BMW has made life a little more difficult for some of its potential customers by adding a junior member to its Sports Activity Vehicle range.
The awkwardly named – but right on the money in terms of trendiness – premium compact crossover X1 xDrive28i arrived on the market in mid-2011 after making its debut in Europe and other global markets in 2009, where it has already proven a popular choice with Bimmer buyers. And that will be the case here too if initial sales are any indication.
I see the X1 adding to the dilemma faced by those who might aspire to own one of BMW’s quick and slick 3-Series sedans, but feel the need for a bit more cargo room occasionally and perhaps roof rails they can perch a pair of mountain bikes on, as well as all-wheel-drive to help them deal with Canadian winters.
Until the $38,500 X1’s arrival, the family-hauler alternatives were to choose the practical – but let’s face it, not too sexy – $45,700 3-Series 328i xDrive Touring wagon, or take a step up in size and into a different mindset with the $41,900 mid-size X3.
The X1 – which shares styling cues with BMW’s other X-models but with a more car-like hood length and more hatch-backy sports-coupy look at the rear – offers good answers to just about all the “Why would I want one instead of a Touring or X3?” questions a potential BMW buyer might pose.
And if that individual is looking at one of this marque’s offerings for the right reasons, the first would be what’s it like to drive, starting with that four-cylinder engine?
Well, along with scoring some green points for not being a larger-displacement six-cylinder and producing good fuel economy results, the turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder doesn’t have any real performance downside compared to the Touring or X3.
BMW figured out how to make big horsepower by turbocharging small-displacement four-cylinder engines way back in the early 1980s when it provided engines to the Brabham BMW Formula One team. These were based on its then-production engine, yet in qualifying form these 1.5-litre, super-boosted overachievers produced 1,500 hp at 11,000 rpm.
The X1 engine isn’t quite that ambitious, but benefiting from the latest-tech twin-scroll turbocharging technology develops 241 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, all of the latter on tap from just 1,250 rpm. The Touring’s 3.0-litre six makes 230 hp and in the X3 240 hp.
An eight-speed automatic works through the AWD xDrive system to propel the vehicle to 100 km/h in a more-than-quick-enough 6.5 seconds, faster than both the Touring and X328i. A slight hesitancy in deciding which of the eight ratio choices it should make is just noticeable in easy around-town driving, but is not really an issue. Not as smooth as BMW’s sixes, the four sounds great when accelerating hard.
Fuel economy ratings are 10.2 litres/100 km city and 6.5 highway (better than the 328i xDrive Touring and X3), and onboard readings showed an average of 9.6 litres/100 km after a week of mixed driving, and a highway cruising speed fuel burn rate of an excellent 6.9 litres/100 km.
Crossovers all claim car-like handling, but in the X1’s case that “car” is actually the engaging-to-drive Touring with which it shares platform DNA. As soon as you move off, the firmly weighted steering provides that very direct human/machine interface that’s part of the BMW magic.
Sure it’s a bit taller and higher off the ground (although actually a bit lighter than the Touring, and significantly less than the X3) but it still steers with precision and brakes through a pedal that’s “right there” when you step on it. In dynamic terms, the X1 delivers what you expect of a BMW.
In practical terms, the X1 – like the Touring and the X3 – is a comfortable four-seater into which you can wedge five if necessary. But it is a compact-class machine, 69 mm shorter than the Touring and 180 mm shy of the X3’s length, which means the cabin isn’t exactly roomy, although the headroom is fine even with that large sunroof. Cargo volume in the X1 is 1,350 litres, while the Touring provides 1,385 litres and the X3 not much more at 1,600 litres.
Like its family rivals, the X1’s interior has that nice mix of elegantly presented functionality along with most of the things you’d expect for the price, and a lengthy option list to fill in any gaps.
Our tester’s $38,500 base price was boosted to $44,040 with the addition of option packages that added such things as navigation and voice recognition, heated steering wheel, satin finish roof rails, panoramic sunroof, power seats, rather neat Marrakesh Brown metallic paint and a few other odds and ends.
BMW offers three interesting choices: the Touring delivers the best pure BMW driving experience and plenty of practically, the X3 does what a mid-size crossover does with BMW flare, and the X1 splits the difference with a unique look and character.
2012 BMW X1 xDrive28i
Type: Compact crossover
Base Price: $38,500; as tested, $44,040
Engine: 2.0-litre, DOHC, inline-four
Horsepower/torque: 242 hp/ 258 lb-ft
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.2 city/6.5 highway; premium gas
Alternatives: Acura RDX, Infiniti EX35, Audi Q5, Lexus RX350, Land Rover Evoque, Mercedes-Benz GLK
Globe rating for the 2012 BMW X1Our ratings guide
Typically taut, which means bumps don't pass under it unnoticed, but they're rarely allowed to make things uncomfortable.
Readily identifiable as a member of the BMW Sport Activity Vehicle family, which retains an off-roady persona, yet with a more downtown than backwoods style.
BMW, like most German auto makers, manages to combine simplicity and style to create a pleasant "workplace" for driving.
All-wheel-drive, excellent handling and brakes, a crashworthy structure, electronic aids and airbags make up a solid safety package.
The small turbocharged four-cylinder and eight-speed automatic deliver excellent performance and surprisingly good economy.
(out of 10 / Not an average)
The numerical ratings are assigned by The Globe and Mail’s car reviewers on a scale out of ten. Each car is assigned a separate rating in five key categories - plus an overall satisfaction rating that is calculated separately, and is not an average of the five category ratings.
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