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Somewhere in the grey area between hot hatchbacks and curt crossovers lies the new 2013 BMW X1. It's tall, with all-wheel drive and a moderate amount of ground clearance to appeal to more rugged instincts. But with its shorter wheelbase and a small back seat better for kids than adults, it's less like BMW's own X3, more like the previous-generation 3-Series wagon than its high-riding profile might let on.
The X1 has BMW's "Sport-Activity Vehicle" profile down pat. There's little here to suggest a pavement-free adventure could happen at any moment. The X1's softly curved sheetmetal reads more like a sport shoe, except where the tall glass areas and the high nose give away the jacked-up stance. Or, where the lipped wheel arches offer the TelePrompTer cue: "Psssst...SUV!" Any 3-Series driver will take command at the X1's wheel in an instant: the controls are just where BMW drivers expect them. To the rest of us, the anatomically themed dash looks good enough, but the smattering of dissimilar controls--all black on a black background--are a game of concentration, at first.
We haven't yet driven the potent 300-horsepower, turbocharged 3.0-liter in-line six that's found in the X1 xDrive35i. It's configured only with all-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic, and scoots to 60 mph in about 5.3 seconds and to 21 mpg, EPA combined, BMW says. Our first drive's been exclusively in an X1 xDrive28i, with BMW's natty 2.0-liter turbo four, direct-injected, with 240 hp and teamed with a paddle-shifted eight-speed automatic and, in this case, variable-torque-split all-wheel drive. There's an sDrive28i rear-drive model we haven't driven, with electric power steering; our xDrive model offered more natural-feeling hydraulic steering, and complemented the X1's typically excellent BMW dynamics. With more engine exhaust resonance in the cabin than we'd like, and a little more body roll than you'd find than in models with optional sport packages, the X1 steered truer than many other crossovers, and its short wheelbase still handled terrible pavement assuredly. We wouldn't describe many luxury crossovers as eager, but the X1 does seem to earn it.
Front-seat accommodations are fine for even tall adults; the roofline bumps up to suit almost everyone. The X1 doesn't span quite wide enough for a vast console, or long enough either, so while there's enough shoulder room and a storage bin, only one front-seat cupholder fits on the console. A second one hangs side-saddle. The abbreviated space in the back seat should command attention from anyone replacing a bigger ute: it's not quite enough for four adults to sit comfortably, though two adults and two kids will be an easy fit. 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.
- Gutsy turbo four
- Paddle-shifted eight-speed automatic
- Steering feel (AWD models)
- 300 hp on the order sheet
- Highway gas mileage
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- Rear-set legroom in short supply
- Powertrain can get boomy
- Secondary controls get confusing
- Bluetooth, rearview camera are options