X1 vs X3: Comparing BMW’s Popular Sport Activity Vehicles

Perfect transportation for the urban jungle, we compare the BMW X1 xDrive 35i vs the X3 xDrive28i – two of the German automaker’s popular compact SUVs

The BMW X1 and X3 models are marketed as Sport Activity Vehicles (SAV) rather than Sport Utility Vehicles (SUV) as these compact vehicles have not been designed to carry large loads or to venture too far off the beaten trail. Instead, their petite dimensions favour hauling small family units and their gear through the streets of the urban jungle.

Canadian weather patterns can be unpredictable and harsh at times, especially in the winter, so the X1 and X3 are equipped with BMW’s venerable XDrive all-wheel-drive system which will help you conquer slush and slippery road conditions as well as being perfectly suited for travel on gravel roads and cottage trails.

A quick glance at both vehicles will reveal that they share many of the same styling cues both inside and out. In fact, the only real major difference between the two models is the size difference, as both vehicles come equipped with the same power-train packages and offer similar performance. BMW’s TwinPower Turbo engines and the company’s full suite of EfficientDynamics technologies – Brake Energy Regeneration, High Pressure Injection, and Valvetronic – are on board to help consumers get the most from each and every tank of gas while still delivering a driving experience worthy of a BMW.

BMW X1 xDrive 35i

I recently spent a week behind the wheel of  a 2013 BMW X1 and must admit, its performance caught me off guard. Sure my test unit was a fully- loaded model fitted with the twin-turbo 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder engine,  6-speed automatic transmission, xDrive all-wheel-drive, and the optional M sport package, but how can such a cute vehicle drive so angry?

X1 Power

The X1 benefits from a near perfect 50:50 weight distribution and a very low centre of gravity  which helps deliver exceptional handling. I was impressed by its rally car performance and impressive manoeuvrability. The X1’s diminutive size made it possible to carve through clogged traffic and boy, did it come alive on twisty country roads. It shouldn’t be surprising when you factor in that this dynamo sports 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque under its extended hood. With Sport mode engaged the 6-speed automatic transmission executed shift targets like a champ as I seemingly bobbed and weaved my way through traffic  in my leather-clad barnstormer. However at an as tested price of $53,150, the overall package seems a bit steep given the vehicle’s space limitations.

BMW X1 xDrive 35i BMW X1 xDrive 35i interior BMW X1 xDrive 35i rear

The majority of X1s I see in the Vancouver area are the less powerful and more fuel efficient X1 xDrive28i variant which start at a more reasonable $36,900. Under the hood of this urban prowler resides BMWs clever 2.0 L twin-turbocharged, in-line four-cylinder engine which produces 241 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. This capable little engine can propel the X1 from 0-100 km/h in 6.7 seconds and with the assistance of an 8-speed Steptronic automatic transmission is still able to deliver outstanding fuel economy for this segment.

My sister purchased a similarly equipped X1 when they first arrived on our shores as an urban runabout to shuttle her two small children around the city to their various sporting and artistic activities. Luckily her children are pre-teens, as the X1’s rear passenger compartment leaves little room for adult legs and feet, but she has been impressed by the vehicle’s parking lot friendly size, fuel efficiency, and overall build quality.

When my sister initially asked for my advice prior to her purchase of the X1 I had tried to steer her towards the slightly larger X3 as an alternate choice as I know that children grow like weeds and she would one day find yourself wanting a little more room. As a larger individual I must admit that I found the X1 a little tight, so I was excited when news came that I could spend the following week behind the wheel of an X3.

BMW X1 xDrive 35i BMW X1 xDrive 35i BMW_X1_IMG_9512_300rp BMW_X1_IMG_9431 BMW X1 xDrive 35i

The X3 xDrive28i

The BMW X3 xDrive28i carries a base price of $42,450, which seems reasonable given its level of standard equipment, but my test unit hit the magic $50,000 mark due to the addition of a number of optional equipment packages. If you plan to purchase an X1 or X3 as your sole means of transport then I can understand splurging on goodies from the long menu of available options, but if this is a secondary vehicle the added cost of these accessories may seem a bit excessive.

X3 Power

My BMW X3 test unit featured the same 2.0 L twin-turbocharged, in-line four-cylinder engine one gets in the entry level X1, which produces 240-hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. BMW’s silky smooth 8-speed Steptronic automatic transmission helped the X3 accelerate to 100 km/h in a mere 7.0-seconds. Both the X1 and X3 proved to be equipped with exceptional brakes.

X3 xDrive28i X3 xDrive28i X3 xDrive28i X3 xDrive28i

The X3 sits a little higher and is larger than the X1 in every dimension, but it still behaves like one of the company’s 3-Series sports sedans when it comes to handling. This is probably the main reason the  buyers seem to flock to the X3.

I must admit that I still found the cockpit and cabin of the X3 a little small for my liking, but I would classify it as being cozy rather than snug (X1). The rear passenger foot-wells are large enough to accommodate man-sized feet, and four adults will find the cabin comfortable enough for extended road trips. Available cargo space jumps from 1350 L (47.6 cu.ft.)  to  1792 L (63.3 cu.ft.) when the rear seats are folded.

X3 xDrive28i X3 xDrive28i  X3 xDrive28i X3 xDrive28i


I enjoyed my time behind the wheel of both of these vehicles and can understand how they appeal to the urban commuter. Both seem perfectly suited to the tight confines of the city environment where parking spaces tend to be small and having the ability to point and shoot through traffic is a necessity.

I was initially shocked by the seemingly high price of entry required to get into one of these vehicles, but after  pricing out a loaded Honda CR-V and a Titanium-level Ford Escape I realized that the BMWs were quite competitive. Especially when you factor in their high level of fit-and-finish and obvious image cache.

Learn more – BMW X1

Learn more – BMW X3


  • Options are very expensive
  • Limited space in passenger compartment for larger adults

Technical Specifications: 2013 BMW X1

Base price range (CAD MSRP): $36,900 (xDrive28i) – $39,900 (xDrive35i)

Price as tested: $53,150 (Includes Executive Package ($2,900); M Sport Package ($2,900); Nav and Communication Package ($2,200); Premium Package ($1,500); BMW Apps Package ($300); and assorted stand alone options)

Fuel Economy (L/100 km/h): City 9.1 / 11.4; Hwy 6.2 / 7.4

Technical Specifications: 2013 BMW X3

Base price range (CAD MSRP): $42,600 (xDrive28i) – $47,550 (xDrive35i)

Price as tested: $50,000 (Executive Package ($2,900); M Sport Package ($2,900); Nav and Communication Package ($2,200); Premium Package ($1,500); BMW Apps Package ($300); and assorted stand alone options)

Fuel Economy (L/100 km/h): City 9.7 / 11.1; Hwy 7.0 / 7.7


Russell Purcellhttps://www.flickr.com/people/autoexposurecanada/
Russell Purcell is an award-winning automotive journalist and photographer based in Vancouver, B.C. His passion for automobiles was sparked at the tender age of six, when a family friend gave the wide-eyed first grader a ride to school in a track prepared Porsche 911 RSR. He continues to fan the flames by building an impressive library of automotive related books as well as a vast collection of interesting automobilia and motoring artefacts. Russell is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, and is active on Twitter as RoadTestRuss.



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