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2023 BMW X1 Review
BMW infuses this subcompact crossover with minimalist design and innovative tech, bringing thunder in this hyper-competitive luxury segment
BOSTON — As a car journalist, I'll often be asked if any new cars sold today are so bad that they should be avoided completely. And, for the most part, there aren't.
But while no cars are truly bad, some vehicles are far better than others. Unsurprisingly, they're often in hyper-competitive classes where being good isn't enough — you need to be great. That's the case with this week's test car, the new 2023 BMW X1.
When I slipped behind the wheel of the new BMW X1, though, I was shocked at what I saw. The minimalist interior design that I loved in the BMW iX has made its way downmarket. A pair of large screens, seemingly sharing a single piece of curved glass, appear to float atop the dash. The left is your instrument cluster, while the right is a vibrant touchscreen where just about everything in the car is controlled.
A floating center console sits in the middle, with vehicle controls including the start/stop button, shifter toggle (I almost called it a knob out of habit, but it's literally a rocker switch), a scrolling volume wheel for the audio, and a couple of miscellaneous other buttons for the drive mode and parking brake and the like.
This is very much a case of everything you need and nothing you don't. There are no physical climate controls aside from the front and rear defrost, which are regulatorily required. Instead, there are permanent controls at the bottom of the screen which are easy to navigate visually. Want it warmer? Press the red side. For colder, tap the blue. The automatic climate is excellent enough that you'll rarely find yourself needing to touch these.
The BMW infotainment screen is sharp, and is best used for one of the strongest implementations of wireless Apple CarPlay I've seen. Wireless Android Auto works too, but BMW takes advantage of some newer CarPlay features and can display Apple Maps not only on the infotainment screen like you may have experienced in other cars, but it sends a gorgeous map over to the instrument cluster as well.
In most cars, if you want in-cluster navigation maps, you need to use the built-in systems, which aren't always the best (the excellent Google Maps-powered implementations in newer Volvo and GM vehicles are a notable exception). But in the BMW, you get a little square of Apple Maps tucked right in the middle of the BMW-native digital cluster. It frees up your infotainment screen to display what you're playing on Apple Music, for example, if you'd prefer to see that.
Regardless, it's a terrific way to make use of your screen real estate, and given how great all the cars in this class are, it could be enough on its own to push you toward the X1 if you're an avid iPhone user. Speaking of phones, there's a wireless phone charger at the base of the center stack with an ingenious little bar that's reminiscent of those that hold you in place on a roller coaster.
Want to store your phone away, charging and safe from getting flung about in a crash? Drop it on the phone charger and pop the restraining bar into place. Need to get it? Just grab your phone, and it releases instantly. I love it. That said, if you have some large cups in the cupholders, they will block easy access to your phone, which seems like an oversight if you're a Big Gulp fan.
Under that floating center console is an open storage spot big enough for a medium-sized purse or, as I used it, for your AirPods, wallet, keys, mints, sunglasses, and whatever other detritus you might otherwise throw in your cupholders because you'd like it close at hand.
Stepping outside, the exterior of the new BMW X1 is inoffensive and actually quite handsome, resisting the outrageously massive kidney grille that bedevils some recent BMW designs. There are only so many ways you can draw a crossover, but BMW's exterior design team has done a good job making this one stand out with some sharp edges, nips, and tucks to keep things pleasing, especially in the gorgeous San Remo Green Metallic I had.
My tester, an all-wheel-drive X1 xDrive28i, was well-equipped and priced appropriately for the class at $46,795, though it, inexplicably, did not have adaptive cruise control fitted. Instead, it's an optional extra which is mind-boggling and shows some amount of cravenness on the part of BMW USA's product planners, considering you can get the same features for free in a base-model Toyota Corolla.
My only other major complaint is how long it takes for the auto start/stop feature to restart the car — plus the fact that there's no dedicated button to disable the feature. Instead, you tap the drive mode button and pop the car into Sport, which makes it more fun to drive anyway.
Still, when properly equipped, the BMW X1 is my current favorite of all the subcompact luxury crossovers and would make for a fantastic city runabout or even a first car for a safety-and-fashion-conscious teen of a certain economic persuasion.
You'd also likely love the Lexus UX or the Volvo XC40 and pay around the same amount. But some cars are more equal than others, and the BMW X1 stands out with its terrific design and litany of advanced features.
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