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Motoring: BMW X1 the body of an SUV with the heart of a wagon

Nauman Farooq | Interrobang | Sports | September 26th, 2011

If you have been a fan of the BMW X5, but found it too big or too expensive for your needs, you probably went out and got yourself an X3.

However, when BMW introduced the second-generation model of the X3, it had become almost as big as the old X5.

So, what to do if you want something smaller and sportier? In the past, that would have lead some towards a 3-series wagon, but now you can get your hands on BMW's latest SUV, the X1.

First, let's make one thing clear: you have to use the SUV tag very carefully with the X1, because it certainly is not designed to handle any rough, rocky terrain. Just look at the front bumper: its approach angle would mean that it would get ripped off the very instant you try to climb over anything more challenging than a curb.

So don't think of the X1 as an SUV, think of it as a 3-series wagon with an SUV-ish body, and that is exactly what it is. If you peel away the body, you will find that underneath it is simply a 3-series platform modified to take on the new body. Step inside and you will also find the same amount of space as one would get in a 3-series wagon.

So if BMW already has a 3- series wagon, why did they create the X1? Simple: buyers these days prefer buying something that looks like an SUV rather than a wagon, and that is especially true for the North American market.

So while the X1 is not exactly a new vehicle from a mechanical point of view, it is a new entry in our market. So how is it?

From a styling point of view, I quite like it. It has the rugged good looks of its bigger siblings in a smaller, sleeker package. Especially in its bronze colour, it looks very high-class.

It is the same story when you step inside. The fit and finish is superb and there is enough space for four adults (five would be a squeeze, though). You also get a decently sized trunk, which was more than adequate for a big grocery shopping trip.

The level of equipment you can get is also very decent. My tester had power seats, iDrive, navigation system and a giant panoramic roof.

What you do not get a choice with is the powertrain. What you get is a turbo-charged, 2.0-litre, four-cylinder motor that produces 241 hp and 258 lb/ft of torque. Mated with a smooth eight-speed automatic gearbox, it makes for some pretty rapid progress on the road. Zero to 100 km/h is dealt with in 6.7 seconds, and top speed is electronically governed at 205 km/h. That is faster than anyone ever needs to go on public roads in this country.

It handles well too, not only because it has a wonderful chassis and suspension set-up, but also because of its active all-wheel drive system, which is constantly trying to send the power to the right wheels. This would also make it ideal for handling our winters.

My only complaint in regards to the driving experience has to do with its steering effort. It felt a lot heavier than one would expect from such a vehicle, which makes maneuvering at parking lot speeds a little tougher.

Otherwise, all is well with the X1. With prices starting at $38,500, it is not that expensive to buy, and since I averaged 8.9- litres/100km on fuel economy during my week, it wasn't expensive to run, either.

So if you're in the market for a small SUV-type vehicle that has an upmarket feel to it, you should seriously check out the X1.
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