2012 BMW X1 xDrive28i Review

Since luxury brands are popular right now, is it safe to assume that any vehicle BMW slaps a propeller badge on will sell like hotcakes? No, it isn’t. It all depends on how far you’re willing to push the envelope in creating vehicle categories no one really asked for. Case in point: People are probably still scratching their heads trying to figure out what a 5 Series Gran Turismo is.

If a vehicle is the right size and priced smartly, customers will flock from every direction. For Canada, the X1 crossover (pardon, Sports Activity Vehicle or SAV in BMW-speak) seems to be just right. We like quality products, we don’t buy large quantities of big vehicles and our environmentally friendly consciousness prevents most of us from driving around in gas guzzlers.

A little truck

The X1 is about as small as a BMW “truck” can get. To put its size into perspective, I parked it alongside a Dodge Caliber, and besides about 2 inches of extra width for the Bimmer, their dimensions were very similar. Don’t worry, the comparison with the Dodge stops here.

It’s also pretty close in size to BMW’s own 3 Series Touring wagon, with which it shares its wheelbase. The latter may soon be retired from the Canadian lineup (we think) and it’s all the X1’s fault.

Actually, it may be our own fault. While we’re buying only a few Tourings a month, the X1 is selling very well. So well, in fact, that for the last few months, it’s been outselling every other X model in BMW’s portfolio, including the brand new X3.

Turbo 4-pot

The X1 marks the return of 4-cylinder engines for BMW in our country, and more will follow under the hood of the Z4, the 3 Series and the 5 Series. And before you conjure up memories of that 170-horsepower, 2.3-litre 4-banger in the Z3 way back in 2000, know that the X1’s engine is much more potent.

BMW-X1-2.8i-2012_i04 The 16-valve, 2.0-litre inline-4 gets a single twin-scroll turbocharger; its 241 hp is backed by no less than 258 lb.-ft of torque that peaks at just 1,250 rpm. Channelled through a new 8-speed automatic transmission with manual mode and the brand’s xDrive all-wheel traction hardware, the X1 gets to 100 km/h in 6.5 seconds, and dashes through the quarter mile in 14.7 seconds at 152 km/h. Not bad.

How’s that engine sound? It obviously lacks the silky scream of a BMW inline-6, but it’s got a tad of throatiness that seems well suited to the X1; we’re not sure 5 Series shoppers will go for it, but the 4-cylinder’s output is nothing to be ashamed of.

Our fuel economy average of 9.6 L/100km is proof that low-rpm torque helps keep engine revs under control and still gets the vehicle moving swiftly. At a steady 100 km/h, the 2.0-litre unit is spinning at only 1,600 rpm.

The X1 doesn’t feel as sporty as the 328i Touring, and its suspension isn’t as stiff, but it’s still a very capable machine and one that’s up to the task of supporting some pretty rough country-road driving. We think it’s tuned just right for newcomers to the brand.

No-thrills cockpit

While the interior assembly is top-notch, there are some low-budget plastic components that give away the fact that we’re sitting in a low-priced model. And BMW’s cockpit designs are starting to feel old; actually, I shouldn’t say “old” as much as a very slowly evolving design.

The sound system, however, does feel old, with its monochrome, two-line display. When you don’t purchase the optional navigation system, you get a storage compartment instead with a clumsy lid. In pure BMW tradition, the interior is dark and somewhat cold, although for an extra $585, you can get wood trim which helps.

Also in pure BMW tradition, the X1’s seats are firm and supportive, despite minimal power adjustments. Leatherette upholstery is standard, Nevada leather is a $1,900 option. Like we said earlier, this is a small vehicle; room up front is adequate for most people, and two adults will fit comfortably in back. No more.

As for the cargo area, you get 420 litres of space with the rear seats up, and 1,350 litres when you fold them down. That’s actually less than in the 3 Series Touring.

How much?

What’s especially interesting about the 2012 X1 is its entry price. It carries a $38,500 MSRP, while our tester includes the $1,490 Premium Package (panoramic sunroof, roof rails, lower-body cladding, auto-dimming rearview mirror and heated wheel) as well as the $950 power seats with driver-side memory, for a total of $40,940. That’s not a bad deal for an all-wheel drive BMW truck... or crossover... or whatever you want to call it.

The only problem is that the bigger X3 is only about $3,500 more.

How about competition? Right now, there aren’t really any similar-sized rivals at Audi and Mercedes-Benz, although the Q3 might eventually make its way to Canada. The MINI Cooper Countryman S ALL4, a cousin of the X1, is about as close as you can get in terms of size, price and turbo 4-cylinder power.

While it’s sad to see the 3 Series Touring likely get the boot in favour of the X1, this little crossover is perfectly sized and perfectly priced for Canada. It’s not very spacious, but it’s capable, fuel-efficient and it’s got that all-important luxury-brand badge on it. Toss in free scheduled maintenance for four years, and the X1 almost feels like a bargain.