published Saturday, April 6th, 2013

Test Drive: BMW X1 leads wave of small luxury SUVs

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
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

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.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is the editor of the Times Free Press opinion pages and writes the Sunday “Life Stories” column. He also writes a Saturday automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for Best Community Lifestyles four times during his tenure. Before Chattanooga’s newspapers ...

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