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Once the undisputed leader in the entry-level crossover segment, the second-generation BMW X1 is facing an onslaught of competition from premium automakers, most recently from Volvo with its XC40. It takes time to break through the juggernaut that is BMW. We aim to see whether the XC40 R-Design (tested at $52,675) holds its own against the Bimmer’s X1 (tested at $50,945).

Looks

The X1 features BMW’s signature kidney grille and a low-to-the-ground front fascia.

David Miller/The Globe and Mail

BMW X1: It comes in with a similar look and feel as the rest of BMW’s utility lineup with its proportions slightly shrunken into hatchback form. Cute in its own way, it features BMW’s signature kidney grille and a low-to-the-ground front fascia. Looking at it from its side brings out its best angle with a fluid sloping silhouette showing off a high-roof line accented by aluminum roof rails, as well as striking standard 18-inch wheels that can be optioned out for 19-inchers for only $500.

The XC40 immediately attracts attention through its unique R-Design mesh grille complemented by pulled-back LED light treatments featuring a representation of Thor’s hammer inside.

David Miller/The Globe and Mail

Volvo XC40: The XC40 falls more in-between subcompact and compact providing a better canvas for design and an advantage in ride height. It immediately attracts attention through its unique R-Design mesh grille complemented by pulled-back LED light treatments featuring a representation of Thor’s hammer inside. The top-tier R-Design also comes with a panoramic sunroof, black roof rails and 19-inch alloys. Its wide and boxy backside with those unusual tail light treatments are typical Volvo, but it comes off more bland and in opposition to the rest of its modernized package.

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Interior

The X1 is up to snuff on BMW premium treatments.

David Miller/The Globe and Mail

BMW X1: Don’t let its exterior shrinkage fool you, as there’s plenty of room on the inside. Ideal seat positioning comfort for its front leather sports seats came off challenging in contrast to second row occupants that are nestled in for the ride with plenty of stretching space. As for design, the X1 is up to snuff on BMW premium treatments: 6.5-inch infotainment screen sitting atop the dash, iDrive scroll, leather-wrapped steering wheel and an open concept providing a sophisticated environment.

The XC40 has a fresh and modern interior design.

David Miller/The Globe and Mail

Volvo XC40: The XC40 has a fresh and modern interior design featuring dual-colour suede seats with my tester catching attention through a polarizing burnt orange backdrop. The R-Design trim adds refined touches including a sportier steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, and heated front seats; while the optional convenience package enhances the experience even more with power-folding rear seats.

Performance

BMW X1: The X1 makes up for a lack in technology through a well-rounded powertrain that’s responsive and full of punchy driving dynamics. Propelling it is the lone turbo engine option: a 228-hp 2.0-litre four cylinder with 258 lb-ft of torque mated to a seamless eight-speed automatic transmission. The X1′s small lightweight stature and direct steering make it fun to swing around corners in the city, all the while staying balanced via its suspension and standard all-wheel drive system (AWD). It’s an active, not powerful ride; nor is it exceptional in NVH as bumps and wind noise are noticeable. Fuel economy is rated at 9.3 litres/100 km, that would be increased in this real road test to 10.4.

Volvo XC40: The Volvo also has a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine under the hood that rates higher than the X1 with 248 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, and also matched to an eight-speed automatic tranny and AWD. Unlike the X1's more agile and throttly feel, the XC40 takes on a fast, but smoother ride with similar handling abilities that can glide over bumps. That type of drive gives it better fuel economy numbers with an official combined rating of 9.0 and a real-world test of 10.1. The driving experience is slightly tarnished by Volvo's diminutive and annoying gear shift that has to be pushed and pulled up and down twice to get into reverse or drive.

Choosing between the two comes down to ride style and technology.

David Miller/The Globe and Mail

Technology

BMW X1: The X1′s technology stays relatively put for 2018 anchored by its free-standing iDrive infotainment unit that opens up space in the cabin. Unfortunately, it takes too many push buttons and screens to get anything done quickly. A driver assistance package for $1,750 adds safety technology including: park assist, lane departure warning, forward collision warning and high beam assist.

Volvo XC40: The XC40 boasts a large touchscreen tablet as its centrepiece that can be swiped to the side for access to radio, navigation, phone, or other vehicle services including standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Wireless charging in the Convenience package ($1,600) adds a nice touch, along with a Vision package ($1,800) that adds helpful safety features like blind spot and cross traffic alert, as well as park assist feature for the front and rear.

Cargo

BMW X1: The X1 is a leader in cargo capacity with 1,662 litres of space beyond the first row, as well as a whopping 767 litres in the trunk. If you're in need for further storage, a hidden under-tray will be useful.

The X1 is a leader in cargo capacity with 1,662 litres of space beyond the first row, as well as a whopping 767 litres in the trunk.

David Miller/The Globe and Mail

Volvo XC40: The Volvo’s cargo room is more pedestrian with 1,337 litres of cargo space behind the first row and a measly 479 litres in the trunk. A power-operated liftgate in its Convenience package does its job by being convenient when lugging bags around. It also has a hidden compartment for storage or separation.

Verdict

Choosing between the two comes down to ride style and technology, as the BMW X1 and Volvo XC40 are two of the better entry-level crossovers that ring in at roughly the same price (the Volvo has one extra package). If you’re looking for a frisky ride, choose the X1; for a smoother and refined ride, go with the XC40. However, when looking at it from all facets and based on what the average consumer is looking for, it’s hard to go against Volvo XC40′s advantages in technology, style, comfort.

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