to a minor upgrade in interior materials that BMW implemented as part of the 2020 X1 refresh.
As always, the center stack is canted slightly towards the driver for ease of use, and the BMW iDrive infotainment controller lands at the right neutral position for your hand when using the center console armrest. Being in this strange space of sort of wagon/crossover that BMW likes to dub Sports Activity Vehicle, cargo space is an obvious consideration. At 27.1 cubic feet, there’s a good amount of room for your usual essentials, whether it be luggage, groceries, golf bags, or other gear, and with the rear seats folded down that space more than doubles to 58.7 cubic feet.
These days, the option packages from BMW are fairly concise, and the Premium Package ($2,200) handles the vast majority of niceties that you’ll want to have—keyless entry, panoramic moonroof, LED headlights with cornering lights, heads-up display, and navigation. It’s still surprising not to see navigation come standard, but as part of a bundle it’s not that hard of a pill to swallow.
At 6’1″, one of my favorite tests is always “personal space”, as rearward seats aren’t always especially pleasant. With roughly an inch or two to spare at the knees, I did manage to fit comfortably in the rear passenger seat while leaving the driver’s seat in my preferred position. It’s safe to say that four adults can pile into the X1 without issue, granted adding a 5th in the middle would make things a bit cramped. The driver’s seat, on the other hand, provides all the space and comfort needed. The sport seats loaded in with the M Sport package add both adjustable lumbar support and adjustable side bolsters, which ensures the driver remains firmly in place regardless of how winding the road ahead may be. Thankfully, my week in the X1 28i xDrive involved a mix of city driving and a weekend road trip with plenty of good twisty bits to get a feel for whether or not the updated X1 lives up to its driver-focused legacy.
SEE ALSO: 2019 Audi Q3 Review
On The Road
Coming from the enthusiast side of the coin, and having driven a number of more “standard issue” BMWs that feel much softer and commuter-friendly than the Bimmers of old, I was almost surprised at how sharp the X1 felt from behind the wheel. Throttle response (once in sport mode) is sharp, cog changes from the eight-speed gearbox are quick, and there’s much less in the way of body roll or wallowing from the suspension than I had anticipated. We’re certainly not talking about M3/M5 level suspension tune by any stretch of the imagination, but the overall dynamics of the chassis are rock solid. Riding on 19-inch run-flat performance tires certainly played a bit of a part in this equation, and yet the X1 remained compliant enough that rough city pavement and potholes weren’t particularly jarring. The throaty 2.0-liter four-banger also feels like it has come into its own after years of refinement—efforts have gone into engine noise reduction at idle, and a healthy amount of low-end torque make it a joy to mash the throttle.
Even the steering feel is leaps and bounds above where it was in the earlier days of BMW integrating electric power steering into its model range. We’re still not talking the heavy-handed hydraulic load in the long-gone M135i (one of my favorite former rides), but it certainly feels miles more connected that what has been seen previously (the 320i from a few years back immediately springs to mind).
Of course it wouldn’t be a complete BMW xDrive test if I didn’t wind up in some sort of precarious environment along the way. Lo and behold, at my final road trip destination a washed out road with roughly 10 inches to a foot of water stood in my way. Given the taller ground clearance of the X1, and my past knowledge of the all-wheel drive system at hand, this was not really a challenge. When BMW developed xDrive, one of the key principles was the ability to shift power delivery to any one of the four corners of the car to maintain grip—something I’ve had the joy of testing using a set of three roller plates. On the other side of said washed out road came a steep hill of loose gravel, and even with the most performance-biased set of tires, at no point did the X1 feel anything other than sure-footed.
Considering that part of my departure from the brand came from the pangs of seeing the slow degradation of BMW’s “Ultimate Driving Machine” status, overall I’m pleased to report that in M Sport guise, the X1 xDrive28i has rekindled my fondness for the ‘ol roundel. The practicality to fun ratio here is rock-solid; you get all the space you need, without sacrificing the fun factor. Sure, it’s no Focus RS, but rather a mature middle-ground that won’t disappoint.