Recent studies suggest that American car buyers are just fine with giving up their larger vehicles for smaller ones -- so long as they don't have to give up any of their precious big-vehicle features and gadgetry. Few automakers are more acutely aware of that philosophy than BMW. Sure, BMW still produces large luxury cars as a sizeable percentage of its business, but Mini -- its runaway-hit of a sub-brand -- has captured a vast share of the subcompact market. More recently, the Bavarian automaker brought its entry-level 1 Series to the U.S. market, slotting the two-door coupe just below its ever-growing, bread-and-butter 3 Series. It's also the much-lauded 1 Series that provides the underpinnings for the newest -- and smallest -- member of BMW's Sports Activity Vehicle lineup -- the all-new 2011 BMW X1, which is on its way to the U.S.
First shown in concept form at the 2008 Paris Motor Show, the primary BMW X1 package remains remarkably similar in production trim. Based strongly on BMW's current X Series styling, all the trademark visuals of the X1's big brothers are present and accounted for. Jutting, blunt-nosed front end? Check. Prominent arching side character line? Check. Signature "Hoffmeister Kink" at the D-pillar? Check. Double kidney-shaped grille? Double check.
At roughly 14.5 feet long, 5.8 feet wide, and 5 feet tall, the X1 measures several inches shorter, skinnier, and narrower than the X3 -- the smallest SAV the automaker currently produces. In fact, the X1 is just over 1 inch wider, 3 inches longer and 4 inches taller than the 128i, with a wheelbase exactly 4 inches longer than the compact sports coupe. Needless to say, this is not a large vehicle.The X1's interior layout also stays true to current BMW design theory, with well-placed controls and high-quality materials. Seats, steering wheel, gear lever, and dashboard all remain largely identical to that of most of BMW's products -- certainly any 1 Series, or 3 Series driver would be instantly familiar. Of course, small exterior dimensions translate to less interior space and subsequently, less cargo volume - a defining point for the segment. BMW says the X1 has 14.7 cubic-feet of usable cargo area with the adjustable rear seatbacks upright -- for comparison's sake, that's the exact same amount as the four-door Volkswagen GTI. Rear seats folded flat, that figure increases to a more useable 47.3 cubic-feet.
Still, premium compact crossover buyers are as interested in driving dynamics as how much gear they have stashed in the trunk. To that end, BMW offers the X1 in either sDrive rear- or xDrive all-wheel drive versions, with a variety of engines to choose from. In Europe, the initial powertrain range will feature just a single gasoline engine for the all-wheel drive model -- a range-topping 258-hp 3.0L straight-six. BMW claims a 6.8-sec 0 to 62 mph sprint for the gasoline-powered X1 xDrive23i, along with combined fuel economy of 25 mpg.
The rest of the lineup -- including all rear-drive European X1 models -- takes a page out of BMW's EfficientDynamics playbook and will receive three versions of BMW's common-rail direct-injection 2.0L diesel mill. A six-speed manual gearbox will be the only transmission choice on rear-drive X1s, while the xDrive variants are additionally offered with six-speed Steptronic automatics in all but the base version. Other EfficientDynamics technologies include brake energy regeneration, auto start/stop, and a shift indicator programmed for the most fuel-efficient shift points. BMW claims a combined 45 mpg (in U.S. measurements) for its entry-level diesel-powered X1, the rear-wheel-drive, 143-hp X1 sDrive18d. The top-line, all-wheel-drive, twin-turbo diesel X1 xDrive23d achieves 37 mpg combined, while producing 204 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. Both rear-drive X1 diesel models and the entry-level diesel xDrive model are rated at a 4410-lb towing capacity.
BMW's xDrive all-wheel-drive setup is based on that used in the automaker's larger SAVs (and more recently, the flagship 7 Series sedan) and is directly integrated with the vehicle's Dynamic Stability Control to improve both traction and handling characteristics. While xDrive is a permanent system, the amount of torque transferred from front to rear wheels is variable, for changing driving conditions. A chief aspect of the system is its ability to reduce understeer by shifting more power to the rear wheels on winding roads, creating a more nimble, enthusiast-oriented driving experience than is typical of the segment.
As with most of BMW's lineup, the optional equipment list is quite extensive. Bi-Xenon headlamps are available, as is a panoramic sunroof, leather sports seats, a storage package, tow hitch, roof rails, automatic climate control, a Pro Logic 7 Hi-Fi stereo, BMW iDrive/navigation, Bluetooth connectivity, and a rear-view backup camera.
BMW will bring its X1 to European showrooms this fall, while U.S. buyers will have to wait until early 2011 to park one in their garage. BMW has not finalized engine choices for the U.S. market, but it's a good bet that the six-cylinder xDrive23i will be on the list, and a diesel-powered option is a possibility.