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2012 BMW X1

BMW X1: Extras, extras, read all about it Add to ...

When last I checked, BMW was not offering its X1 compact SUV with a gas engine at all – in Great Britain. If you want a diesel X1 in Britain, you have not one but three engine choices. If you want a strictly two-wheel-drive X1, rather than a four-wheeler, you can have that, too.

Canada? Well, Britain is the exact opposite of Canada. BMW Canada has some explaining to do.

In Canada, we get just one version of the X1, starting at $38,500, though there are options. Ours has a twin-turbo, four-cylinder engine (241 hp/258 lb-ft of torque) and BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive system. Ours is loaded with plenty of goodies, too, though if you want some really cool stuff, whip out your wallet.

That is, if you want BMW Apps, that’s a G Note, please. For $1,000 you can then integrate your iPhone, listen to web radio, get Twitter updates and so on. Wait a minute; that’s not true. If you want Apps, you also need to buy the $1,900 navigation system.

And on this story goes.

For another $1,900, you can have leather upholstery (and why is this not standard on a “premium” SUV?). The really good Harmon Kardon sound system is $1,000; a Sirius satellite radio tuner, $450; electric seats with memory, $950; Park Distance Control, $450; wood cabin trim, $585; a fancy lighting package, $1,000. Voila: Your $38,500 BMW X1 is now $48,000 plus $800 for freight and all those taxes. Your sub-$40,000 X1 is not $50,000-plus.

What we have there, folks, is premium pricing. Being premium is what BMW Canada is really all about and that’s why we don’t get any of the three diesels sold with the X1 in Britain, nor the two-wheel-drive model.

The Apps option, the leather seats, satellite radio throbbing through a killer sound system do not make the X1 itself drive any differently, though. And don’t think the $1,500 Sport Package, with its shift paddles, 18-inch wheels and sport seats, makes a particularly appreciable change in driving dynamics, either.

This brings me to the advice I always give potential BMW buyers, when asked, of course: if you’re a driver most of all, not an image-chaser or a poseur, if you don’t want to drive a status symbol but instead a car that feels good from behind the wheel every single day, then get the least expensive BMW you can find and fall in love with it. You will, if you’re the right sort of person. Naturally, not everyone is a BMW person, though.

The X1, even if you leave off that roster of options with a $10,000 tally, is still a fine driving machine. I’d argue the very best small SUV from behind the wheel. First-rate. And it’ll drive the same whether you have satellite radio or not.

The reason is simple: The X1 is based on the underpinnings of a 3-Series – the outgoing 3, as it turns out, not the forthcoming one due to go on sale in Canada next year. Of course, the body is all crossover and quite apart and different from any 3-Series. The X1 sheet metal is all creases and bulges, with big wheels and a bulbous nose. The one-piece tailgate is nothing particularly special, as well.

The cabin is a gift of simplicity, at least in the completely base model. The rear seats fold like almost any rear seats in any car with a folding seatback. The handbrake is, well, a basic handbrake and there are blessedly few buttons and switches.

The interior here is dressed up with piano-black trim and some metal-look inserts. Sporty, but hardly fancy. The “leatherette” upholstery is just fine and will last a decade without much degradation.

Then there’s the engine. Lots of power and it comes on fast, with essentially no turbo lag. BMW says the 0-100 km/h time is 6.7 seconds and that seems about right.

With power going to all four wheels in a smart way (when required), the X1 launches deliciously off the line. The standard eight-speed autobox leverages all that power just so, without any fussing about. A nice gearbox.

A few words here about xDrive. BMW touts it as a breakthrough four-wheel-drive system and while that may be a bit of an exaggeration, what’s here is very good. BMW uses a very quick-acting, multi-plate clutch to apportion power between the front and rear wheels, as needed. You won’t notice anything during normal road driving, but if you need grip, xDrive works hard to find it.

The whole package delivers a natural balance to all things driving. The steering is easy and precise, the brakes strong but progressive and a snap to modulate in any condition. The X1 is a very pleasing car, folks – crisp, responsive, comfortable and surprisingly entertaining for a tall wagon. That’s as it should be and why drivers are willing to pay the BMW premium.

My advice to drivers, then, is to buy only what matters to the driving and that’s the most basic X1, period. If the driving part is not paramount, and if you want a small SUV with lots of extras and goodies, go elsewhere and get a deal on, say, an Acura RDX or some such wagon.

jcato@globeandmail.com

Tech specs

2012 BMW X1

Type: Compact crossover

Price: $38,500 ($800 freight)

Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, DOHC, turbocharged

Horsepower/torque: 241 hp/258 lb-ft

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Drive: All-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.2 city/6.4 highway; premium gas

Alternatives: Audi Q5, Acura RDX, Infiniti EX35, Mini Cooper Countryman

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