2011 BMW X1

2011 BMW X1 2011 BMW X1
First Drive Review

BMW is an expert at filling niches that buyers probably never even thought existed. Witness vehicles such as the 5-series Gran Turismo, the upcoming Mini SUV, and the smallest member of the X family, the X1.

This new BMW baby ute is 175.4 inches long, 70.8 inches wide, and 60.8 inches high. That makes it 2.8 inches shorter than a 3-series wagon and 4.5 inches shorter than an X3. Although this may suggest it’s based on the 1-series, the X1 is actually closely related to the 3-series wagon, down to axles, powertrains, and identical all-wheel-drive systems.

The X1 is not a serious off-roader—there are no differential locks, for instance. It’s more of an on-road driving machine with forest-exploration capability. In everyday driving, the AWD system delivers 60 percent of the engine torque to the rear axle and 40 percent to the front, but the multidisc clutch pack is able to apportion torque to whichever axle needs it for traction.

At a glance, the X1 looks very similar to the bigger X3. The main differentiation is its giant BMW kidney grille and more steeply raked windshield and liftgate. Inside, the X1’s décor and layout mimic those of the 3-series. Surprisingly, in view of the vehicle’s compact dimensions, there’s plenty of room out back for a couple of adults. The fifth passenger’s space is compromised by the way the center console runs back into that rider’s seating area. The cargo area varies between 15 cubic feet with the rear seats slid all the way back—there’s another 3 cubic feet available if they’re slid forward—to 48 cubic feet with the seats folded flat.

When the car goes on sale in the U.S. in early 2011, the initial model offering will be the X1 xDrive30i, powered by a 260-hp version of BMW’s familiar 3.0-liter inline-six also found in the X3 and the X5. A 2.0-liter, four-cylinder twin-turbo diesel may or may not make it to these shores. In Europe, the inline-six is mated only to a six-speed automatic transmission.

The X1 definitely wants to be the sports car in the compact-SUV segment. The Servo­tronic steering system is tuned comparably to the 3-series’ helm and feels much more responsive than the X3’s. The optional Sport package lowers the ride height by 0.8 inch and comes with 18-inch wheels and tires in place of the standard 17-inchers. Despite this, it’s more comfortable than the X3 and exhibits better body control in taking corners. Harsh impacts cause fewer tremors than in the X3.

Exactly what the X1’s niche is, though, we’re not quite sure: the sporty member of the really small and expensive cute-ute category, perhaps? When it goes on sale, it will be in a class of three, joined by the Land Rover LRX and the Audi Q3, and it will likely start at about $36,000.