BMW has been spectacular in its reinvention during the past decade. It moved away from traditional volume-selling models, often becoming the first European luxury-car maker to enter important new market niches-much to the chagrin of Audi and Mercedes-Benz, which have attempted to follow its lead.
But if you thought BMW had every luxury niche covered, think again. With the arrival of the X1, it has become the first European luxury-car maker to male a compact SUV, setting up a likely sales battle againts class favorites such as the Toyota RAV4, the Honda CR-V and, from the Europe perspective, the Volkswagen Tiguan and the Ford Kuga.
Slotting beneath the X3--whic will grow in size, performance, features and price when a U.S-built, second-generation model arrives next year--the X1 represent another part of BMW's plan to achieve more than 2 million sales annually by 2020. It isn't set to reach North American Showrooms until mid-2011, 18 months after it goes on sale in Europe but ahead of the planned arrival of rivals such as the upcoming Audi Q3, Range Rover LRX and Marcedes BLK.
The exterior shape of the X1 was first revealed on lightly veiled concept at the 2008 Paris motor show. The new four-door follows the BMW trend toward taut surfacing, edgy detailing and provocative shutline architecture. The smallest of BMW's X-cars is slightly shorter and narrower but taller than the 3-series Touring, the wagon version of BMW's most popular model, with which the X1 shares its 108.7-inch wheelbase and much of its mechanical hardware, engines included.
The X1's interior doesn't break new ground. It's similiar to the 1-series in the apperance of the dashboard, instruments, switcgear and various trims. Large sections of soft-touch plastic are placed higher up. But the overall feel is cheapened by the dark, hard plastic below the line of sight, notably within the center console.
The driver sits slightly higher than in the 1-series, behind a thick-rimmed steering wheel. Forward vision over the contoured hood is excellent, but the kick-up in the rear side window and the heavily angled taigate limit rear vision. BMW offers a rear-mounted camera as part of the optional satellite navigation and entertainment system.
The X1 has reasonable space, but with its longitudinally mounted engine, it can't compete with rivals whose transverse engines allow for more interior space. In headroom, shoulder room and legroom, the X1 is on par with the 3-series (the X1 has more headroom). The rear seatbacks adjust in angle and are split 40/20/40/, letting you fold the middle space for two adults in back. But the trunk is small by class standards.
For our first drive of the X1 around Leipzig, Germany, BMW provided a single model, the xDrive 20d. It might not hold great relevance to the North American market, which is expected to get a combination of four-and six-cylinder gasoline -powered models.
But with a 2.0-liter, common-rail diesel four-cylinder providing 177 hp 258 lb-ft of torque and standard four-wheel drive, it is easy to see why the model is expected to account for the majority of X1 sales across Europe.