First Drive: BMW X1 xDrive28i

#BMW, #X1

The next-generation 3-series, due in 2012, won't be sold as a wagon in the United States. Surprising? Probably not. The writing was on the wall when BMW decided not to import the 2011 BMW 5-series wagon. Upsetting? Unlikely. Just 1700 people bought 3-series wagons last year. So why should you care? As the crossover shrinks smaller and smaller in size, it gets closer and closer to becoming a wagon. And BMW's new X1 is the smallest luxury crossover yet.

Downsizing is nothing new for mainstream automakers, which have been pumping out subcompacts for several years now, but the X1 presages a coming tide of smaller luxury vehicles, both cars and crossovers. Audi has an X1 rival in the upcoming Q3 and Mercedes-Benz is readying a car smaller than the C-class. To our eye, the X1 would only need to sit an inch lower on its springs and struts to qualify as a wagon. It is more compact -- in width and length -- than the 3-series wagon, but it's much closer in size to that car than the larger X3 crossover is.

Downsizing the engine
The X1 doesn't just speak to the future of the 3-series wagon, it is also a harbinger for BMW's powertrain future. Under the hood, there's the new 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that's set to replace the normally aspirated six-cylinder in use throughout the BMW lineup. Eventually, it will show up in the 1-series, 3-series, 5-series, X3, and Z4.

Compared to the outgoing inline-six, the new four-cylinder is both more powerful and torquier, using direct injection, Valvetronic variable valve lift, and a twin-scroll turbocharger. Output is rated at 240 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, versus 230 hp and 200 lb-ft in the outgoing six-cylinder. BMW pedants will dock the new engine for being neither as smooth nor as sonorous as the outgoing inline six, but it pulls harder and should deliver better fuel economy. The eight-speed automatic transmission found in the 5-series and elsewhere will be the popular choice for our market, but our test car was equipped with a six-speed manual, which also will be available to U.S. buyers. It is marked by the usual BMW precise action, nice effort, and longish throws. BMW claims a zero-to-62 mph time of 6.1 seconds with a six-speed manual, and while the company isn't talking about fuel economy numbers, we expect the X1 with an eight-speed automatic to return about 22 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway.

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I remember an auto magazine dismissing the Infiniti EX as a thinly disguised wagon or (gasp!) hatchback when it was introduced. It seems that Infiniti was leading the pack with the EX.
One question comes to mind: how well will the X1 sell if it is smaller than a 3-Series wagon? Presumably, people choose an X3 or an X5 over a 3-Series wagon because a the wagon was much smaller than the crossover. That's the point of a crossover, even a relatively small one like the CRV. You can cram more stuff into it than you can cram into a sedan or a wagon. In that regard, the X1 and similar crossovers do not make any sense, especially if they cost over $35,000. You can get a full-sized crossover for that kind of money.

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