2018 BMW X1 Quick Review: a Good-Driving Crossover More Enjoyable Than a 'Driver's Crossover'

A broadly capable and admirably minimalist crossover that has classic BMW DNA—if not the steering feel—in its soul.

Josh Condon / The Drive

Welcome to Critic's Notebook, a quick and off-the-cuff car review consisting of impressions, jottings, and marginalia regarding whatever The Drive writers happen to be driving. Today's edition: the 2018 BMW X1.

Upfront:

What is it? A five-passenger vehicle, BMW's smallest in its crossover-SUV line-up.
Powertrain: turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four cylinder; 228 hp; FWD
Fuel economy (EPA): 23 mpg city / 32 mpg highway / 26 mpg combined
Price (MSRP): $34,895
Quick take: Surprisingly fun and good at nearly everything you want from a midsize crossover, though safety and amenity options add up quickly.

See all BMW X1 specs and pricing.

One Big Question: Is it a generic crossover, or does it deserve the BMW name?
As a modern-day BMW, it absolutely lives up to the badge. I quite loved the earlier (pre-2016 model year) generation X1, back when it came with an inline-six and rear-wheel drive just like the sports cars; I thought it was the best crossover on the market because it drove like an honest-to-god BMW. This new generation has front-drive and a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four—it feels at times bigger, number, and more aggressive than that old X1, but so does every modern BMW compared to the previous generations. The car will feel recognizably sporty and on-brand to a modern BMW driver: nicely weighted and direct steering, an eager and responsive chassis, and plenty of power available quickly. Make no mistake: this is a car you can have fun in.

Pros:

  • Inside is simple, clean, and sparse—that wonderfully no-frills cockpit that announced BMW as the preferred brand for the serious driver. I love that old look, and it's reproduced here with only the most necessary additions to make it a usably modern vehicle. Above the recognizable, single horizontal row of numbered buttons sits a modest but entirely adequate infotainment screen; aft of the gear selector is a control panel and large dial for making menu selections. The whole system works intuitively, with minimum distraction.
  • Likewise, the exterior styling is admirably plain. It's utilitarian in the proper sense of the word—as in, devoid of the extraneous in service of practicality—as opposed to overly muscular and costume-tactical. Yet it's mostly handsome, and easily recognizable as a BMW.
  • As mentioned above, this is a good car for someone who needs a healthy dose of practicality but still wants to get a few quick hits of adrenaline during the commute. It has the now-common FWD trick of moving traction to the back wheels when necessary—up to 100 percent when really necessary—and so is surprisingly grippy and easy to maneuver. If you like the modern BMW driving experience, you'll find it well represented here.
  • Some reviews have complained about uncomfortable seats, but I always enjoyed them even after several multi-hour drives in short order. 
  • Despite the minimalist approach inside and out, the X1 felt plentiful: plenty of room front and back, plenty of power and responsiveness, plenty of cargo space, plenty of tech (though I have a notably low affinity for in-car tech), and plenty of luxury touches.

Cons:

  • It's true the X1 can be fitted with plenty of tech, but you're going to pay for it. While Bluetooth connectivity and the Connected Drive app-and-service suite (remote lock, real-time traffic, emergency calls) are standard, you'll have to pay for Nav, plus options like 4G LTE WiFi connectivity (plus wireless device charging, for $500) and Apple CarPlay ($300). 
  • I thought the upgraded 8.8-inch infotainment screen was plenty large, but those who love big, bright, distracting touchscreens in their cars will feel downright insecure with BMW's practical solution.
  • And while screen size is a matter of taste and sophistication, speed is absolute—and the infotainment user interface here is slow. Also, there is a single USB port available within the entire vehicle, which is somehow both a minor issue and embarrassingly inadequate in 2018.
  • The interior feels mostly well-built and premium, but the longer you spend in the car the more cheap stuff you find. The first thing you discover will be the glovebox, which was possibly upcycled from a surplus of children's plastic Halloween pumpkins.
  • The more advanced driver-safety systems, like lane-keep assist or rear-cross traffic monitor aren't available—let alone anything truly advanced like semi-autonomous driving capability—and you'll pay extra for everything from lane-departure warning and parking assist to adaptive cruise control, emergency braking, and forward-collision warning. 

Value:

For a well-built, usable, quick, fun, and premium small crossover with a mostly-premium interior, the starting price of under $35K is a bargain. But for those who want a surplus of interior amenities and tech, or who need advanced driver-safety systems, the lack of standard content will push this car many thousands of dollars higher. Drive-minded owners who can get by with fewer bells and whistles should consider it a steal.

The Bottom Line:

For the everyday user: The 2018 BMW X1 is a respectably upscale and confidently capable all-around machine—good for carrying a reasonable amount of people and stuff quickly and comfortably, though hardly pampered; there's little in the way of entertainment or charging for multiple devices. The X1 is a vote for refined practicality that rewards the driver as much if not more than the passengers.

For the enthusiast: Minimalism suits BMW, and in many ways this unassuming but focused vehicle feels very much like the brand at its best. And while I prefer BMW's light, nimble, connected persona—still in evidence even in the last-generation X1—the new character, with its extra doses of power, weight, and grip, can be a real joy here. The X1 is eager, precise, and composed, and continues to surprise you the harder you push it. (You won't push it very hard, because it's a quick practical machine rather than a relatively practical quick one, and if you've bought one you understand the difference.) There's more communication than expected; one senses carmakers might finally be figuring out how to relay effective feedback with electronic steering. Proper fun.