By Zack Klapman.
Title: LL Bean versus Ken Block: What a strange match up indeed. Why is the adult, the 2013 BMW X1 xdrive35i, sitting at the table of mischievous engineers, the 2012 Subaru WRX STI Limited? The latter came to us in 2004 as a Japanese street fighter; a sparse box packing upper class performance. It was an incredible car. AWD launches snapped necks, and along with it’s friendly rival, the Evo, the big wings of bargain performance invaded, scooped up by both flat-billed hats and engineering diploma holders. They were awesome cars. Such fun. Ken Block built his Gymkhana legacy with one. I bought one. Pastrana rolled one, a bunch of times, and I bought one.
So, a BMW at the figurative X-Games? The latest candy bar from BMW’s Factory of Invented Markets, it’s slightly smaller than the old X3. You see, when the X5 got bigger, the X3 got bigger, so they had to make the X1 to replace the X3, even though the X3 still existed. I have a headache…
Even though the crossover market seems insatiable and fickle, the 2013 BMW X1 is a strange car. Up front is Business Class: amazing sports seats (optional) done in striking red leather, a big screen, and seat heaters, switches of convenience.
Which makes the back seat Coach. Small people will fit. Big people can, but not for long. The cargo hold (with seats up) is just bigger than a Mini Cooper’s, but they do fold to carry skis and bags easily. On appearance it’s a cute display of brand loyalty with less utility than the X3.
The STI interior is an old house with new paint slapped on. Mis-matched plastics, insufficiently bolstered seats covered in slippery leather (bad for corners). It has the same amount of space as the BMW X1, but it looks tired. It needs a drawing board. Point: X1.
The score sways the other way when we look into durability. The BMW X1 reliability is fine when under warranty, but the Subaru WRX STI will chug along for years with normal maintenance. The WRX STI drivetrain has also remained evolutionarily stagnant, but since it doesn’t break, you won’t need to fix it. Transmissions of diamond, diffs of oak, Brembo brakes. People rally these cars, and the stock parts hold up quite well. Point: WRX STI.
If your order an X1 with everything, the 3.0-liter turbo-charged engine, NAV, and sport seats, the price is way above the Subaru’s MSRP of $37,000. Try 48.
But, ditch the options; keep the drivetrain, and the price drops to $39,000. And although no one really wants to buy a luxury brand’s stripper offerings, it whittles the car down to what it is, and why we’re here: It drives great, and feels the way the 2012 Subaru WRX STI should.
I had a 2006 STI. It felt connected to the road without breaking you, like steel wrapped in memory foam. The new one? It has literally gone soft. And it’s frozen in time. My car came with 300HP. This one has 305. 7 years, 5HP? Species rebound from the endangered list faster than this. C’mon guys, there’s tricycles out there with 300HP. The STI’s engine is as stifled as a ballet dancer in Kentucky. Let it out of the basement.
Hit the gas in the X1 and peak torque hits your back at 1,500 RPM, and it pulls right to redline. As a “driver’s car”, the Starbucks ferry takes grandpa Gymkhana to town. In the turns it rolls less, the engine hits earlier, the steering feel is great, and the AWD clawed through snow easily. As I carved through Colorado I though, “This feels like my Subaru WRX STI. Weird.”
Softening the WRX STI for a wider appeal has stifled what brought the fans in the first place. Now it feels too soft, without the comfort inside to make it worth it. When a 5-door hatch from a luxury brand feels tighter than the wheels of Pastrana and (formerly) Block, something is amiss. Hopefully it’s righted soon.