Silvio Calabi: BMW X1 35i is a snow machine
Are you young, hip and “active”? How about forward-thinking and green? Reasonably well-heeled? Do you shower before you go to work? If so, the Bavarians are targeting you for their new “sporty, sophisticated and eco-savvy” X1 sports-activity vehicle. And what is an X1? Think of an X5 or an X3 that was left in the dryer a bit too long. The X1 is a couple of inches smaller than a Toyota RAV4 or a Ford Escape.
The blizzard of demographic desirability that BMW has brewed up for the X1’s American debut is impressive. Even more impressive, however, was the X1’s ability to deal with a real blizzard. Some of the credit has to go to the Pirelli Cinturato P7 All Season tires on our car, but the X1 easily got us through a long night of thick snow and stiff winds. It turned what was evidently traumatic for other drivers—the ones in the ditch or creeping along with their flashers blinking—into an enjoyable romp. The linear throttle and the adaptive transmission manage the power very smoothly; the brakes and steering are equally hooked up and communicative; the suspension perfectly walks the line between comfort and control; and the electronic anti-spin, anti-slip guardian angels are always present to help avert disaster. There was more than enough bite at both ends to put all these assets to work, so I felt like a Finnish rally ace when we got home. Heck, I wanted to turn around and go do it again. My wife rolled her eyes and ran into the house.
BMW offers three versions of its new (to the US) little ute, each in three trim lines. The 240-horsepower 4-cylinder 28i can be had with rear-wheel or all-wheel drive. Our car was the third variant, the xDrive35i, which has a potent 300-horsepower 6-cylinder motor and all-wheel drive. BMW’s “intelligent” AWD system is rear-wheel drive most of the time, but it seamlessly and near-instantaneously sends power to the front wheels when needed.
The two X1 28i models come with dual-mode 8-speed automatic transmissions; the more-powerful 35i has a 6-speed, also with normal and sport settings. All X1s have a host of fuel-saving features both overt (automatic stop-start) and covert (direct fuel injection, using the brakes to generate electricity, optimizing climate control, etc.), which promise up to 34 miles per gallon. Your own mileage may vary; ours certainly did, but we were wrestling with snow, wind and bitter cold.
Top-dog German cars like to lure in buyers with reasonable-sounding base prices and then slaughter us with a menu of costly add-ons. The RWD 28i starts at $30,800 and the xDrive35i at $38,600 (plus delivery). This is upper-end RAV4 and Escape territory. But BMW threw the entire catalog at our car, which maxed its sticker out at $48,095. However, if you restrain yourself to, say, just the M Sport package and uprated paint and trim, the tab for a highly satisfactory and deluxe X1 35i with AWD rises only to $44,000, including four years of maintenance. This works out to a three-year lease at $450 a month, or just four days of lift tickets at Vail.
Speaking of which, BMW has also ginned up a Powder Ride Edition X1. Along with all available luxuries, it comes with wild artwork, special floor and cargo mats, a color-coordinated rooftopper for skis and boards, and a price tag of $48,000 for the 35i or $44,400 for the 28i. Oh, and you also get a pair of matching K2 Powder Ride skis!
We prefer a slightly roomier vehicle for our ski junkets, which involve four adults bulked up in ski and snowboard gear. (There’s always the bigger, much more expensive X3 and X5.) But no one can fault the X1’s winter chops. It bears out my theory that a car that excels in the dry has a built-in advantage when things get ugly. Taut handling and highly manageable power are useful anywhere, anytime—provided there’s also a bit of ground clearance, that is.
It has to be said that, at least when it’s not crusted with snow, the X1 is almost unendurably cute, a twee little crossover ute that could have been made by Santa’s elves. But beneath the lovable-puppy sheet metal beat the heart and chassis of a lion. It is a BMW.
Silvio Calabi reviews the latest from Detroit, Munich, Yokohama, Gothenburg, Crewe, Seoul and wherever else interesting cars are born. Silvio is a member of the International Motor Press Association whose automotive reviews date back to the Reagan administration. He is the former publisher of Speedway Illustrated magazine and an author. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.