Malicious tongues claim that the X1's psychedelic-swirl paint job marks the ultimate expression of Chris Bangle's flame- surface design philosophy, but this is not the case. The wild circles printed on thick adhesive foil do a better job of disguising a car's contours than the matte-black cladding used in the past. It was required attire for the preproduction prototype X1 that we drove.
Dimensionally, the X1 is really more of an X2, so expect the next X3 (due in 2011) to grow a full size. The X1 breaks new ground in terms of proportions: it's based on the current 3-series, but it's taller than the wagon, not as long as the sedan, wider than the coupe, and offers more interior room than any of them. Thanks to the wider doors, entry and egress is pleasantly painless. A relatively small cargo hold is remedied by folding rear seats, and a power-operated tailgate will be optional.
Our test car, an X1 xDrive28i, had the familiar 3.0-liter in-line six and six-speed automatic. Dynamically, it exceeded our expectations by about 100 percent, with tenacious roadholding and chuckable handling. It's so much fun to drive that the DMV should consider slapping some sort of entertainment tax on it.
The X1's revised, rear-biased xDrive four-wheel-drive system has been recalibrated to help the X1 handle with the same verve, finesse, and ambition as a compact sport coupe. The DTC switch should be bright red and marked PLAY: turn off the stability control, and the X1 becomes a master of grip and drift, poise and pose, balance and breakaway. Try the same hooliganism in an X3, and you'll find yourself in the ditch, guaranteed.
There will be no M version, but the X1 isn't slow: according to BMW, 62 mph comes in 6.7 seconds, top speed is limited to 150 mph, and the efficient six returned 28 mpg in the European combined cycle. Although it closely matches the footprint of a 3-series wagon, the X1 will be far less expensive.
ALL-IN-ONE FUN: The X1 is a remarkably successful interpretation of the crossover theme in that it blends SUV virtues-elevated seating position and extra ground clearance-with wagon assets such as carlike fuel economy and inspired handling. This BMW offers better packaging than an all-wheel-drive 3-series, and it's even more fun to drive. Unfortunately, the styling is an acquired taste. Maybe that psychedelic skin wasn't such a bad idea after all.
Price: $32,000 (est.)
Engine: 3.0L I-6, 260 hp, 225 lb-ft