Test Drive: BMW X1 leads wave of small luxury SUVs

Test Drive: BMW X1 leads wave of small luxury SUVs

April 6th, 2013 by Mark Kennedy in Business Diary

The X1 is the smallest SUV in the BMW lineup, but this six-cylinder model packs a 300 horsepower punch. Staff photo by Mark Kennedy

Photo by

FAST FACTS

Model: 2013 BMW X1 xDrive35i

Exterior color: Black Sapphire Metallic

Interior color: Nevada Coral Red

Engine: six-cylinder, 3.0-liter, twin-turbo

Horsepower: 300

Transmission: eight-speed automatic

Fuel economy: 27 mpg highway, 18 mpg city

Dealer: BMW of Chattanooga

Price (as tested): $48,145

Here's a thought: Small SUVs are the new sedans.

For lots of Americans -- basically anyone under 50 -- SUVs have been the default family vehicles for decades. For these folks, the four-door sedan is a hard sell.

That's why automakers -- especially luxury brands -- are racing to introduce small SUVs for those with modest hauling needs: basically singles, small families and empty-nesters.

This bracketed approach to auto demographics is clearly the guiding light behind the new BMW X1, a compact SUV often described as "cute." We were able to snag a test drive in a new X1 from BMW of Chattanooga recently, and I'd suggest a more apt descriptor might be "brute."

New vehicle sales manager LeBron Clark set us up with an all-wheel-drive, turbo-charged six-cylinder BMW X1, the xDrive35i, which makes 300 horsepower. With a throaty exhaust note, the xDrive35i launches like a pocket rocket. Its 0-to-60 time is 5.3 seconds, which should make an adventurous exit from the Bi-Lo parking lot if you decide to put your foot down. For most enthusiasts, merely knowing that the legendary BMW I-6 engine is lurking under the hood is fun to contemplate.

STYLING AND COMFORT

The X1 is basically a five-door hatchback with familiar BMW styling cues such as the double kidney-shaped grille and undulating panel angles that make light dance across the sheet-metal surfaces.

Sales consultant Brian Roberts pointed out options on our test car included heated seats and fine-line wood trim.

Inside, our xDrive35i tester is a feast for the senses. All the touch surfaces exude quality and the aromatic seats are upholstered in Nevada Coral Red leather. The dash is a gentle, unbroken arc that stretches from A-pillar to A-pillar. The navigation screen is integrated into the dash architecture, and the wood accents are upscale and classy.

The beefy, three-spoke wheel provides the right amount of torque for the fine-tuned BMW steering. A small shifter is just the right handful. Seat extenders and excellent lumbar supports make seating comfortable. Back-seat space is sufficient for two adults, but a bit of a squeeze for three. The larger X3 and X5 models, of course, are available for those who need more passenger space.

Behind the rear seat is a storage area said to have about twice the hauling capacity of the trunk in a BMW 3-series sedan.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

The best reason to go BMW shopping of course, is for the legendary driving experience. If you just want the cache of a luxury brand, and are tone-deaf about driving dynamics, BMW products are probably over-engineered for you.

If, on the other hand, that masculine exhaust note makes your pulse quicken and the thought of a twin-turbo I-6 engine under the hood makes you smile, the xDrive35i is just the ticket.

On our test drive on I-75, the X1, with its precision steering, threaded the needle in mid-day traffic. Power in the mid-range RPMs is especially fun to manage as you simply point and shoot the X1 in close quarters.

BOTTOM LINE

In base trim the four-cylinder, rear-wheel-drive X1 is actually BMW's lowest-priced vehicle, with an entry level price of $30,800. Our upscale, six-cylinder test car, with a boat load of options, topped out at $48,145.

Still, one of the X1's advantages is a relatively low cost of ownership; in this case a consequence of good fuel economy (27 mpg highway) and high resale value.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOL UMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycol umnist.