There’s a bit of a problem with drivers around the world that BMW wants to solve with their new X1: do they want the space of an SUV, or the economy of a compact? Also, most drivers aren’t really against drivig compact cars, but such cars tend to carry the reputation of being cheap and not of great build quality. BMW began to play with these expectations when they bought Mini and delivered a compact that was small and fuel efficient, but also refined and fun. With the X1, their latest SUV (well, they call them SAVs for Sports Activity Vehicle), BMW hopes to merge premium luxury vehicles with smaller, more sensible, utility vehicles.
Slated for European release towards the end of this year and for release in the United States by early 2011 at the latest, the X1 is built off of the platform of BMW’s compact 1-Series line. However, even though it is an SAV, it is not much bigger than the cars it is based on, measuring only 3 inches longer, 4 inches taller, 1 inch wider, and a 4 inch longer wheelbase than the 128i, a 1-Series compact sports coupe. This is a vehicle that has more in common, in terms of dimensions, with a station wagon than an SUV, and that’s what makes it so charming.
The X1 is not overly large. There’s a hair under 15 cubic feet of cargo space in the back when the rear seats are up (which is about the same as an average 5-door hatchback), and that space grows to 47 cubic feet when the rear seats are laid flat. While this may seem a bit low compared to other SUVs, it is much more realistic. Yes, if you’re moving or going on a two week-long vacation, you’ll need the space a big SUV affords, but for 99% of your driving, that space goes unused. The X1 is far more modest in its size, giving you what you need and little extra. The idea of a restrained and modest SUV was unheard of five years ago, when Escalades were the pinnacle of the segment, but now it seems fitting, and refreshing.
The interior is made up like the typical 1-Series or 3-Series BMW model. In fact, I’d wager that at least 75% of the cockpit was lifted wholesale from a 128i. That’s not a bad thing at all. The interior and cockpit of the 1-Series and 3-Series models are very well made, and by using those designs and parts in the X1, BMW is actually able to cut down on development and manufacturing costs, and therefore the sticker price, so the copying is definitely welcome.
As far as exterior styling is concerned, the X1 borrows heavily from the other members of BMW’s X series SAV family, most notably its next biggest brother, the X3. It also picks up the xDrive all-wheel drive system from these models, but BMW will still offer a rear-wheel drive version. No exact engine specifications have been released yet, but you can pretty much count on at least one model being equipped with the automakers ubiquitous 3.0-liter straight six, which powers all the 1-Series models and 3-Series models. There are also rumors flying that BMW will reintroduce a four-cylinder engine (which they haven’t had for about a decade in their lineup) to the 1-Series and the X1 in order to further improve gas mileage. European markets will be getting some diesel engine variants as well (that get a reported 45 mpg combined), but there’s no word on whether or not a diesel model will be available when it hits the U.S.
The 2010 BMW X1 has a lot going for it, and its position as an elegant, but small and restrained, compact SAV should make it fairly unique in the marketplace. By the time it hits the U.S., gas prices are likely to be back up (when economies recover, demand increases, and so do fuel prices, unfortunately), making it even more desirable in the marketplace for those who want a premium vehicle, but don’t want to pay for a gas guzzler. We’ll have to wait and see if BMW’s rapidly expanding product line can prove profitable, but by providing vehicles for many different niches, as well as their more widely-appealing sedans and coupes, the German automaker seems to have a pretty good handle on the market.