For most young families and for most purposes, there is nothing better than a small five-door crossover.
Interior space can easily be configured from four passengers with luggage to make room for those bulky items purchased on that trip to the discount big-box store.
Crossovers are easy to maneuver and park, important attributes on the traffic-plagued and parking-challenged Peninsula. And with their height and ground clearance approximately 7 inches, on average, it’s easier to get small children and big boxes in and out of the car easily.
Two of our test vehicles in October fit the bill perfectly – the BMW X1 xDrive28i, for $44,945 and the Volkswagen Golf Alltrack TSI S with 4Motion for $27,905. The difference in prices is almost entirely related to performance, with a smaller amount of differentiation in fit and finish.
In size, these cars are almost identical: The X1 is 175 inches long, with 37 inches of rear-passenger legroom and 27.1-cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat. The Alltrack is 5 inches longer, but splits the length into an inch and a half less rear legroom, and 3 cubic feet more luggage space in the rear. The overall difference is so small you need to check the spec sheet to know which is which.
The power trains of both of our test cars were the four-wheel-drive version of these models, which we always recommend for our iffy Northern California winter weather. They do have different transmissions: the Alltrack automatic makes do with six speeds, which can be a little choppy when accelerating and decelerating; the BMW provides more subtle transitions from its eight-speed automatic transmission. Nevertheless, they deliver almost identical fuel efficiency, with both rated at 25 mpg in combined city and highway driving.
The only question that needs to be answered when deciding between them is how much performance do you want to buy? The 2-liter BMW twin-turbo four-cylinder engine produces 228 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque, while the 1.8-liter VW four-cylinder turbo produces 170 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque. That’s just enough difference to be perceptible in acceleration. The BMW enhances the brand’s promise of driving performance with a stiffer suspension that delivers quicker steering response at the expense of a slightly louder and less resilient ride.
Of course, as one might expect with the two brands, the BMW is slightly fancier on the inside. It offers more safety and convenience systems, more impressive information and entertainment capability, and slightly more luxurious trim. But spend a little more on the VW Alltrack to upgrade to the SE model and the contrasts are much less obvious, though the price is still approximately $10,000 less.
Bottom line: We’d recommend either one of these cars as meeting all the practical needs (at reasonable price) of a single person or young family living in our metropolis, with the choice totally driven by subtle differences of performance and practicality.
Longtime Los Altos residents Gary and Genie Anderson are co-owners of Enthusiast Publications LLC, which edits several car club magazines and contributes articles and columns to automotive magazines and online services.