I’ve always liked the BMW X1. Even when BMW switched the X1 to a front-wheel drive-based platform for its second-generation, which pissed off the enthusiast fanbase, I still liked it. In fact, I loved it. The second-gen X1 was a great little car. So I had high hopes for this new X1, especially after sampling it on some fantastic canyon roads in Palm Springs. But after spending a week with it, small annoyances became frustrating flaws.
New Generation, Similar Formula
For the third generation X1, BMW stuck to a similar formula as before. It’s still based on BMW’s FAAR front-wheel drive architecture, it still uses a 2.0-liter B48 engine, and it still sports an automatic transmission. However, FAAR has been updated since the last-gen car, so too was the engine, and the previous X1’s eight-speed auto is now a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.
In America, the 2023 BMW X1 only comes in xDrive28i-spec, which means it makes 241 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. That helps the all-wheel drive X1 scoot to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds, which is more than quick enough. The dual-clutch transmission also helps it feel quicker than it is, thanks to its snappy shifts.
As a whole, this is a recipe that works well. It’s quick enough to be fun, it gets good fuel economy (EPA estimates it at 25 city, 34 highway, and 28 mpg combined), it handles surprisingly well, and there’s enough room for small-ish families. However, there are minor ingredients that don’t quite work out and they do end up spoiling a lot of the recipe. But first, let’s start with the good stuff.
2023 BMW X1
- Interior quality
- No physical buttons
- No iDrive knob
- Turbo lag
Looks Better Than Ever
Without question, the third-generation X1 is the best looking X1. It’s sharp, sporty, and modern looking, with looks that can actually keep up with the best designs in the segment (not something that can be said with every BMW). In fact, the BMW X1 challenges the upcoming Alfa Romeo Tonale and the Jaguar E-Pace for small crossover design supremacy.
My test car wore a lovely San Remo Green paint, which when combined with the silver and aluminum accents looked great. While the M Sport model is cooler looking, my X Line tester was a handsome little crossover. The X Line package is also a good option for those who want a more traditional looking crossover, rather than a sporty one. The pseudo-rugged front bumper and side skirts combined with my tester’s optional 19-inch wheels ($600 option) to make it look like it could handle a bit of off-pavement exploration. It couldn’t, of course, but at least it looked like it could and, for most Americans, that’s all that really matters.
I have no complaints about its exterior styling. Even in its basic spec, the BMW X1 is a good looking car and it only gets better looking as you step up in trim level. Anyone looking for a sharp, stylish family crossover will not be disappointed with the X1’s design.
Great Looking Cabin, Bad Ergonomics
I remember a time when BMW’s interiors were about ergonomics first, second, and third, with design being a distant fourth. I’ll never forget my E36 3 Series, which felt like wearing an old glove, as every button and switch made sense and was perfectly in reach. Its materials felt like they were supplied by Fischer Price but you could tell someone thought that interior out. The BMW X1 is sorta the opposite.
The inside of the 2023 BMW X1 is great looking. In fact, it might be one of BMW’s best looking interior designs in ages. It looks modern, premium, and high-tech. There’s a ton of passenger space for both rows of passengers, every material feels bulletproof, and there are so many parts that are exclusive to the X1. It isn’t a homogenous design and it looks great.
No iDrive Knob
However, problems arise when you need to touch stuff. Namely, the iDrive.
For the third-generation X1, BMW ditched the rotary iDrive controller for the first time since iDrive became standard. That means that all interaction with the infotainment screen is touch-based. However, the problem with that is the touchscreen wasn’t moved. The BMW X1 uses the same iDrive 8 screen as every other new Bimmer, which is too far away from the driver for constant touchscreen use, making it uncomfortable if you have to use it for more than a few seconds at a time. It’s a far cry from the days of dashboards buttons canted toward the driver for ease of reach.
The climate controls are also entirely touchscreen based, which isn’t anything new for iDrive 8 vehicles but it’s still so bad it’s worth mentioning. If you own an iDrive 8-equipped vehicle, have your passenger try to adjust the climate controls on their own and time them. It will easily take three times as long as it would in any other car.
As a driver, it’s worse. It requires pressing the climate menu button and then swiping back and forth between driver and passenger side climates, while also taking your eyes off of the road to figure out which identical circles control which aspect of the climate. It’s maddening and I can’t believe that UI design made it through BMW’s team unchanged.
BMW will argue that voice controls negate the need for using the touch controls and that its natural voice recognition software is better than ever. However, this is how using that goes: first you say “Hey, BMW” and wait for the system to engage, which takes about a second or two, if it even understands you (which is about 75 percent of the time). Then, you give it your command, which it will grant after another couple of seconds, again only if it understands you.
In a car with climate control knobs, a driver can not only use them while keeping their eyes on the road, it can be done in a third of the time it takes to use voice controls. Time is the most valuable commodity, so expediency is more premium than the lack of having to touch buttons. Please, for the love of the car gods, bring back buttons and knobs.
More Fun Than it Needs to Be
As frustrating as the X1’s interior and infotainment system can be, it’s a surprisingly fun little car to drive. It has great steering for a small crossover; it’s nicely weighted, has good on-center feel, and is more accurate than you’d expect from looking at it. It can also hustle up and down a canyon road with more enthusiasm than a crossover typically would. Obviously it’s no sports car but it’s the sort of family crossover that can entertain its driver after the kids are dropped off at school.
Some customers might complain about the slightly stiff ride but I appreciated its firm, planted handling. It feels like it’s been designed to be sporty first, like all BMWs should, and the payoff is that it stays relatively flat through corners and controls its mass well. There’s no question, the BMW X1 is the sharpest, most fun crossover in the segment and I’m not sure it’s particularly close. Though, that might change when the Alfa Romeo Tonale debuts.
There are a few drawbacks, though. One of which is spec-related. Non-M Sport model cars lack paddle shifters for the dual-clutch gearbox. That meant I could never select my gears on my own, as the shift knob has now become a toggle switch that lacks any manual gear override. Which is lame. M Sport cars come with paddles, which fixes that, but all models should.
I also noticed an odd low-speed jerkiness when accelerating from a dead stop. It was almost like the first half-inch of pedal travel did nothing and then suddenly gave me way too much throttle tip-in. It was constant and didn’t change with different drive modes. Although Eco did seem to reduce the effect a bit.
Interestingly, I didn’t notice any calibration issues during my first X1 drive in Palm Springs and, after reaching out to BMW, was told that there wasn’t a problem with the car. So I’m not sure what I was experiencing but I noticed it every time I drove it, for the entire week I had it. So I know I wasn’t going mad. It wasn’t horrific but it did get annoying after a while. Still, once you’re on the move, the X1 is a blast to drive.
A Great Family Crossover With Minor Annoyances
There’s a lot to like about the 2023 BMW X1. It looks great, has a lovely looking interior, it’s plenty quick, it handles well, and it’s surprisingly spacious in the back seat. However, it has a few flaws that hold it back from being truly special. BMW’s iDrive 8 is fine when it has a rotary dial but losing it hurts the X1 greatly. Also, its odd powertrain calibration felt surprisingly un-premium. However, if you can get over those minor issues, the BMW X1 is a surprisingly fun, stylish crossover that will fit your family needs.