Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: December 8, 2019
The BMW X1 is the brand’s best selling SUV worldwide, but in Canada it actually ranks third behind the even more popular X3 and X5. Still, it’s no wonder why BMW is playing it safe with their cash cow, with the X1 soldiering on into 2020 with just a handful of aesthetic upgrades. The sheetmetal has been slightly updated to fall in line with the design language brought forth by the new X5. That means larger kidney grills for improved airflow, new LED head- and tail-lights, and changes to the front and rear bumpers. The exhaust pipes have grown in diameter, and a host of new paint colours are available, including the strikingly bold Misano Blue shown in our photographs.
Inside, the X1 receives a standard 8.8-inch infotainment display that recognizes both touch and rotary dial input, joining an impressive list of other standard features including heated front seats, navigation, Apple CarPlay, power-adjustable front seats, and a semi-loaded suite of safety features with Lane Departure Warning, Frontal Collision Warning with brake intervention, Speed Limit information, and High Beam assist. There have also been slight revisions to the instrument panel and floor mats, as well as a new gear shifter design that looks like the one found in the MINI Countryman. Coincidence? I’m afraid not, as the X1 shares the same front-wheel drive platform and wheelbase as its MINI stablemate, as well as a similar Haldex all-wheel drive system.
The X1 is only available with one powertrain in Canada, dubbed xDrive28i. That moniker alludes to the 2.0-litre turbocharged inline-four sitting under the hood, producing a stout 228 hp and 258 lb-ft through an 8-speed automatic gearbox. Of note, that’s the same B48 engine as the MINI Countryman S ALL4, but the BMW is tuned to pack much more power, and sends it to all four wheels with a bias towards the front axle. That effectively launches the X1 from 0-100 km/h in 6.5 seconds, on pace with the rivaling Range Rover Evoque P300 (6.6 s), Porsche Macan (6.7 s), and Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4MATIC (6.6 s). 18-inch all-season run-flat tires come standard, and are wrapped around new bi-colour and black wheel designs.
With all the similarities in mind, does that make this BMW X1 drive like a MINI Countryman, or more of a MINI that drives like a BMW? Well, neither actually. Despite all the similar ingredients, BMW has managed to tune the X1 to exhibit distinct driving mannerisms and offer a cushier and more sure-footed ride. In fact, this refreshed X1 drives very much like the X1 before it. The suspension exemplifies a welcome balance between suppleness and firmness, the ride quality is stellar for a compact SUV without adaptive dampers, and it demonstrates an eagerness to rotate without feeling top-heavy like the Evoque or Lincoln Corsair. The four-cylinder engine is potent and rev-happy too - when was the last time you’ve seen a four-cylinder rev up to 7,000 rpm? Its silky responses are well-matched to the 8-speed gearbox sourced from Aisin, picking gears assertively and demonstrates a more polished smoothness than every one of its competitors, the Macan included.
On the downside, while the majority of the shifts go unnoticed, the gearbox can suffer from a slight delay when taking command via the paddle shifters. Best to leave it to its own devices, and don’t expect it to shift with the same lightning quick reactions as the M5’s 8-speed variation. Still, this all amounts to the X1 performing athletically off the line, continuing to accelerate with a good amount of shove when required. Like its MINI counterpart, the X1 keeps its ground when pushed hard and while it defaults to understeer, its safety net is large and difficult to break. The steering offers little feel despite heavier weighting in Sport Mode. The dull off-center movement and lack of road feedback is disappointing, but there wasn’t a time when we couldn’t confidently point the front wheels where we wanted either.
The interior is a cozy place to spend time in, and feels roomier than the GLA and Evoque thanks to a low center console, wide dashboard, and excellent outward sightlines. The seats are supportive and the seating position is excellent for a compact SUV - many others have you sitting way too high up and leaning forward, creating a school-bus like position that I find uncomfortable. The rear seats are competitively roomy, and enough for my six-foot frame to fit snugly for long journeys. The expansive panoramic sunroof helps make that trip less claustrophobic as well.
Why fix it when it ain’t broke? That mantra follows this popular BMW X1 into the 2020 model year, and while the revisions are minor, its core strengths remain. With competitive cargo space, a rev-happy engine at your command, and a segment-leading infotainment unit, the X1 continues to be one of the most effective and engaging luxury compact SUVs in Canada.
Model: 2020 BMW X1 xDrive28i
Paint Type: Misano Blue
Base Price: $41,900
Price as Tested: $50,600
Powertrain: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder (B48)
Horsepower: 228 hp
Torque: 258 lb-ft
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD