2016 BMW X1 first drive review

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The new 2016 BMW X1 is, for the most part, a very good car.

Yet there’s a big asterisk to this: It just doesn’t feel much like a BMW.

In this age when executives and product planners wax poetic about preserving the “brand DNA”—seemingly to no end—this feels like a model that tosses much of it to the wayside. Disguise the styling and obvious bits, and we’d venture to say that even BMW loyalists might not single out the X1 as one of their own.

If you’re a longtime BMW fan, that’s damning praise. You probably appreciate some of the traits that you know will be reliably baked into every BMW model—like nice, near-neutral handling, superb seats, and the feeling that you’re sitting down near the vehicle’s center of mass.

The previous BMW X1 wasn’t a very spacious or space-efficient car; it didn’t ride all that well; and the cabin could be rather noisy; but it handled like a rear-wheel-drive sport coupe—just one that happened to have a tall roof, a hatch, and four doors.

The Roundel, facing cute-ute reality

The new 2016 X1 is pretty much the polar opposite. It’s the first front-wheel-drive-based BMW ever; it’s incredibly well laid-out and space-efficient; it rides quietly and comfortably; it makes advances toward unpaved terrain in a way the X1 never did before; and its handling is tidy but uninspiring.

However its steering is superb, and it’s what really redeems this model as a pleasant city and suburban roundabout. It tracks well on the highway or in tight alleys, with precise, well-weighted control off center, unwinding smoothly under power in a way that’s relatively rare in front- or all-wheel-drive cars.

The X1 is small-car fuel-efficient, too. Over 140 miles, covering mixed conditions that included an hour in dense urban stop-and-go and an hour in relaxed highway cruising—and nearly everything in between—we averaged 25 mpg according to the trip computer; that nearly ties the X1’s 26-mpg EPA Combined figure (and 22/32 mpg city/highway ratings).

The 2.0-liter turbocharged, direct-injection “TwinTurbo” four-cylinder engine is essentially what’s used in many other places in the BMW (and Mini) lineup, and here it makes 228 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque; working with the eight-speed automatic transmission, there’s excellent straight-line acceleration (0-60 in about six seconds) plus strong passing power when you need it.

Through Driving Dynamic Control, you can bring up Sport, Comfort, and Eco Pro modes, which changes the calibration of the electric power steering, accelerator sensitivity, and shift behavior/points. While the lack of a Sport+ mode is pretty telling about BMW’s intent with this model, we found a wider range than usual between these three settings—especially in powertrain respects. Quick transitionary bursts of power are painfully hesitant in Eco Pro, and even Comfort mode sometimes, yet they’re a lot sharper in Sport or if you shift over to the manual-control shift gate.

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