Road Test

2012 BMW X1 xDrive 2.8i

The X1 is of particular significance in Canada where SUVs account for 70% of BMW's sales

2012 BMW X1 - Rear
AT A GLANCE
PRICE
$38,500 base. $41,490 as tested.
FUEL CONSUMPTION
NR Canada (L/100 km): 10.0 city. 6.0 highway. 9.0 combined.
POWERTRAIN
Turbocharged, 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine; 241-horsepower; 258-lb-ft. of torque; eight-speed aut
Pros & CONS
  • Rock solid structure
  • Eight-speed automatic transmission
  • Plenty of torque
  • Rock solid structure
  • Eight-speed automatic transmission
  • Plenty of torque

It's getting crowded in the near-luxury segment as manufactures try to grab a piece of the pie enjoyed by the traditional luxury marques. But while they try to move up, those established luxury players are countering with a range of new products at the lower end of their range.

In the first case the goal is to keep buyers in the family who might otherwise move away. In the second situation it is to attract new buyers to the brand.

Case in point – the 2012 BMW X1 xDrive 2.8i. The newest addition to BMW’s SUV lineup joins its X3, X5 and X6 siblings. Built in plants in China, Germany, India, Mexico and Russia the X1 is obviously a global vehicle, deliberately positioned just below the highly popular X3 in size and price.

The X1 is of particular significance in Canada where SUVs account for 70% of the company’s sales. Key competitors incluse the Acura RDX, Lexus RX and Mercedes-Benz GLK.

Eye of the beholder

While bearing a distinct family resemblance to those siblings, the X1 does not carry off the look quite as well due to its shorter length. To me, it looks like an X3 that backed into a wall.

The nose carries the typical twin-nostril BMW grill – oversized in this case, the sides are very tall in proportion to the length and the truncated rear end is not a pretty sight to these eyes. However, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and early sales figures show there are many who like the look.

All four doors open nice and wide and you step into the X1 rather than having to climb up as is the case for most competitors. The steering wheel is thick and well padded with indents and grips at the nine and three position.

The instrument panel will be familiar to anyone who has sat in a BMW before. All but identical to that used in the 3-series, it has a pair of analog dials road and engine speed with smaller secondary gauges in the lower quadrant of each and a changeable digital display between them.

The centre stack has the audio system above that for the HVAC. Atop that is a pair of vents and at the top, integrated into the instrument paneel, is a large storage compartment or a screen for the navigation system if so equipped.

Time for a gripe – this is another of the new crop of cars that uses a separate key fob and starter button – redundancy at its worst. The good news with this BMW is that you have to insert the fob into a receptacle in the instrument panel to start the engine so at least you know where it is.

The bad news is that you have to insert the fob into the receptacle and then use a separate button to start or stop the engine. What’s wrong with the well-proven method of simply inserting a key and turning it? Or if you want to go high tech it could be a keyless fob. Why the second control?

Compact inside as well as out

This is a compact vehicle so interior dimensions are not as spacious as those normally associated with an SUV. But the available space is well thought out, if not exactly luxurious. I found the driver’s seat too narrow. Well bolstered and supportive, it is more suited to those of lesser girth.

The rear seat will accommodate two adults, three in a pinch – literally. But any hope for comfort and legroom will depend on co-operation from front seat occupants, who hopefully are not too tall and can pull their seat forward. The rear seat back is split 40/20/40 – an excellent idea utilized by too few. It allows a greater variety of people/cargo combinations.

The cargo area is easily accessed through a light and wide tailgate. Cargo capacity is 419 litres with the rear seat in place and 1350 cubic feet with it down.

One model only

The X1 comes with a single engine, transmission, drive and trim configuration augmented by a short option list. That single configuration is very well equipped, however.

The $38,500 base price gets: alloy wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, automatic headlights, hill descent control, heated seats, mirrors and windshield washers, remote keyless entry, cruise control, tilt and telescopic steering wheel and Bluetooth connectivity.

Options include larger (18-in) alloy wheels wrapped in summer-only performance tires, steering wheel-mounted shifter paddles, a navigation system, panoramic sunroof, bi-xenon headlamps, sport seats and leather upholstery.

Four-cylinder strong and fuel-efficient

Built off the same platform found beneath the 3-series, the X1 also shares its turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine. While nowhere near as silky smooth and aurally pleasing as a BMW in-line six, the new four makes up for that with power and torque.

Thanks to a single, twin-scroll turbocharger married to some intelligent ratios in an eight-speed automatic, the little four propels the X1 with gusto, able to get it to 100 km/hr from rest in less than seven seconds, quicker than its larger X3 sibling in base form. The low-end torque also makes passing a breeze.

It also passes more gas stations than the old six. The X1 is rated at 6.5 litres per 100 kilometres on the highway and 10.2 L/100 km in the city. I was able to achieve 8.8 L/100 km combined.

The downside to this engine is a lumpy, noisy idle.

While most of the credit for this impressive fuel mileage goes to the engine. Weight reduction also plays a role. The engine alone weighs 30 kilograms less than the six and the total vehicle 175 kilos less than the X3.

Power goes to all four wheels through the xDrive system. The default setting sends 60% of engine output to the rear wheels, but can vary torque to any degree, up to 100 per cent to either axle depending on traction and conditions.

The X1 drives like a BMW and that is high praise. The brakes are both powerful and progressive and the steering communicative.

The added height cannot be totally disguised in the turns, but the suspension gurus have acquitted themselves well. This is a very agile crossover but the ride cannot be called supple.

Overall, the BMW X1 is an agile compact luxury SUV with a pleasant blend of performance and fuel efficiency. But what buyers will probably find most appealing is that it's a BMW.

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