Subcompact Luxury Crossover Shootout: 2023 BMW X1 vs Volvo XC40

Crossovers are the right choice for all types of families in North America, but in a world where every brand has several different variations of SUVs and Crossovers, it is really not easy to find the right fit for your lifestyle. If you are looking for an affordable luxury crossover, we brought two of the smallest and the most affordable options BMW and Volvo currently offer and see which one is better.


So unlike a decade ago, we no longer have tiny hatchbacks, or sedans as entry-level models because SUVs and Crossovers are everywhere. Both brands have been building SUVs for a very long time, and they know how to do it properly. It is also not hard to see that even though they are the most accessible models, they still carry the traditional design languages that you would find in much more expensive models. Both entries look much more expensive than their price tag.

The X1 is the newer platform in this comparison, as it has been recently updated. It is a completely new design inside and out, and it carries the new generation BMW design language. The dual-kidney grille has a bolder design, and they are scaled proportionally unlike the 4-Series. There are lots of different angles and sharp lines, especially in the front fascia. There are also small design features that you would find in some EV entries like the BMW iX, such as the integrated door handles. The updated X1 is bigger than the previous generation, and it is almost as big as an X3 from a decade ago.

The XC40 is Volvo’s first attempt in the subcompact segment, they hit the nail with the looks. The XC40 has such a timeless design, as you wouldn’t believe this platform is almost 6 years old. Volvo silently updated the XC40 this year, but it is a very mild update with small design tweaks. The XC40 sits a little bit higher and has a boxier silhouette compared to the X1, giving it a better road presence. However, the XC40 feels a little bit boring from the outside, mainly because it has more unpainted surfaces in the front and rear bumper. The X1 offers chrome pieces that look like a skid plate, and glossy black surfaces throughout the exterior.

Just like the exterior design, both entries offer completely different design language in the interior. The only similar feature is that both entries have a driver-centric dashboard design. The Volvo XC40 offers a very monochromatic dashboard, prioritizing simplicity whereas the X1 offers more of a living room experience with lighter colour upholstery, and a more colourful interior. There is no right choice here, depending on which design you like more, it might be the right choice for you.

However, there are a few takeaways when you drive both back to back. BMW X1’s interior is a completely new design, but it took a lot of design features from the iX, which comes with a unique center console design. It comes with a giant windshield and side windows, it really helps when it comes to overall visibility. The X1 is the better choice in terms of practicality, as you will find more storage options.

The new X1 also comes with the updated 10.25-inch digital gauge cluster as well as a 10.7-inch center screen running the latest iDrive 8 infotainment system that you would find in the latest BMW models. I personally find the updated infotainment a little bit confusing, especially air conditioning features and menu layout can be overwhelming while you are driving but the screen and the system in general are very responsive.

On the other hand, the XC40 offers a more upright driving position as the car sits a little bit higher, and the boxy silhouette means you have tons of headroom even for taller adults. It feels slightly smaller than the X1 behind the steering wheel. You get the traditional Volvo design language in the interior as well, it is a very clean, sterile and simple interior to use every day. Volvo offers a minimum number of physical buttons, but there is a physical volume knob or other features that you can find under the infotainment screen.

The updated XC40 comes with the Google infotainment system. It might not come as a huge surprise, as Volvo decided to switch to Android Automotive OS for all Volvo and Polestar models. It still runs on the same 9-inch portrait display sitting vertically, and just like modern smartphones, there is a main menu button located at the bottom.

The infotainment system works quite efficiently, especially if you have Google accounts, the infotainment system becomes a giant mobile phone that you don’t have to plug in your phone. It also has quirky features such as the air quality control. The XC40 offers slightly fewer storage options, but still pretty good for what it is. Overall, the X1 offers better screen and camera quality than the XC40, as expected from a newer platform.

The XC40 is the better choice if you like fine-tuning the front seats, because it comes with 4-way adjustable lumbar support and manually adjusted thigh extension, whereas you need to pay extra to get the 4-way adjustable feature with the X1, and our tester did not have the adjustment feature at all. Both seats are exceptionally comfortable, but the XC40 gets the extra point by offering more adjustment options for both the driver and passenger seats.

If you prioritize the rear space, X1 is the better choice for larger families. It not only offers more legroom in general, but the rear seats can also be reclined which is a great feature for longer trips. It also comes with 40:20:40-split folding seats, so you can haul long pieces of cargo in the middle of the vehicle while using the rear seats, whereas the XC40 only offers a 40:60-split folding layout. Both entries provide decent creature comforts such as air vents, USB ports and heated seats for the rear seat passengers.

Speaking of trunks, both entries offer an impressive amount of cargo space for small families. The Volvo has a maximum of 57.5 cubic feet (1628 lt) cargo space, and 20.7 cubic feet (586 lt) behind the second-row seats. The X1 has significantly more cargo space at 25.7 cubic feet (727 lt) behind the rear seats, but surprisingly very similar amount of cargo space with the XC40 when you fold the rear seats down. As expected from luxury entries, both X1 and XC40 come with a power liftgate standard.

Both entries come with horizontally placed 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder engines, but there are important differences. The X1 comes only with one engine option which is called the xDrive28i, and it generates around 241 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. For some reason, BMW offers two different transmission options, our tester had the 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, but you can also choose the 8-speed torque-converted automatic transmission with paddle shifters.

On the other hand, the XC40 comes with two different engine options. Both engines come with standard AWD and mild-hybrid systems. Volvo gives you the flexibility to choose different trims with different engines, but the top Ultimate trim only comes with the better B5 engine, which is the only choice to keep up with the X1’s engine. It pumps out 247 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque and only comes with 8-speed automatic transmission.

If you compare the spec sheets, BMW offers slightly less horsepower, but much better peak torque figures. Both engines are very well suited to their size, but there are important differences that make both entries unique in their way. The Volvo offers a more responsive low-end grunt mainly due to shorter gear ratios, but the engine feels louder and less refined in general. the X1 shines in the mid-range and upper RPMs. It not only revs more, the top end feels much more alive, and the drivetrain feels sportier when you get on the gas.

Just like the engine, the BMW X1 is the sportier choice behind the steering wheel, mainly because the Volvo XC40 feels very soft and top-heavy when you push it to the limits. The XC40 focuses solely on the smoother driving experience, and it does that slightly better than the X1. The only gripe that I had with the XC40 is the rock-hard brake pedal, it took a couple of days to get used to it.

Although both entries have front-wheel-biased AWD systems due to their engine layout, BMW’s xDrive AWD system sends more power to the rear wheels, and the rear end feels quite playful with more throttle input. The X1 is more communicative, and it definitely gives you more feedback and more confidence at the limit. For BMW, the biggest missed opportunity is the lack of paddle shifters for the dual-clutch transmission, as it shifts very fast but unfortunately, it does not allow you to choose the gears.

At the end of the day, the BMW X1 is the clear winner here, but it does not steal the XC40’s thunder. Despite its age, the XC40 is a great subcompact luxury crossover, and it offers that luxury in a simplified and unique way. It offers a more comfortable ride, better looks, better front seat adjustment options, lower starting price, and the 8-speed automatic transmission is much smoother than BMW’s 7-speed dual-clutch.

Although you can still choose the 8-speed automatic with the X1, you just need to pay the premium for it. The dual-clutch transmissions belong to sports cars more than utility vehicles. No matter how good the dual-clutch is, when it comes to comfort, nothing can beat the good old automatic transmission with a torque converter.

The X1 is obviously the newer platform, and BMW did an excellent job with the updated X1. It is hard to say no to a better engine, more usable interior space, better rear seat features and more flexible rear seats, which are very crucial in a family-oriented vehicle. As long as you are willing to pay the premium, the X1 will provide elevated levels of luxury, you just need to choose the right transmission and spec it right for a better experience.

2023 BMW X1 xDrive28i2023 Volvo XC40 B5 AWD
Engine2.0-litre, turbocharged inline-42.0-litre, turbocharged inline-4
Transmission7-speed dual-clutch automatic8-speed automatic
Max power241 hp @ 4500 rpm247 hp @ 5700 rpm
Max torque295 lb-ft @ 1500 rpm258 lb-ft @ 1800 rpm
0-100 km/h5.8 sec6.4 sec
Fuel Economy (as tested)26 MPG – 9.0L / 100km25 MPG – 9.4L / 100km
Base MSRP$49,054 CAD$42,250 CAD

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