First drive: 2016 BMW X1 xDrive28i

BMW takes a new direction with its 2016 X1.

An adventure to the Chihuahuan state of Mexico is one thing. To see the latest version of BMW's X1 class of Sport Activity Vehicles (their words) is totally another. Combine the two and you come up with an exciting first drive in the 2016 BMW X1 xDrive28i, which although not the first front-wheel-drive offering from the brand, is the first front-wheel-drive offering in the US Market.

BMW took us on a tour of Divisadero, in the Southwestern region of Chihuahua to see the latest in their line of best-selling X1 SAVs. Strap up and tag along as we check it out.

Lane stripes are optionalThe road to Batopilas must have been quite the thoroughfare when new, but now it's a challenging two-lane twisty ribbon with occasional obstructions, falling rocks, single lane bridges and dirt, mud and ruts subbing for two-lane blacktop, which cuts through the west-central part of Mexico. It was exactly the type of road that would expose any of the X1's shortcomings.

We routed through the home of the Tarahumara people, native Mexicans who were readily identifiable by their colorful clothing walking along our route. Also along the route, free-range cattle, goats, burros, dogs and the occasional and daring groundhog.

New powerRiding on a front wheel-drive-based platform that it shares with some of its MINI cousins, the 2016 BMW X1 xDrive28i will be offered initially with a new version of the BMW modular EfficientDynamics 2.0-liter TwinPower Turbocharged four-cylinder that utilizes a single twin-scroll turbo to produce 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Totally new, and different from the similarly-sized engine found in other BMWs, the company tells us it's good for a 0-60 jaunt in 6.3-seconds. We say, yeah. At launch, it will be the singular powerplant offering in North America until a business case for any other engine can be made in Munich.

Offering the most powerful engine in the entry-level segment, it is mated to an Aisin-designed, BMW-specified Steptronic eight-speed transmission that matches up to a new, more efficient version of BMW's xDrive all wheel drive system for all-weather and all-terrain capabilities. This time the xDrive works proactively, constantly varying the traction needs of the vehicle based on readings from sensors that can sense and react as quickly as once every 250 milliseconds. It utilizes a single-speed bevel gear, a two-piece drive shaft unit and a rear axle drive unit with multi-plate clutch to send torque front or backwards. The xDrive's sensors work in conjunction with the car's Dynamic Stability Control to offer a derivative of torque vectoring when it senses over- or understeer. Oh, and it includes hillside descent control.

The familiar console-mounted Driving Dynamics Control offered changes from Comfort to Sport, Sport+ and ECO-Pro mode which now features a coast function that senses when the driver lifts off the accelerator and disengages the powertrain for added fuel efficiencies.

The X1 will be offered as a front-driver in other parts of the world, but the SAV will likely only be sold with xDrive AWD in the United States.

New stance and statureThe more things change, well, you know the rest. As with most recent BMWs, the X1 has increased in size, length (175.1-inches), height and width over the model it replaces. To whit, the vehicle grows 1.7-inches taller, has a longer wheelbase (105.1-inches) with shorter overhangs and is now an inch wider, while tracking 2.5-inches wider than its predecessor.

Still, all the design cues that make it a BMW are here. The twin kidney bean grill, the air curtains to flow air over the front tire openings, and the signature LED daylight runners that help identify the car from more than a ΒΌ mile away are all here. Through fine tuning in the wind tunnels, the X1 is able to achieve a 0.31 drag coefficient.

From a style factor, the X-line design package will be standard. While 18-inch wheels are specified, 19-inchers are available for a $600 upcharge. An M-Sport trim package will be available by the end of this year, with sport seats, paddle shifters, specific wheels and so on.

Interior DesignWith a larger exterior comes a new and improved interior. New leather and wood trim helps to set the mood inside what turns out to be a very accommodating space. Other features make themselves noticed including a taller shift lever with a new, lower console and new changeable ambient lighting.

While the gauge binnacle offers a simplistic view of the driver's world, the occupants will have a choice of 6.5- or 8.8-inch freestanding high definition displays. High gloss black is standard with two wood trim options, as well. Regardless, they extend throughout the cabin so backseat occupants can partake of the luxury that those in the front seat have enjoyed for a while. Speaking of the back seat, there is 1.5-inches more of knee room in the second row seating area. Additionally, the rear seat can slide forward by six inches for more cargo access and are able to recline up to 30-degrees for added rear seat comfort.

The rear seat also has the ability to fold in a 40:20:40 split. The X1's trunk area holds 27.1-cubic feet of cargo, but grows to 58.7-cubic feet with the seats folded forward.

BMW designers have also included under front seat storage, a seat folding mechanism that's operable from the rear of the vehicle, and a hands-free tailgate opening mechanism.

Behind the wheelPower from the newly designed 2.0-liter TwinPower turbocharged four-cylinder engine released all 228-horses from the stable by 5,000 rpm, while the 258 lb-ft of torque were on tap as soon as the tach hit 1,250 rpm. Acceleration was brisk, enabling us to pass the little traffic we encountered along our way without even making the engine breathe hard. The new X1 now takes up nearly as much space as the earlier generation X3. Our initial thoughts had us peg the handling as a bit on the teetering side, as it is a higher riding car, even on 18-inch wheels. By the numbers, the X1 includes 7.2-inches of ground clearance.

Our tester performed well on twisty roads where the torque-vectoring properties of the xDrive helped to control against understeer, especially on decreasing radius turns, which we found on the road along our way to the mining town of Batopilas from an abandoned PEMEX station in the middle of nowhere. It was after we progressed a bit further that the X1 truly had a chance to strut its stuff, dodging downed boulders that made what once were pristine highways now appear like an off-road torture test. The Servotronic electric power assisted steering unit was up to the task with very firm steering feel and feedback in a variety of conditions.

It was at that point that our insides told us to switch from Sport to Comfort mode for a more forgiving jounce on the dirt, gravel, and mud that we encountered along the way. Our insides thanked us by remaining, um, inside us.

We did notice a more than average amount of road noise making its way into the cabin. Due to factors relating to the run-flat nature of the tires and the challenging road surfaces we encountered, we'd say that's par for the course, and in most cases where the X1 will likely be used, won't be an issue for most owners.

Leftlane's bottom lineMiddle-aged spread comes to the 2016 BMW X1 xDrive28i. And that's not a bad thing. With a larger interior, larger capacity and more capabilities, it's everything that a Sport Utility, er, Activity Vehicle buyer could want.

2016 BMW X1 xDrive28i base price, $34,800. As tested $55,520.

Cold Weather Package, $550; Driver Assistance Package, $1,150; Driver Assistance Plus, $700; M-Sport Package, $2.450; Luxury Package, $1,550; Premium Package, $3,250; Technology Package, $2,550; 19-Inch Alloy Wheels, $600; Space Saver Spare, $150; Panoramic Sunroof, $1,350; Sliding and reclining rear seat adjustment, $300; Harmon-Kardon Premium Sound System, $875; Enhanced USB and Bluetooth installation, $350; Navigatiton System, $1,200; Fineline Wood Trim, $350; Aluminum Trim, $350; Dakota Leather, $1,450; Metallic Paint, $550. Destination fee $995.

Photos by Mark Elias and courtesy of BMW.

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