Sunday, June 30, 2013

X1 - the Junior BMW Sports Activity Vehicle

There were some folks who were surprised or even upset when BMW went into the SUV business years ago with the X5. Purists, they were as upset about this development as Porschephiles were to see the Cayenne SUV. But that's what people want to buy, and it makes sense to move 3 and 5 Series lovers into larger accommodations when they need them. (The Porsche Cayenne has been a huge success, by the way).

I had the opportunity to pilot a new BMW X1 recently, and if you love the 1 or 3 Series sedans, you'll feel right at home. That's because this is truly a smaller vehicle than the X5, or even the tweener X3. All three X models are called sports ACTIVITY vehicles by BMW, perhaps to distinguish them from ordinary crossovers.

You can tell when you approach the X1 that it is more compact than its brethren, especially in height. It's nearly nine inches shorter than the X5--halfway between a typical SUV and a car. You can see that it is significantly smaller and lighter than it's X siblings, too. The table below gives some specifics.

                                                         X1               X3              X5
Length (in.)                                      176.5          183.0           191.1                         
Width (in.)                                         70.8            74.1             76.1
Wheelbase (in.)                               108.7           110.6           115.5
Weight (lb.)                                     3,726           4,068           4,960
Height (in.)                                        60.8             65.4             69.9
EPA Fuel Economy (City, Hwy)      22/33           21/27          16/33

The fuel economy numbers are for the smaller of the available engines. All three X models share a 3.5-liter inline six-cylinder engine that puts out an even 300 horsepower. For the X1 and X3, it's the bigger choice. They come with the excellent 2.0-liter turbo that is also in the 328 and 128 sedans. With 240 horsepower on tap, it moves the X1 along quite nicely, as it did in the 328 I tested recently. The X5 comes with a 400-horsepower 5.0-liter V8 as well.

The 2.0-liter gets an EPA rating of 5 for Smog and 7 for Greenhouse Gas--decent for a car of this size and type. 

The most notable thing about the X1 is how much it feels just like a BMW. When the X3 debuted years ago, it felt a little cheaper and the design, especially of the interior, felt a little budget, but in the X1 you get all the post-Bangle but still evocative curves and twists, the black and tan plastics, and nice brushed metal trim. I thought that the inside door grip felt a little non-luxury, with a slightly rough seam, but that was my only complaint. The dash itself  feels miniature--almost cute, but it has all the important data there.

The slightly higher position from a car (or BMW's iconic 3 Series wagon) gives that "in control" feeling that Americans claim is a reason to buy an SUV (or, more often today, an crossover vehicle). It feels better to not be looking up at someone's bumper. The X1's firm, compliant suspension and crisp steering deliver the sport sedan feeling, regardless of height.

The automatic transmission lever, now ubiquitous in BMWs, is a slim silver fish poking up from the center console. The X1 may have a manual available in Europe, but in the States it's not in the cards. Sorry about that.

The 2.0-liter turbo engine is rated at 22 City, 33 Highway, and I achieved 21.7 overall. I didn't drive especially quickly, but I did get stuck in some commute traffic. That was where the Auto Stop feature came in handy. It shuts off the engine when you stop, to save gas. This is a familiar experience, in, say, a Prius or other hybrid, but in a "performance" vehicle it's new. My monster BMW M6 (1,000th test car from a few months ago) also had this. I'm not sure how much gas it saves, but it has to be something. You can shut off Auto Stop with a button on the dash if it bothers you.

Americans love drinking (non-alcoholic beverages) while they drive, and the X1 comes with one built-in cupholder. But to get in that second one, there's a lovely detachable one mounted in the right edge of the center console. Like a silvery flower, it grows up and grips your drink effectively and quite aesthetically. I used it all the time. It pulls out and stows in the glovebox if you don't need it.

My tester had the M Sport Line, Lighting, and Ultimate packages, which added many fine features and many dollars to the total. From a base price of $32,350 for my tester, the bottom line came to $45,245. Some of the goodies in the packages include park distance control, a rear-view camera, high-tech Xenon lighting, automatic high beams, and more. The Ultimate Package actually included the Premium and Technology Packages, meaning you get a huge two-panel panoramic sunroof, power front seats, keyless entry, voice command for the navigation and other systems, and much more. Makes me wonder what a plain model would be like without all those goodies. They certainly made the "little" X1 feel like a real BMW.

The X5 starts at $47,500, and surely can be optioned up much further, so the X1 is a comparative bargain. To me, the compact, friendly nature of living with it for a week was a plus, especially if you don't need the bulk of the X5--or even the no-longer-small X3. And the X1 with the 2.0-liter four goes from 0-60 in 6.3 seconds, versus the X5's 6.4 seconds with its inline six, so you'll have plenty of fun out there on the road.

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