By on September 26, 2014

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Much has been written about the narrowing performance and luxury gap between supercars and everyday pedestrian offerings. Even as supercars have introduced even wilder styling, interiors and technology the beige lemming wagon that fills your company’s management lot puts out 240 hp, sports bluetooth integration and can hit 60 in less than 8 seconds. But contained within the scale of Versa to Aventador, there exist smaller comparisons. Transpose that discussion onto one about buying a brand name versus value and you can have a thoughtful discussion about what exactly are you getting for your money.

On the surface, you might object to the idea of a Ford Fiesta and BMW X1. Certainly the X1 leans more to the SUV side of the scale, but if you put the preconceived notions of their respective mission aside, they aren’t that far apart.

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On the outside, the BMW X1 is just under 6 feet wide, 14 feet long and a tad over 5 feet tall. The Fiesta ST is not even 3 inches narrower, has 8 inches less nose to tail and is 3 inches shorter. The wheelbase for the X1 is a hair over 9 feet while the ST is a scant 10 inches less. The front and rear wheel track of both vehicles is within 4 inches. But side by side, the BMW appears to tower over the Ford.

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Inside, the difference is narrower in numbers and feel. The Fiesta is within 3 inches of the Bimmer in almost every measurement save one; The X1 has 2.5 times the interior cargo room and with the seats folded, the BMW more than doubles the ST ‘s 26 cubic feet of cargo space with 56 cubic feet.

In contrast the BMW is the porker of the two in almost every sense, especially price. This 2-wheel drive X1 stickered at $38,790. That’s with leather and the x-line package. The ST came with every available option, including the Recaro package, and stickered at $26,000. But this particular 2014 Fiesta ST came off the lot for $24.5 with 0% financing. While the X1 was almost a stripper model without GPS and the Ford was loaded to the gills, the price difference is still a decent optioned Nissan Versa sedan.

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So, what does the almost $13,000 extra get you? To try and find out, I met up with a fellow racer, friend and owner of the ST, Chris Mills early on a Sunday morning and headed to Oklahoma’s best kept secret; Talimena drive.

It was still dark when we met and filled the tanks. The forecast was mid 40s with a high of 50 and rain all day. This gave us an opportunity to experience how each of the respective makes dealt with the drive dynamics of their vehicle.

As previously mentioned, these cars are not as different as they seem.  BMW markets the X1 as a Sports Activity Vehicle, probably to delineate it from the bloated SUV image. Ford is unapologetic in the presentation of the Fiesta ST as a hot hatch. But they are still small 5-door cars and under the skin, both are motivated by 4 cylinder turbos. The X1’s 2.0L engine puts 240 horses to the rear wheels and the ST’s 1.6 sends 197 to the front. The Fiesta might be down on power but only needs to haul 2,720 lbs., while the Bimmer has to contend with 3,527. It takes the X1 6.3 seconds to hit 60. For a sizable price increase, you can trim that 0-60 down a full second with the 300 hp inline 6. The fully optioned Fiesta ST will hit 60 in 6.7.

It’s 6 AM, overcast and dark out. The sky warns of impending rain as we drive through rolling hills and light sweepers. The BMW is in its element and its grand touring roots are showing. The BMW interior is 77db at speed and the ST reads 80db.

At 7 AM on OK-3 just outside of Stonewall, it begins to drizzle. We have been traveling for an hour and via our Bluetooth phone conversation we trade some data. We are averaging 60.7 miles per hour; the BMW in with the auto trans in “sport” mode is yielding 29.4 miles per gallon but the Ford is much better at 30.4 mpg.

By 7:20 it’s finally raining. In Shamrock Oklahoma we swap vehicles.

There is no ambiguity in that the ST’s mission. I’m 6 foot, just under 200 pounds with a runners build and I have to force myself into the ST’s narrow Recaros. The only transmission available is the 6 speed manual, which falls readily to hand and the ergonomics are very purposeful. Ford’s maligned SYNC infotainment and phone integration is still miles beyond the BMW. The little things highlight the difference between the two. The Ford seat is all manual adjustment vs the BMW’s electric controls. The Fiesta seat warmer has one temperature while the BMW has three. The BMW smells of leather and the Fiesta still smells like a new car.

Even in the rain, this car is ready to go, now, anywhere. It will not let you be inattentive. The BMW is like an older golden retriever; calm, soothing and comfortable. The ST is a hyperactive border collie pulling on the end of its leash; smart, energetic and if you ignore it for too long, it will do bad things.

It is not uncomfortable to drive, but the seats are not conducive to a slacker seating position. The tires dart at every patch of standing water and the turbo keeps calling you to misbehave. Even in 6th gear, the slightest prod of the gas will grab some whoosh.

When we stop at Sardis Lake, the rain has abated. While grabbing some photos, we notice a semi-curvy road below the dam. We take to it, and for the first time I get restricted by the Fiesta’s stability control. I am actually impressed. The Ford employs a McNamara tactic of gradual intervention rather than absolute cut off. But unlike McNamara, the Fiesta’s system works, and I am able to hoon very effectively through the short parking area. Too much throttle? No problem. The ST will just even out that output to match the traction and the car pulls smoothly out of the corner. The rear wheel drive BMW is a bit hairier for my partner, pulling back onto the main road he notes the road was “a lot narrower that it looked from the top.”

We arrive in Talihina, OK at the base of OK-1 and grab breakfast at Pam’s Hatefull Hussy Diner on Main Street. Breakfast for two and a souvenir coffee mug is less than $15. If you are in town, it is highly recommended.

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While there we discuss the driving impressions. Chris’s first observation was that in the rear view mirror BMW doesn’t even look like a BMW. I think about that for a while, he’s right. The other unexpected observation is the BMW is more spartan inside. The ST has all the bells and whistles up front and available. The X1 tends to be more subtle. While the ST is always at the ready, the BMW chassis tended to adjust over bumps rather than transmit them. He used the word float, but immediately corrected because it wasn’t a negative feeling, as the car stayed planted. He also took the transmission out of “sport” mode and noticed an immediate MPG improvement.

After our bargain breakfast, we head up the mountain to the entrance of OK-1. It’s a great slice of pavement without the hype of the Tail of the Dragon. Our early arrival and wet weather ensures it will be free of the open pipe biker crowd and we won’t be dodging the knee draggers either. In fact, we get the entire 60 miles to ourselves. We don’t encounter another vehicle in our direction until just outside of Mena Arkansas.

As it turns out, BMW likes to push on the rough wet pavement. Given the damp and sometimes rainy conditions, we both left the stability control on. While not as smooth as the Ford, the BMW also has effective intervention. On paper, the BMW might be the faster selection of the duo, but the ST is at home here. It attacks the mountain range and opens a huge gap without trying. We weren’t racing, but it was a spirited drive and the Fiesta is the right tool for the job. The X1 is no slacker and can reel in the ST on the open sections, but when it’s tight, the Fiesta is gone.

When we get to the Arkansas side, we encounter a lot of fog which slows our progress. But it’s still a lovely drive. As we get into Mena we are both at just over a ¼ tank. The pumps tell the tale; 10.4 gallons top off the ST’s tank, 11.09 for the BMW. The ST’s 1.6 liter is a miser, even when pushed, vs the BMW’s 2.0 powerplant.

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We head back up the road. As it turns out the rear wheel drive X1 is more comfortable leading than following. I was always worried that the Ford was going to be able to correct a mistake and the BMW would slip up behind it. This was surprising, because the Fiesta is more high strung. I kept expecting the rear to step out, but the X1 would push first, then the stability control would intervene.

Having already been exposed to the road, we quicken our pace just slightly on the return. The storm that was dogging us inbound is breaking up in the hills and several times we find ourselves above the heavy dark clouds, and then descending through them.

We return to flatter surface roads and weave our way westerly back to Oklahoma City. The majority of the roads are two lanes and with the weather cleared, Sunday afternoon traffic is starting to build. In both cars, passing on the open dotted lines is effortless. You can downshift the manual ST to the redline or the auto stick in the X1 if more drama is needed, but in almost every case, just a little more throttle and a dose of turbo make the pass safely and quickly.

In Seminole we stop at another OK standard; Braum’s for a malt shake and final overview. Over the course of the trip we have covered 418 miles. The Fiesta yielded 25.4 mpg and the X1 24.7. The X1 could have done better if I had left the transmission in standard drive for the highway portions.

So back to the original question; what does the BMW deliver for the extra money? By the numbers it gives you some things; an extra year on the bumper to bumper warranty, 4 for the BMW vs 3 for the Ford.  Drivetrain is identical at 60,000 miles. BMW Maintenance included for 5 years. There is extra cargo room and a few inches for your head and shoulders. It can run with the hot hatch ST all day but never get away from it. Aside from two extra heat settings on the seats and leather, everything BMW offers is available on the Ford for less. What does $13,000 get you? Honestly, not much. The Fiesta ST is a great car, and despite being the X1 being my wife’s car, I’m calling the Ford the clear winner.

The same problem with the expensive supercar vs the performance sedan is magnified as the numbers get smaller. The “little” things cost a lot more. For the money, the Fiesta is a bargain, even if you aren’t a sports car person. The drivability, options and value of the Fiesta make the justification of the X1s price difficult and I can’t see the decision getting easier with an option more targeted to the hot hatch crowd, like the Mazdaspeed 3 or Mini Cooper.

But as I headed home, I was happier to have the more larger, if less supportive seats, automatic transmission and relaxed composure of the X1. After all, it was another 50 miles, it was still cold, still wet and I wanted to be comfortable.

Neither Ford or BMW provided demo vehicles or gas. These are both privately purchased cars. Thanks to Chris for giving up his Sunday and letting me use his car.

W. Christian Mental Ward has owned over 70 cars and destroyed most of them. He is a graduate of Panoz Racing School, loves cartoons and once exceeded the speed of sound. Married to the most patient woman in the world; he has three dogs, a Philosophy degree and a gift for making Derek wonder if English is actually his first language.

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50 Comments on “Capsule Comparison: BMW X1 S-Drive vs Ford Fiesta ST...”


  • avatar
    319583076

    *this* is why I love TTAC. Great comparison, great write-up. I assume the X1 has an open differential. In my experience, LSD makes a huge difference in drivability in all conditions. Thanks

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    I think the dimensions claim is spurious. These cars are about as different in size as a Camry and Corolla. I think a more apt comparison would have been the Focus ST and the X1, but when you get lemons you make Arnold Palmers.

  • avatar
    thomm

    Sport mode locks out top gear on the x1. Drive the fiesta in the top five gears and let us know the gas mileage figures for a fair comparison there. Also…did I see you compare sticker to a negotiated price as well? Since the x1 is in the family, the negotiated price should be disclosed on that as well in this comparison. It would not shave 13k from the x1, but would be a more apt description. Also, as noted above, almost a foot in length is quite a bit difference. I know these things make your thesis easier to prove, but it just smacks of wanting to have a day out driving with a buddy and forcing an article out of it. Also…x-line? No such thing…There is luxury line, sportline, and msport. Xdrive would indicate awd.

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    The BMW may have electrically adjustable seats, but those motors all add weight to the already heavier car.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    Really, a tiny hot hatch against a rather porky cuv? I find it amazing, though not unexpected, how close they are in performance and economy. If you had left the transmission to its own devices the BMW probably would have beat the Ford despite the lard. Much as I hate automatics, that 8spd ZF is magic.

    Try this again with a 228i and get back to us. Not that the 2-series is that much lighter, but it is a lot closer to the ground and a whole bunch more eager to play. Especially with the track handling package.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    Great write up and I am torn here, I hate CUV’s and am not a Bimmer fan at all, but I would rather have the BMW, the interior of the fiesta is a joke, it looks like it is not a place I would want to spend any time looking at and dealing with. The BMW looks cleaner inside, I have no idea how much both would be worth in 5 years but I would suppose you would get some of the difference back with the X1, I CAN NOT BELIVE I CHOOSE A BMW CUV.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      In 5 years, I’m guessing the price of the two in equal condition will be about the same. Or even gavor the ST. The X1 is an entry level, “practical” model from a make not known for their low price of upkeep post warranty. The ST is a performance bargain that is cheap to tune to boot. Of course, finding an ST that is not hooned to the ground may be difficult…..

      The interiors of both are nice. The ST seats are a pain to get into and out of, but remarkably comfy once you get used to sitting in them. And the light, tactile clutch and shifter, along with the panorama view out and compact dimensions, makes the experience extremely positive. The Bimmer is a right sized Bimmer. What more is there to say?

  • avatar
    kosmo

    The BMW X1 is really closer to a modern day, last generation 3 Wagon with an extra inch of ground clearance than it is to a CUV.

    Nice review. I get that you’re testing what is available, but as noted above, X1 vs. Focus ST would be a closer comparison.

    BMWs have gotten so ridiculously expensive. I’ve gone from a lifelong owner to “probably never have another” in the space of 5 short years.

  • avatar

    Oh, yes…that sub-50-degree weather had everyone going crazy here in Oklahoma City. I remember it well.

    As for the X1, it’s a great car. It’s chock full of leftover E90 parts and pretty much uses the E90 chassis, which is great for a lot of people who like it better than the newer, softer 3-Series and X3. But it’s also grossly overpriced.

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    The weight difference seems to be high considering the similar dimensions. I guess the bigger motor and the automatic both add weight. Also BMW does engineer their bodies to a sturdier spec than Ford so that will, err… weigh in to.
    It’s an interesting comparison for what I would consider two vehicles at opposite ends of the taste and needs scale. It’s interesting because the two cars can be compared. Possibly because of size and the “sporty / practical” attributes.

  • avatar
    vvk

    Not really an apples to apples comparison. Automatic transmission compromises any car. Mr. Mental Ward, how much of the performance difference is, in your opinion, due to the automatic in the X1?

    I personally cannot drive automatics, period. I would take a Yugo with a manual vs. a 911 with the doppelkupplungsgetriebe. Without hesitation.

  • avatar
    Stumpaster

    What’s next, Ram 1500 vs Town & Country? Transit Connect vs 3-series GT? Did you notice how different their torque curves are? Did you notice that X1 can actually tow? Did you notice that your wife would not even look in ST’s direction when purchasing a new vehicle? But yeah, otherwise they are within mere 3 inches from each other dimensionally. So yeah, thanks for that observation.

  • avatar
    vvk

    Also, I assume the non-M-Sport X1 was wearing low rolling resistance run-flat all season rubber (ContiProContact? P7?) Fiesta comes standard with much more appropriate summer tires. Tires make a huge difference…

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    I’d like to see how the BMW would square up against a decked out Focus.

  • avatar
    windnsea00

    I had a X1 as a loaner car when I had my past BMW, I am not a crossover person but I thought it was more fun to drive than the new 3-series (I understand the X1 has a lot of E90 DNA). Great steering, tight chassis, and the turbo 4 is plenty peppy.

    • 0 avatar
      ScottE5

      I’m not a crossover person, either, but It’s got a very honest, analog feeling to it that got me hooked. Kind of a hot hatch trapped in a slightly dumpy CUV shell.

    • 0 avatar
      MattPete

      I too had one as a loaner earlier this year. I’m no fan of SUVs, and I expected either a wallowing ill-handling car, or a car, that to handle well, had an overly stiff suspension to deal with the higher center-of-mass.

      Based on my previous experience with loaner 3-series automatics, I expected a dull, non-responsive transmission. A transmission that would refuse to downshift in normal mode, and refuse to upshift in sport mode.

      Instead, I found the X1 to be shockingly nimble, and with a smooth compliant ride. The ZF 8-speed is magic. The X1 might very well be my next car.

  • avatar
    tjh8402

    how hard were you pushing the Fiesta? other reviews indicate the epa 35 mpg highway number is not difficult to achieve, with some reporting as high as 40 mpg

  • avatar
    thegamper

    Nice article, not exactly apples to apples in my opinion, but it makes a point I have believed for some time. Take the top trim of a lot of cars with a non luxury badge and compare them to a costlier stripped down version of a luxury car with similar dimensions and similar mission. The price difference is hugely in favor of the volume brand, the equipment difference is hugely in favor of the volume brand and the performance gap, while it may fall to the more expensive car, just isnt big enough to justify everything else.

    I may not have coined the phrase, but I call it the law of diminishing returns. Take cars like the Subaru WRX, Ford Mustang, a Buick Lacrosse, Toyota Avalon and compare them to some of the luxury/sports cars they can legitimately compete against. The volume makers are pushing the envelope for what is available at that price in terms of luxury and speed. To get significantly more speed out of a WRX or Mustang, you have to add more and more cost for slight incriments. Similarly with the near luxury cars like Buick, Avalon, to get significantly, more lunxury you have to add rare, custom, handmade features and new expensive (often unreliable) technology to get far beyond what what is being offered by these mass market champs.

    Thus, in the car biz, I really think you get less and less for more and more. But lets face it, there would be plenty of people who would be happy to buy the Fiesta (as is) at a $10k premium if it had BMW badges. The luxury car biz is a license to print money and there is just no shortage of people willing to part with their cash to be a faux baller for 36 months or 30k miles, whichever comes first.

    • 0 avatar
      vvk

      I will take a stripper premium car (BMW, Mercedes) vs a loaded non-premium (Honda, Toyota) any time. The only features I care about are good seats, buttoned down ride, quiet interior, smooth gearshift, easy clutch and terrific brake/steering feel. My SLK350 is a stripper but all the items listed above are beyond fantastic. My 550i is loaded with all sorts of gizmos but honestly I would rather not have them. All the stuff I care about is just perfect, so I live with the gizmos.

    • 0 avatar
      Monty

      But VVK, the people like us who care about driving dynamics and a well sorted chassis are a minority. We show up here and on other like sites on the internet, but I’m fairly certain we represent a minuscule percentage of the car buying public.

      For most people, that BMW badge is worth a order of magnitude more than the ST badge on a Fiesta. Yet, I can tell you, after owning an ’05 Ford Focus SES with a manual, and now a ’10 BMW 335I that the differences in the two vehicles do NOT justify the price differential between them.

      I would peg the difference in driving experience of the Focus to be about 80% of the Bimmer, for a car that was about 45% of the Bimmer’s retail price (Focus was even less for what I actually paid for it!)

      The three pointed star or the propeller badge is what sells a lot of these cars, at a huge premium. There’s a reason why Daimler and BMW are among the most profitable automakers on the planet.

      I think thegamper hit the nail on the head with his post.

  • avatar
    slow_poke

    two comments:

    a) 29.4 vs. 30.4 is irrelevant. over 10k miles and $4/gal its <$50

    b) i care about the difference between 77db and 80db. droning on freeways kills me

    also, i think this is writeup of the day!!! someone get him a focus!

  • avatar
    PJmacgee

    Well look what you made me do, finally register after years of lurking!

    So this is a weird turn of events that I feel like defending the BMW, especially since it was your last review of you wife’s (then new) X1 that led me to test drive/buy one for MY wife. Crazy.

    Anyway, fun fact, the X1 is the least expensive BMW sold in North America. Since you could have had the X1 S-drive for about $31k without silly options (sunroof, paint-matched trim, bla bla), then the appropriate question is, “What do you get for the extra $5k?” (compared to the Fiesta):

    -Solid, “planted” (as you say), sublime ride quality
    -The ability to hang with a Fiesta ST all day on rainy/tight mountain back roads
    -TWICE the cargo
    -HALF the noise (remember, noise doubles every 3dB)
    -a very tasteful and minimal interior (without all those “bells and whistles” that many don’t want in there anyway)
    -No difference in fuel use (leave the ZF alone and let it do its magic!)
    -years of regular dealer services

  • avatar
    carr1on

    Talimena is a great drive. My wife and I ride our bikes up there at least twice a year.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    Interesting comparison, but it clearly shows where BMW has been putting development money: fuel economy. The larger, much heavier, much quieter, and more relaxing X1 CUV with automatic is faster and probably more economical than the ST if not driven in sport mode. BMW has worked some magic with their 2 liter turbo, which the mainstream brands can’t touch. The Ford Escape with the 2 liter turbo and supposedly 240hp just like the BMW X1, is over a second slower to 60 and will not get within 5 mpg of the BMW, despite weighing less. That better technology is expensive and that is large part of what you are paying for with the premium brands.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    You left out the most important tests: Which one makes the driver feel more virile, and which one attracts the chicks? I know, it’s hard to quantify those, but they’re very important to a segment of the driving public (not me – I drive a Buick).

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    we have a few interesting X1s here

    now this is an unusual looking car no doubt but you can get it with an 8 spd auto, rwd and a 2.0 turbo diesel motor

    also you may also get it as a 6 spd man.

    sure its borderline ugly and the interior is downmarket for the money but it is a 3,300lb rwd CUV… with man. option

  • avatar
    05lgt

    Excellent story. What I love about TTAC and about driving. As to whether or not it’s a fair comparison, fair always means “I get everything I want exactly the way I want it, and I don’t have to feel bad about it” so I don’t worry too much about fair.

  • avatar
    Joss

    The X1 is already a five-year-old. BMW NA dragged their feet until 2013. ST hit both shores last year.

    Nice bit of tat given Ford’s present woes.

  • avatar
    kychungkevin

    This is actually a very interesting comparison! I have a X1 xDrive28i and when I was shopping the only other car I was strongly consider was the Focus ST. X1 win out because I do want a bigger trunk and really don’t like FWD. Also ZF 8-speed impressed me enough that I am willing to drive an automatic (I use paddle shift 95% of time in my X1).

    If someone who don’t push the car often ask me which car to pick I would actually suggest Ford. They both feel very sporty, feel just as fast, just as comfortable, look just as good/bad. But Ford is much cheaper while loaded with features.

    • 0 avatar
      VoGo

      Maybe the GTI is a happy medium?

      • 0 avatar
        kychungkevin

        Last gen (2013) GTI is a good car but my last car was manual Passat 2.0t with APR stage 1 tune and I want to try something outside of VW. Also Focus ST is about the same size as the last gen GTI and close if not better in performance.
        In my option BMW N20 engine is so much better than the vw/audi EA888 in power delivery and smoothness; what surprise me is the Ford Ecoboost 2.0t is also so smooth!

        The new GTI looks excellent and also slightly bigger. I have to drive it to see how the new platform and engine perform. Still after almost 2 years I love my x1 and would keep it for a while!

  • avatar
    critchdizzle

    Didn’t realize you were from OK Mr. Mental Ward. I’m from Owasso (just north of Tulsa) myself. Never heard of Talimena before, I’ll have to try it later this year when the leaves turn.

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