By on March 10, 2015

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There’s been a lot of hand-wringing about the introduction of the BMW 2-Series Active Tourer, and its larger minivan sibling, the Gran Tourer. I was in the midst of preparing an editorial on the introduction of the Gran Tourer, a front-wheel drive minivan based on the Mini-derived UKL platform, when I saw news that the X1, my current favorite BMW, is going to be based on UKL as well. Apparently, it will also look “more like an X car.” When the current X1 dies, it will mark the end of an era for BMW.

The genesis for this editorial was initially rooted in my difficulties with writing a review for the 228i that I just drove at a launch event for that car, and the all-new X6M. Both cars provided a glimpse into the future of the BMW brand – and the future direction of my current favorite BMW, the X1.

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The base 2-Series is supposed to embody the best of what BMW has to offer, but it falls far short of that promise. In the interest of disclosure, the 2-Series I drove was a 228i cabriolet, with an 8-speed automatic. Not the most sporting variant available, but it did have the M Sport package, and the 1-Series droptops I’ve driven haven’t been terribly different from their hardtop siblings.

Unless the 2-Series Coupe is some kind of head and shoulders improvement above and beyond the coupe, I’m dumbfounded as to how the 228i could have garnered so much praise. It’s not particularly fast, despite the normally proficient N20 4-cylinder and 8-speed automatic. In “Comfort” mode, the slippery feeling reminds one of a Toyota Camry, while the ride remains on the extreme wrong side of “firm”. In “Sport” mode, the performance is only marginally improved, while the ride turns truly punishing. Even on the relatively smooth roads around Austin, Texas, the ride quality was comparable to a three-quarter ton truck with blown shocks. Maybe it’s the run-flat tires, or the “sport” chassis tuning or the characteristically hard BMW ride. Either way, it’s not particularly fun or thrilling. It’s a definite step back from the 1-Series, which was at least a reasonably fun car to drive, even if it had its detractors.

In my opinion, the best small BMW, the one that most embodies the “Ultimate Driving Machine” ethos is actually…wait for it…the X1. If you told me that 6 month ago, I wouldn’t have believed you. In fact, I didn’t, and it caused a major fight between myself and my then-girlfriend.

After taking a job transfer to Indianapolis, she decided to sell  her 2009 Acura RDX. When she told me the X1 was high on her list, I hit the roof, thanks to a combination of relationship stress and endless enthusiast mockery of the baby Bimmer CUV. I thought it was a silly vehicle sold only to badge snobs and the terminally self-conscious. I didn’t believe her when she said she liked how “sporty” it felt. Although I suggested more sensible alternatives, she ended up with the white X1 shown above.

On my first visit to see her in Indy, we ended up taking the X1 down to Nashville for my birthday weekend, and to break the new car in. As usual, the driving fell to me, and I had to eat a family-size portion of crow. The X1 was quick, comfortable, quiet, got great fuel economy and actually felt like a BMW, thanks to the hydraulic steering and the sharp, nimble responses – two qualities that are notably absent from the 2-Series. The tall tires and long travel suspension gave the kind of ride I was used to from my father’s old E39 530i; just a little firm, not punishing but not squishy or coddling.

It held all of our gear as well as a 6-foot tall picture that she found at an antique shop. My one complaint is that there’s no manual option. But the 8-speed ZF auto is so good that I can’t ever say I actually wished for a manual option – and the number of buyers lusting after a stick X1 can be counted on one hand. Even with two pedals, it is currently the only BMW that evokes memories of my old E30 ice racer, my father’s E39 530i, the brilliant E46 330i Sport that Jack owned or any number of past models that we consider classics.

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But BMW is a publicly traded company. Its sole obligation is to deliver value to its shareholders, rather than operate as a charity to produce widgets for car enthusiasts. The way to do this is to build X Cars, like the X6M you see here. Even though it has no real purpose than to advertise just how much money you paid for something with no real utility, this kind of fashion statement is very much en vogue not just in America, but the all important emerging markets where this kind of car can be exported from its South Carolina factory and sold at many multiples of its American MSRP. Then again, I’m told that the X1 is one of BMW’s most profitable products. On the retail side, it makes more money for dealers than a 7-Series.

What can we expect from the next X1? Well, it won’t have the X6M’s blinding pace or surprising dynamic poise – nor will it have the old school charm that makes it such a diamond in the rough in the context of BMW’s throroughly sanitized current lineup. Instead, it will probably be a bit like a smaller, front-drive X4, but with the bones of a Mini Countryman. I can’t say that sounds entirely compelling but hey, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been wrong about a BMW crossover…

 

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39 Comments on “Editorial: The Ultimate Driving Machine Is Now A Crossover – But Not For Long...”


  • avatar
    dwford

    So bmw is turning into Mazda, a company that trades on its previous actual sportiness, but now only with sporty style and commercials

  • avatar
    michal1980

    Your review seems backwards from every other I’ve read.

    the 2 series gets tons of praise, the x1 gets ripped for having a terrible ride.

    And I never knew that a 5 second 0-60 car can somehow be called slow.

    I havent driven the x1, but just test drove the m235. Even over broken pavement in sport+ I could call the ride punishing, imho, for how firm it felt, it was also very well dampened.

    The engine and transmission are also the same in both cars, so that further adds to the confusion of how you think one is slow, the other fast.

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    yep, i fully agree but its a stroke on coincidence that the ‘real BMW experience’ is an ugly ancient rwd quasi CUV that most people hate

    the X1 i have a begrudging respect for… it came out around the GFC but even then it looked dated and dowdy because its DNA dates back to 2006 or even earlier?

    i mean look at it, look at the generations old interior design and material quality

    look at the general lack of interior room and cargo space

    however also look at the long nose and wonder why they ever wanted to make this a north south rwd/4wd platform

    they would never make this today and they soon wont as its off to pasture soon for a fwd based model

    the ugly exterior is growing on me in a ‘its so ugly its almost cool’ kind of way

    its an jacked up e90 is what it is

    the star buy where I am is a 2.0 liter turbo diesel rwd model

    the 4wd model is a bit of a waste of time given there’s no snow here, nor would anyone seriously run a BMW on the beach or any real terrain

    also i think if you compare it to a much cheaper more modern device like the Mazda CX5 you’d expose its faults for what it really is but then no other CUV will drive like an X1

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    What a silly thing to fight with your girlfriend over. I can only wish my wife would go out and buy herself a BMW.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Another future collectible: a RWD manual NA I6 X1, last of the traditional BMWs.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      I don’t believe they ever sold the X1 in the states with a stick. So the closest equivalent would be my car – a rwd manual I6 e91 328i station wagon. Which I assure you is MUCH nicer to drive than an X1, being the correct distance from the ground and a good bit lighter. Of course, you can’t buy one new any more. Personally, I have no particular issue with BMW building cars on the Mini platform. FWD has it’s uses, especially when one of the goals is maximum interior space.

      I don’t know what Derek was smoking with the 228i, unless they have somehow made the convertible drive completely differently from the coupe. I have now rented a very base, no-line, 228i for three weeks total and find it sublime. Adding the track handling package makes it notably better. Making it an M235i was good enough for me to order one despite the slightly retarded price.

      Then again, he bought a Mazda3, a car I have never been able to understand what the fuss was about. A Golf is just so much better in my opinion.

  • avatar
    smartascii

    There is, parked in my driveway at this very moment, a 2015 328xi that BMW brought me as a loaner while my 2011 328xi is being serviced. In the past, they have brought me X1s, so I have driven this 2.0/8AT drivetrain in both, although I’ve never sampled it in a 2-series. The difference in ride and handling between the two is significant. The (non-sport-package) 3 is pretty mushy, and the delay between throttle inputs and engine response is very noticeable. Hard cornering makes the chassis uncomfortable in a way that’s beyond what could be attributed to tire selection, and the steering is completely devoid of any kind of feedback. The materials are aggressively cheap (as an example, the covers on the insides of the A-pillars are thin, hard plastic that have been printed to match the cloth of the headliner, and if you rap on it with a knuckle, it makes the kind of sharp, hollow sound you’d get from thwacking an empty soda bottle against a countertop). Everything feels…thin.

    The X1 suffers from the same cost-cutting assault on a number of fronts, but because the steering wheel is a generation old, it’s been spared, and so your primary contact point with the car feels much nicer. The suspension is more competent at communicating what’s going on with the contact patches to the seat of your pants, and the steering has feel to it. The electronics are a generation behind, which will be a deal breaker for some, and the back seat is a size smaller.

    The thing is, neither car feels as expensive as a GTI, and neither really wants to go apex-hunting on your favorite back road, or really, any road at all. And neither one ever lets you forget that you weren’t willing to spring for the more expensive models on offer. My 2011 feels like it’s trying to be the best little sports sedan it can be and rewards you for choosing it. The 2015 is a placeholder until you get that promotion and can trade it in for an X5.

  • avatar
    Alfisti

    We have a very short term lease (16 months) of …. a white X-1. TBH it’s mostly for badge snob reasons, my wife drives it and the car does a better job of looking “female lawyerish” than the Accent she used to drive.

    I quite like driving the car but it still feels too damned stiff. The 225/50’s help but even with mushy winter tyres the car feels set up in an incredibly stiff manner. Maybe it’s the bone chilling cold so the suspension is rock hard, not sure yet, but it’s a not a “compliant ride” by any means.

    And the interior is flat out nasty for a so-called luxury brand.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      Huh.

      I test drove an X1 335 a few months back, and found the interior quite competent.

      What did you find unpleasant about it?

      • 0 avatar
        Alfisti

        Depends on the spec purchased. Bog standard is “pleather” that feels like pleather, a radio and hvac interface circa 2004 (what’s with the ghastly orange??), hard plastics etc etc.

        • 0 avatar
          ellomdian

          I was going to post most of what you said – I am curious how nice a trim package you can get on an X1, and most of the one’s I’ve been in were pretty close to base model.

          But, you are aware that the ‘ghastly’ orange you refer to is pretty much a BMW signature interior accent at this point, and you get quite a bit of red and orange interior lighting from the Germans in general? Red light tends not to mess up your night vision nearly as much as any other color.

          And most base-model Germans have a pretty utilitarian HVAC/Stereo. If you want fancy, you are going to pay for the Multimedia stack.

      • 0 avatar
        tekdemon

        Hard plastics everywhere, the ridiculous click in cupholder that uses up the center console storage space if you don’t click it in, and that assaults the passenger’s leg space if you do are just the most obvious things that come to mind. I can honestly say that the Honda Accord Sport has better interior quality.

        Of course the X1 is going to drive a lot like an E90 3 series, but damn is that interior awful for something that costs $40K.

        They were very recently running a pretty aggressive lease deal though where you would lease it for about $360 with nothing down, so at least from a heavily subsidized lease perspective the interior is less ridiculous, but if you’re actually trying to purchase a nice X1 Xdrive35i you’re talking about spending $50K on a car with an interior that’s worse than pretty much all the interiors you would find in $24K family sedans.

        To be honest, the newer F30 3 series interior is only slightly less awful. But I guess you’re paying for the badge and the driving experience.

        My girlfriend basically thought I was nuts when I told her the price of the X1 after we were sitting in all the models at the dealership because she thought the interiors were so awful.

  • avatar
    ajla

    “It’s not particularly fast”

    It traps at 100mph. How fast should a basic I4 BMW be?

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Maybe it doesn’t feel as fast as it goes. That’s my gripe with cars like the 1st gen S2000. You’d see the speed increasing on the dash but it had the thrust of something with half the horsepower, just applied at a lower speed. I do find it weird with this car though as the N20 is pretty torquey. But if the engine is isolated I can see how the sensation of speed would be diminished.

      I used to work for a utility that had Chevy Venture vans for work vehicles. They were pretty fun in the city. They didn’t make much power but they were geared short and torquey as hell on the street. I was surprised to see how little power they made. Probably didn’t hurt that they were completely empty outside of tools and gear.

      • 0 avatar
        NoGoYo

        Yeah, GM was surprisingly good at making the 60V6 feel more powerful than it actually was…until you tried to drive down the highway. It kinda just gives up around 60mph…

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    The X series cars are BMW’s way of kicking the Roundel enthusiast in the nuts and making ’em sing like a chipmunk.

  • avatar
    S197GT

    “It’s not particularly fast…”

    i nearly stopped reading after this.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    “Even though it has no real purpose than to advertise just how much money you paid for something with no real utility, this kind of *bad* fashion statement is very much en vogue not just in America, but the all important emerging markets where this kind of car can be exported from its South Carolina factory and sold at many multiples of its American MSRP”

    Fixed.

  • avatar
    Drzhivago138

    Imagine if a new GM product looked “more like an X car”.

  • avatar
    darex

    Derek, considering that steering and handling are what MINI does best, I’d say your tsouris over the next X1 is premature. As the owner of a UKL-based F56 MINI Cooper, I can assure you it’s still there and still precise and fun. Finally, all the reviews and news I’ve read about the Active Tourer show that it’s an EXTREMELY versatile car, and is also a fun to drive car. It will be a huge hit when it comes to North America. I’m certain of it.

  • avatar
    cgjeep

    The X1 is on the E90 platform. Looked at one to replace my E46 wagon but can’t get past the cup holder placement. Same issue with the E90 sedans

  • avatar
    OM617

    An argument is only as strong as the underlying facts and assertions. In this case, the assessment of the 228i as a poor performer, is an outlier to the dominant perceptions of the car and needs to be better explained for the rest of the argument to be taken seriously. To be credible, Derek should explain why the majority view is wrong or actually examine if the coupe and convertible handle that differently.

    It is a shame that there has been no TTAC review of the coupe so far.

    • 0 avatar

      If somebody out there has one, let me know and I will come review it.

      • 0 avatar
        OM617

        If I’m remembering correctly, krhodes1 has written about his M235i.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          Not yet, I only have one on order. I have written a bit about the 228i I keep renting from Sixt in Atlanta though. I’ve now had about three weeks total with it – same car, they only have one!

          I won’t be taking delivery of mine (in Munich) until mid-August, then Performance Center delivery in S. Carolina probably around the first of November.

          • 0 avatar
            OM617

            I’ve driven the current 120i in Germany, which I enjoyed on the autobahn and in the alps. I imagine the 2 series drives similarly.

            Sounds like a fun trip! I’ve seen people leave BMW Welt in Munich on Euro delivery. Looks like a lot of fun

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        It will be a bit of a wait, and an M235i, but you are welcome to give mine a go once I get it if you can’t find one sooner.

      • 0 avatar
        Brendon from Canada

        I’m an hour outside of Toronto and have an M235i on order that I offered up to Derek last night for review in May prior to suspension and rim replacement… I’m assuming you’re down in the US, but if you’re ever in the Buffalo, we may be able to meet up.

  • avatar
    ScottE5

    After 3 years in the US market and nearly double that in Europe, the X1 has proven to be pretty polarizing, depending on the car mag or internet post one reads.

    I’ll take that as a good thing. Personality counts.

  • avatar
    Baldpeak

    It shows you how effectively people are fooled by styling. The 2-series and X1 are both carefully styled to appear to be something they’re not. The 2-series is viewed as a lightweight, nimble machine for the driving enthusiast, when it’s really only a hair smaller and lighter than the 3-series. The 3-series has the opposite appearance. It was styled to appear big and luxurious, and so it’s often the target of complaints that it lacks the lightweight, nimble characteristics of the old 3-series, when it’s actually a bit lighter. The X1 of course, is styled like a great hulking SUV, but when you see it next to any other car, you’ll notice how small it is. It’s really just a lightweight, nimble rear wheel drive hatchback, with a bit of a lift.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    There’s a guy I work with with a current gen x3 six cylinder w/ a 6MT. Does this one have electric steering? He flew to Atl to pick it up. He’s quite astute, with the exception of selling his 997 GT2..

  • avatar
    ccp

    228i convertible is also 400 lbs heavier and on run-flat all seasons…might be why

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