When it finally lands on U.S. shores this winter, the BMW X1 will have maneuvered itself into a tight parking spot--wedged narrowly between the most feature-rich mass-market crossovers, and BMW's own more practical, more expensive X3 ute.
The X1's been on sale for a few years around the world, but BMW waited to bring it here until our new X3--the current South Carolina-built one--went on sale, and until it found enough global production capacity to serve America.
Now with just enough space made for the X1 in the lineup, it's up to car buyers to decide if they've made enough brand space for the luxury crossover--if it's the right step up from a smaller sedan, or maybe too much downsizing from a larger SUV.
That's the question that's circled around the X1 since our first drive, a few hours spent with a four-cylinder all-wheel-drive model during this year's North American Car and Truck/Utility of the Year driving (where I serve on the 50-journalist jury). The X1 undoubtedly has the usual BMW virtues in its corner, with deft handling at the top of the list--but does it offer up enough utility to make it a better choice than something bigger and possibly cheaper?
The X1 blends more easily in with BMW's car lineup, even than its bigger crossovers--which veer hard out of the way of the usual butch SUV styling memes. Its height and ground clearance get disguised with glassy hatchback cues, and even the tall nose melts away into artfully elongated headlamps. Minus the slightly bulging wheel wells, the X1 almost could qualify as a 3-Series hatchback.
That's hardly a stretch, since some of the X1's running gear is derived from the previous generation of 3-Series vehicles. The 2.0-liter turbo four is BMW's latest, with direct injection and gutsy acceleration to 60 mph in about 6.3 seconds. It's coupled to an eight-speed automatic with paddle shift controls that defy other automakers' logic--that paddles don't belong in utility vehicles. Underneath, this X1 offers either rear-wheel or all-wheel drive, as an sDrive28i or an xDrive28i, with one key difference--electric or hydraulic power steering, respectively. We've only driven the latter, with optional variable-ratio Servotronic control, and find it hard to find fault. With independent suspension all around, the X1 has more body roll but completely carlike road manners. On 18-inch wheels and tires, it held its composure on truly terrible road surfaces, too.
There's another X1 available--a 300-hp, turbocharged 3.0-liter in-line six model with xDrive, with optional M Sport add-ons that bring variable-torque-split xDrive (also available on the four-cylinder). We haven't yet driven this version, so stay tuned. And we weren't able to drive the X1 off-road at all, save for some Michigan-style gravel and dirt side roads. We suspect that's the most any owner will encounter, too.
Performance is in line with BMW standards, but interior space is at the small end for any BMW product aside--Z4 aside, of course. In front there's fine leg and head room, but width cuts down on console space so much, a second cupholder has to hang off the console's side. The back seat is an abbreviated space, with only enough leg room for short trips toting four adults, though two kids in back find plenty of space. The rear seats do a better job at getting out of the way for cargo, reclining and folding nearly flat.
The X1 hasn't been crash-tested yet--but while it gets the mandatory safety gear, it doesn't have standard Bluetooth or a rearview camera, features you'll find in most sub-$20,000 sedans. It does offer a standard USB port; power features; automatic climate control; and HD radio. The options list shows a panoramic glass roof; mobile-app connectivity; satellite radio; a cold-weather package; and Harmon Kardon audio.
We'll revisit the X1 once we set up seat time in the six-cylinder model. For now, we've given it some preliminary ratings and put down as much as we can in our usual long-form review. Watch the video here for a quick look--and for more, see our full review of the 2013 BMW X1.