Finally, American car shoppers can get a small crossover sport utility vehicle from BMW that has a starting retail price of less than $32,000.
In fact, the new-for-2013 BMW X1 five door has the lowest starting retail price of any BMW car or SUV — $31,695. The well-proportioned X1 looks pricier on the outside than it is and has great cargo- and people-hauling functionality.
The X1 even comes standard with two fuel-saving mechanisms. An automatic stop/start system turns off the engine when the vehicle is stopped at stoplights, while the other system called Eco Pro is driver activated and optimizes engine operation and transmission gearing, among other things, for maximum fuel economy.
The federal government mileage ratings for the base X1 with turbocharged, four-cylinder engine are 22 miles per gallon in city driving and 33 mpg on the highway. These ratings are on par with those for Honda's popular CR-V SUV that has a 185-horsepower, naturally aspirated four cylinder under the hood.
BMW has been selling the X1 in Europe since 2009. Demand has been so strong that the U.S. market was left out until this model year, when BMW added production capacity.
Now, the X1 with 240-horsepower, turbocharged four cylinder, eight-speed automatic transmission and rear-wheel drive for the United States is priced $400 less than the manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of a 2013 BMW 128i Coupe here, which was the previous lowest-priced BMW. The X1 also is lower priced than the starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $39,745 for BMW's next-largest SUV, the X3.
The 2013 X3 uses the same 240-horsepower, turbo four cylinder that's in the X1.
No manual transmission is offered in the X1. But four-wheel drive is available, and the lowest starting retail price for a 2013 X1 with four-wheel drive is $33,395. A second engine — a 300-horsepower, turbocharged six cylinder — comes at a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $39,495.
The base X1 doesn't have a lot of luxury features. For example, it does not include leather-trimmed seats or metallic exterior paint. Everything from rearview camera and automatic dimming rearview mirror to power-adjustable front seats and USB adapter are extras.
So, it is easy to load up the X1 and get to a much higher sticker price. The test X1 xDrive28i topped out at more than $45,000, and at that price, a shopper can look at larger and more sumptuous SUVs.
Competitors to the X1 are wide-ranging. Acura's 2014 RDX comes standard with a 273-horsepower V-6, automatic transmission and a starting retail price of $35,415 with two-wheel drive. Meantime, the 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK starts at $37,995 with 302-horsepower V-6, automatic transmission and two-wheel drive.
The not quite 15-foot-long X1 has exterior dimensions that are similar to those of some of America's best-selling compact crossover SUVs. For instance, the X1 is within 2 inches in length and nearly the same width as the CR-V. But it's the much lower height — some 4 inches shorter than the CR-V — that helps differentiate the X1.
The test X1 seemed to meld the concept of station wagon and SUV successfully, while other crossover SUVs take a higher stance and a more SUV orientation.
Still, front seat riders, in particular, have decent views out the front of the X1, and headroom of 41.3 inches is accommodating. In the back seat, headroom is cut to 39.7 inches, and back seat passengers can feel cramped with three adults sitting closely, but two adults back there do fine.
The test X1 had a lot of hard plastic inside. Even with textures put into the plastic, the vehicle inside didn't exude the same kind of pricey look that the exterior, with big BMW badges, did.
But the 2-liter, double overhead cam, turbo four cylinder provided plenty of good power. The X1 tester moved quickly to pass other vehicles on highways, and it efficiently zipped into open spots in traffic.
The engine delivers a healthy 260 foot-pounds of torque starting at a low 1,250 rpm and continuing to 4,800 rpm, so the X1 always felt responsive.
That is, unless the auto stop/start had engaged. Sitting at a stoplight in silence, conserving gasoline, was fine. But every time the driver took the foot off the brake to get going again, the test car shuddered and sort of rumbled to life.
This was not the kind of refined stop/start mechanism that's in some gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles.
In addition, there were more than a few times — particularly with air conditioning going — that the stop/start didn't engage, so a driver can't count on this to get every bit of mileage savings.
Indeed, in combined city and highway travel, the test X1 averaged just under 23 mpg, which is barely above the federal government's mileage rating for city travel only. Worse, the X1 uses premium gasoline, so filling the 16.6-gallon tank can cost more than $60, and it may not last much beyond 375 miles.
The test X1 had optional sport suspension and optional 18-inch, run-flat rear performance tires, so passengers felt every manhole cover, road crease and expansion crack. It wasn't a punishing ride, just one that gives everyone a decent feel of road surfaces.
The taut ride was appreciated, though, in mountain twisties and during an emergency maneuver, when the X1 maintained its poise and control admirably.
Steering is on the heavy side in the X1, which some drivers may not like.
Front and back seats are shaped for support and are comfortable. Rear seatbacks split 40/20/40 and go down flat to expand the cargo space from 14.7 cubic feet to more than 47 cubic feet.