2023 BMW X1 Review: The Perfect First Luxury Car

The 2023 BMW X1 is pudding-grade proof of the auto industry’s marriage to crossovers. Once upon a time, a young professional on the make would have proudly purchased an entry-level German sedan as a status symbol. Now, it’s the X1’s job to snare those same buyers. The world has turned and left us here. 

The X1 is aptly named as the entry-level model in a series of crossovers that now extends all the way to X7. As buyers grow in wealth, they can climb up to ever-higher-numbered vehicles, stepping over to the even numbers for a sportier experience. And yet, despite being the smallest starter model of the range, the X1 feels like anything but. It delivers a killer combo of street-ready good looks, day-to-day practicality, and premium materials that make it shine over the less-polished competition. 

[Ed. note: The BMW X1 is available in the U.S. the xDrive28i or M35i xDrive, but the models driven here were the Australian-market xDrive20i and sDrive18i.]

2023 BMW X1 xDrive28i Specs

  • Base price: $39,595
  • Powertrain: 2.0-liter turbo inline-four | 7-speed dual-clutch automatic | all-wheel drive
  • Horsepower: 241 @ 4,500 to 6,500 rpm
  • Torque: 295 lb-ft @ 1,500 to 4,000 rpm
  • Curb weight: 3,750 pounds
  • Seating capacity: 5
  • Cargo volume: 25.7 cubic feet (57.2 cubic feet with seats folded)
  • Fuel economy: 25 mpg city | 34 highway | 28 combined
  • Quick take: A super-fresh luxury SUV that delivers on the premium look and feel.
  • Score: 8/10

The Basics

The X1 is BMW’s subcompact luxury SUV. By virtue of its body style, it’s more aspirational for the average buyer than the company’s sedans and coupes. The tall stance and big greenhouse simply convey more status than a 2 Series coupe or 3 Series sedan. Realistically, that’s what a lot of first-time buyers are looking for in the X1. It’s a striking crossover that tells friends, family, and colleagues alike: I’ve arrived. 

The very design of the vehicle feeds into this role. The X1 is no stranger to peacocking. It sucks you in with those enormous chrome nostrils. It’s not ashamed. It’s brash, wearing a bold orange or a rich, enchanting green. It’s ready to stunt on the rest of the parking lot, packed with silver Subarus and tired black Toyotas. 7 Series buyers are the kind of money that doesn’t beg attention. An X1 buyer is likely making their first purchase from the luxury marque, and they’re going to want it noticed. 

Inside, BMW has done the work to ensure the X1 feels like a step up from regular economy SUVs. It’s not so much in the interior layout itself; virtually every new car has some kind of high-res digital cluster and infotainment screen available. Instead, it’s all about materials, controls, and touchpoints. The X1 can be optioned in a variety of nice leathers, including an intoxicating chocolate brown. It’s a color palette from the 1970s, except somehow here it’s actually good. Combine it with the eucalyptus wood trim on the dash, and the ambient lighting system? It’s exotic. It’s like stepping into one of those ultra-modern organic health spas, awash in lush woods and fancy lighting. Only it’s a car. Oh, and the volume knob has the kind of knurling that machining YouTubers use to show off to each other. Enjoy it, it’s glorious. 

In the U.S., the base X1 xDrive28i is fitted with a 228-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four while the higher-performing M35i also uses a four-cylinder, but there it’s making 312 hp—the most powerful four-cylinder in the BMW lineup. That said, the American market does miss out on diesel, hybrid, and electric versions of the X1 sold overseas. 

Here in Australia, for example, the base sDrive18i is available with a 1.5-liter turbocharged inline-three. With 156 hp, it sends power to the front wheels only. Stepping up from there, the xDrive20i gets a 2.0-liter turbocharged four good for 204 hp paired with all-wheel drive.

Between the two Australian models, though, the front-wheel-drive version is more than adequate. Unless you’re living high up Mount Buller, or you really love driving on the beach, the all-wheel drive really isn’t necessary, and you won’t miss the added power. 

Driving the BMW X1

Around town, the BMW X1 acquits itself well. It’s got easy steering that retains good feel, good visibility, and a well-tuned radar cruise system that easily outperforms systems from other automakers. The seats are comfortable and infinitely tunable with electronic controls to suit your every bump, lump, and badonk. The high-riding body style means you needn’t worry about errant curbs or speed bumps, though you’ll certainly feel them. The X1 does ride rather stiffly, as does much of the BMW range these days. Out on the highway, it similarly performs as expected, easily eating up the miles without complaint. 

The X1 can be woken up just a shade by switching it into Sport mode. Don’t expect top-tier slalom performance, though; this is no Porsche Cayenne. However, it does make the engine a touch more lively, whether we’re talking about the sDrive18i or xDrive20i. In the former, you can even get some boi-racer blowoff valve sounds when rolling off a full-throttle pull; if you wind the windows down, that is. 

The Highs and Lows

The biggest tick in the X1’s column is just how well it meets its raison d’être. If you’ve spent your life hopping between clapped-out Corollas and ragged RAV4s, the X1 does genuinely feel like a step up in the world. It’s all about materials, ambiance, and how it makes you feel. Beyond that, it offers a competent driving experience with a drivetrain perfectly adequate to the task. It’s no sports car, of course. The point is that a BMW should never feel sluggish, and the X1 never does. Thank the turbo!

There are a few low points in the X1’s design, though. Arguably, a softer, cushier ride would make more sense for a vehicle with no real sporting pretenses or potential. Another bugbear is the center console design. Similarly to cars like the Kia EV6, there’s a large open storage cubby beneath the center armrest. It’s plenty big enough to stash some decent-sized items. The problem is that it’s virtually impossible to put anything in there because the seats get in the way. It feels like a bit of a miss, but you’ll probably forget about it pretty quickly. 

BMW X1 Features, Options, and Competition

The base model X1 is well-equipped in the U.S. and starts at $39,595. You get everything from power seats to the active driving assistant and parking sensors, as is common these days. Options-wise, headline features include the $500 xLine pack which adds fancy aluminum trim on the exterior, or the $2,300 M Sport pack which mainly adds adaptive dampers. Metallic paint includes a variety of lovely greens, blues, and oranges and is a $650 extra. Avoiding this fee will leave you to choose from Jet Black or Arctic White. I implore you, do better.

The BMW X1 finds itself in a hotly contested space of late. In the U.S., it’s primarily up against the Audi Q3, which starts at $40,395. Sadly, since it launched back in 2018, it comes across as just a touch dated compared to the X1. It’s very handsome from the outside though, and has a far less controversial design. The Mercedes-Benz GLA, on the other hand, starts a bit cheaper at $38,650, thanks to the available front-wheel-drive model. It’s a more modern feel inside, closer to the X1. Sadly, though, the only bold color is a questionable red for $1,750, and it lacks the super-fresh feel of the BMW’s interior. For stunting on one’s rivals in the battleground of middle-class conspicuous consumption, the X1’s kind of got it sewn up right now. 

Personally, I’d have the car in Blue Bay Lagoon Metallic, with the chocolate brown leather interior with the eucalyptus trim (just $200 extra). I’d honestly be perfectly happy with the front-wheel-drive Australian model; it did everything I needed and was always full of pep. Regardless, the extra power of the U.S. model’s 241 hp would be more than welcome. I’d spring for the Premium package, too, which costs $4,200 in the U.S. That gets you the panoramic glass sunroof and the Harmon Kardon audio system, plus the surround-view cameras and the heads-up display. All wonderful kit. 

Fuel Economy

EPA

The BMW X1 acquits itself well in the fuel economy stakes. Naturally, the U.S. model is a little thirstier than the Australian models by virtue of its more powerful state of tune. It earns 28 mpg combined, enough to best its rivals from Audi and Mercedes-Benz, while leaving it lagging behind the hybrid Lexus UX. If the smaller 1.5-liter engine was available in the U.S., it would nonetheless be an even greater win in the BMW’s favor in respect to its German rivals. 

In The Drive’s testing on a variety of highway and city driving, the xDrive20i scored a respectable 29 mpg. The sDrive18i came in slightly better as expected, delivering 32 mpg. That’s little surprise, given the smaller engine, lighter weight, and lower driveline losses of the front-wheel-drive model. 

Value and Verdict

Naturally, the X1 doesn’t come as cheap as a Toyota Corolla Cross or a Honda HR-V. It’s a luxury model, after all. If you’re just trying to get five people around town, there are obviously far cheaper alternatives. But for what it actually offers, the X1 does feel like it’s worth the money. That higher price goes towards making you feel like you’ve earned something measurably nicer than the ordinary, garden-variety SUV. It delivers on that promise well. 

If you’re lucky enough that you can afford one, the X1 likely won’t disappoint. It’s the perfect first luxury car, and you can have all the fun in the world picking your favorite color and the interior leather. Then, when you get out, you can look at the badge and remind yourself that you drive a BMW, and that’s a damn sight better than what your neighbor has. And that, my friends, is exactly what the X1 is for. 

Lewin Day

Got a tip? Let the author know: lewin@thedrive.com

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