2020 BMW X1 xDrive28i Review - Balancing luxury and reality

  • Most affordable BMW crossover
  • 2.0-liter engine is punchy
  • Unexpectedly spacious inside
  • More hard plastics in the cabin than you might expect
  • Options get expensive, fast

Life at the entry-level can be tough, particularly if you're a luxury automaker like BMW trying to please both the badge-hungry and the price conscious at the same time. Spare a thought for the 2020 BMW X1 xDrive28i, then, first step into the car company's crossover line-up, and tasked with balancing a relatively affordable sticker price with the prestige the Bavarians are known for.

That means a starting price of $37,200 (plus $995 destination) which is, conspicuously, almost spot on the average new-car spend in the US right now. Of course, this is BMW we're talking about here, and so with extras like leather in the cabin and the M Sport package, price as-tested climbs no small degree, to $45,245 all-in.

Your money gets you a crossover that does its best to be handsome while also delivering on practicality. White doesn't exactly flatter it – BMW has an array of fetching grays that better emphasize the crease lines that help break up the sizable sheet metal on the doors – but with its stylized grille and a tasteful application of chrome trim it cherry-picks what works on the larger X5 and X7 without getting too nose-heavy. The 18-inch M wheels look the part, too.

Under the hood there's a 2.0-liter TwinPower Turbo inline-4 gas engine, paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive contributes $2k to the sticker price; the front-wheel drive X1 sDrive28i starts at $35,400. You get more than just the promise of greater traction and stability, mind: the AWD version of the crossover trims the 0-60 mph time to 6.3 seconds, 0.3 seconds faster than its FWD sibling.

With 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, the X1 isn't exactly overflowing with potency. What you do get, though, is a perky reminder that driving enjoyment is about more than just raw numbers. At this price point there's no fancy suspension magic to save the dynamics: instead, BMW had to once again demonstrate that it really does know how to dial in a car.

The X1 darts away neatly, the M sport suspension keeping things firm and level. You'll probably want to leave that off should irregular road surfaces be your regular jaunt, mind, given it can bring more bumps into the cabin than are necessarily comfortable. Sport mode keeps both the accelerator and transmission mapping on the eager side, with the 8-speed able to nicely balance slushy comfort-focused shifts with more energetic versions when you're pushing harder.

The EPA says you can get 23 mpg in the city, 31 mpg on the highway, and 26 mpg combined, and they're realistic numbers in my experience. If you want better, the FWD version coaxes a small improvement across all three categories.

Inside, the raised roofline means decent headroom front and rear, and rear bench legroom is surprisingly good too. You get 27.1 cu-ft of trunk space – expandable to 58.7 cu-ft with the split rear bench down – and there's a decent number of cubbies and bins.

You don't have to look too far to see where BMW has had to straddle luxury with budget, however. Some of the plastics are hard, where your fingers might expect soft-touch, and the leather is optional. An 8.8-inch touchscreen sits atop the center console – and can also be operated by the iDrive knob – and the infotainment system supports Apple CarPlay though not Android Auto.

The screen seems a little small, compared to what you'd find in other BMW cars, but those who like physical controls for things like the dual-zone HVAC will be in their element as there are buttons and knobs aplenty. BMW's gauge display is small, too, delivering the essentials but no razzmatazz.

The reality is, part of your spend is going on badge and prestige. If you don't mind sacrificing cachet, then Mazda's CX-3 and CX-5 are rewarding to drive and can be had with plenty of cabin niceties, while still undercutting the X1. On the flip side, though, up against its segment peers – like the Mercedes-Benz GLA250 and the Cadillac XT4 – BMW's subcompact crossover feels just that little bit more successful.

As ever, restraint with the options list should be your first order of business, but as balancing acts go the 2020 X1 xDrive28i is a surprisingly successful one. I'd still cross-shop it with Volvo's stylish but not as fun to drive XC40, along with Audi's Q3, which comes with all-wheel drive as standard. Overall, though, the X1 is a gateway to BMW crossovers that won't necessarily have you quickly pining for an upgrade.