Some folks who were surprised when BMW went into the SUV business years ago, with the X5. But that's what people wanted to buy, and it makes sense to move 3 and 5 Series lovers into larger accommodations when they need them.
I tested 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 SUV than the X5, or even the tweener X3. All three X models are called sports ACTIVITY vehicles (SAVs) by BMW, perhaps to distinguish them from ordinary crossovers.
You can tell when you approach the X1 that it’s more compact than its brethren, especially in height. It's nearly nine inches shorter in stature than the X5 - halfway between a typical SUV and a car. 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
Height (in.) 60.8 65.4 69.9
Weight (lb.) 3,726 4,068 4,960
EPA Fuel Economy
(City, Hwy) * 22/33 21/27 16/33
All three SAVs share a 3.5-liter inline six-cylinder engine that puts out an even 300 horsepower. For the X1 and X3, it's the upper choice. Their base engine is the excellent 2.0-liter turbo that is also in the 328 and 128 sedans. With 240 horsepower on tap, it moves my test X1 along nicely. The X5 comes with a 400-horsepower 5.0-liter V8 as its larger option, with the 3.5-liter as its base powerplant.
The 2.0-liter engine gets an EPA rating of 5 for Smog and 7 for Greenhouse Gas - decent for a car of this size and type.
The X1 feels just like a BMW should. When the X3 debuted, it felt a little cheaper and the design, especially of the interior, seemed a little budget, but in the X1 you get all the evocative curves and twists, the black and tan plastics, and nice brushed metal trim. The inside door grip felt a little cheap, with a rough seam, but that was my only complaint. The dash feels miniature - almost cute, but it displays all the important data.
The slightly higher driving position from a car (such as BMW's iconic 3 Series wagon) gives that "in control" feeling that Americans like. It feels good to not be looking up at the car ahead’s bumper. The X1's firm, compliant suspension and crisp steering deliver a sport sedan feeling, regardless of the 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.
The 2.0-liter turbo engine is rated at 22 City, 33 Highway, and I averaged 21.7 mpg. I didn't drive especially quickly, but I did get stuck in some commute traffic. That was where the Auto Stop feature helps, by shutting off the engine when you stop. This is a familiar experience for Prius owners, but in a gasoline-only vehicle it's new. You can disable Auto Stop with a dash button if you don’t like it.
Americans love drinking (non-alcoholic beverages) while they drive, but the X1 comes with only one built-in cupholder. But to get in a second one, there's a lovely detachable unit mounted in the right edge of the center console. Like a silvery flower, it grows up and grips your drink effectively. 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, the tab for my tester mushroomed to $45,245. Some of the goodies in the first two packages were park distance control, a rear-view camera, high-tech Xenon lighting, automatic high beams, and more. The Ultimate Package, which combines the Premium and Technology Packages, enhances your enjoyment with a huge two-panel panoramic sunroof, power front seats, keyless entry, voice command for the navigation and other systems, and much more. It makes me wonder what the plain X1 model is like without all those goodies. They certainly made this "little" X1 feel like a real BMW.
The X5 starts at $47,500, and surely can be optioned up much further, which makes the X1 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 zips from 0-60 in just 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.