Just because German luxury brands are bringing smaller vehicles to the U.S., that doesn’t mean they’re coming here with smaller price tags.
Case in point: the compact BMW X1. The X1 starts at a reasonable $31,695. But the price of the all-wheel-drive model we tested quickly ballooned to $45,595 after items were added that BMW buyers would reasonably expect in a luxury vehicle.
Still, American buyers have snatched up more than 14,000 X1s since they went on sale in the fall of 2012, according to BMW.
This small crossover charms with its eager handling and functional interior space. The base engine feels a bit sluggish at times, but the overall package is compelling, especially for urban dwellers who want practicality they can fit in a tight parking space.
The X1 is the smallest of BMW’s lineup of SAVs (sport activity vehicles). It slots below the X6, X5 and X3. When the current X3 debuted in 2011, its growth over the previous generation left room in BMW showrooms for the compact X1.
The X1 comes with one of two engines with elaborate names. The rear-wheel-drive four-cylinder is the X1 sDrive28i, the AWD model is the X1 xDrive28i, and the AWD six-cylinder version is the X1 xDrive35i.
The xDrive35i is powered by a 3.0-liter, turbocharged inline six-cylinder. It makes 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque and comes only in an AWD setup. This larger engine demands an additional $6,000. This model’s fuel economy is rated at 18/27 mpg city/highway.
The base engine, which Highway 1 tested, is a 2.0-liter turbocharged, inline four-cylinder engine that makes 241 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. It’s attached to an eight-speed automatic transmission and comes in either rear-wheel drive or optional all-wheel drive.
This engine has good power and is used widely across BMW’s lineup, though in this application it often felt reluctant from a dead stop.
This was a stark contrast to the X1’s sharp handling. The steering was communicative, the suspension taut but never rough.
The AWD model we tested is rated at 22/33 mpg in city/highway driving. In 330 miles of testing, we averaged 22 mpg.
But the X1’s small size may be its biggest asset.
Though it has the shape of an SUV, the X1 sits at that perfect height; you're neither climbing up nor sitting down when you get inside. The wide windshield offers excellent visibility, and parking and maneuvering this BMW in tight spaces is a snap.
Inside, there's plenty of space for four grown adults and maybe a fifth less-adult person. Fold the back seats, and the X1 easily swallows a mountain bike without removing the wheels.
The pricey options list that pushed our model past the $45,000 mark includes a navigation system, leather, panoramic sunroof, backup camera, heated front seats and steering wheel, 18-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlights and power front seats.
This means you get relatively few features on a stripped-down X1 -- the model with a price low enough to attract entry-level luxury customers. Standard fare includes items like rain-sensing wipers, stereo system with iPod and USB connectivity, Bluetooth and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
This is unfortunate, as the X1's thoughtful size and packaging could appeal to a variety of buyers seeking German build quality and BMW handling. Sadly, the steep price for anything other than the raw basics will send many of them elsewhere.
Times’ take: Compact SUV comes nicely packaged ... for a price
Highs: Great handling and interior functionality; exterior sized for cities
Lows: You pay dearly for things that shouldn't be optional; engine's performance can lag
Vehicle type: 4-door compact SUV
Base price: $31,695
Price as tested: $45,595 (X1 xDrive28i)
Powertrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine; all-wheel drive
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with sport and manual modes
Torque: 258 pound-feet
0-60 mph: 6.3 seconds for model tested, according to BMW
EPA fuel economy: 22/33 mpg city/highway