If it were a thinking creature, the 2021 BMW X1 xDrive28i likely would be befuddled by the different descriptions attached to it.
The Bavarian Motor Works, which builds the X1 in a plant in Regensburg, Germany, calls it a sports activity vehicle and places it at the entry level of the company’s extensive lineup of what others call crossover sport utility vehicles.
Yet it actually is larger than the next step up in the lineup, the BMW X2. Both are described as subcompacts in the crossover realm away from BMW. But the Environmental Protection Agency, keeper of fuel economy ratings, classifies the X1 as a large car with a hatchback.
That’s because the EPA’s categories are based not on length, or weight, or wheelbase (the distance between the centers of the front and rear wheels), but on the inside space in cubic feet, including both the passenger and cargo room.
A car with more than 120 cubic feet of space for people and cargo gets a classification as large. The BMW X1 has a total of 128 cubic feet, with 101 for passengers and 27 for cargo behind the second row of seats. Like other crossovers, it has a rear hatch to access cargo.
The more expensive X2, on the other hand, has a total interior volume of 115 cubic feet, divided into 93 for passengers and 22 for cargo. It also is lighter, and shorter in length and height than the X1. Moving up the scale of BMW’s SAVs are the X3, X4, X5, X6 and X7, some of which are built in the company’s U.S. plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
The one thing you always can count on with BMW is exceptional performance and excellent handling. It dates back to the superb 1967 BMW 1600, which Car and Driver magazine described then as the world’s best $2,500 car. It was the template for the brand, though it was overshadowed by the 1968 BMW 2002, which came with a bigger and more powerful four-cylinder engine dictated by U.S. anti-pollution requirements.
Though BMW focused on performance sedans and the occasional sports car, it quickly recognized how buyers became entranced by crossover SUVs. In the first six months of 2020, 55% of BMW’s 154,204 U.S. sales were of crossovers.
The 2021 BMW X1 is mostly a carryover from the 2020 model. Though it operates in luxury/performance territory, it is not outrageously expensive, with a 2020 base price of $38,195, including the destination charge, which is only a few thousand dollars more than the current average price of a new automobile in the U.S.
However, like other European cars in the category, it has an options list that marches out to the horizon. The tested X1 came with $10,450 worth of extras that brought the bottom-line sticker price up to $48,645. But you’d hardly want any more.
Start with the power train. The tested X1 xDrive28i—the xDrive is BMW-speak for all-wheel drive—comes with a 228 horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 258 pound-feet of torque. The power is transferred via an eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode controlled by steering-wheel paddles.
It’s enough to propel the X1 to 60 miles an hour in about six seconds, with a top speed near 140 miles an hour and fuel economy that won’t break the bank. The EPA rates its city/highway/combined fuel economy at 23/31/26 mpg on the recommended premium gasoline.
An idle stop-start system boosts the fuel economy somewhat but it causes hesitation off the line. It can be turned off but there still is some slight lag when you punch the throttle, and it happens in any of the three selectable drive modes: Eco Pro, Comfort and Sport. The last mainly holds the transmission shift points to higher engine revolutions before shifting and is the preferred setting for spirited motoring.
Meeting expectations of BMW, the X1 handles nearly like a sports sedan, tracking true with almost no body lean around curves. The tradeoff is a ride that nods toward stiffness. Sport seats hold the torso tightly, and the X1 cruises quietly at speed on freeways.
One annoyance. The panoramic glass sunroof on the test X1 came with a flimsy perforated sunshade that admitted too much heat and light—probably OK in northern Europe but it makes the air conditioning less effective in 90-100 degree heat in some areas of the U.S.
- Model: 2021 BMW X1 xDrive28i four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
- Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 228 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
- Overall length: 14 feet 8 inches.
- Height: 5 feet 3 inches.
- EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 101/27 cubic feet.
- Weight: 3,715 pounds.
- EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 23/31/26. Premium fuel recommended.
- Base price, including destination charge (2020): $38,195.
- Price as tested: $48,645.
Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.
Photos (c) BMW