BMW X1 brings slice of Europe to the American road

Sometimes my only regret in life is that I’m not Rick Steves. He goes to Europe more often than I do laundry. And the trips are totally wasted on him. Art museums, cathedrals, monuments, pensions, trattorias – OK, sure, but what about all the cool little cars over there, man?

One especially cool little car previously reserved for the European automotive fleet and other places around the world is now available in this country: the compact BMW X1. It looks like an SUV, but BMW calls it a sport activity vehicle or SAV.

Smaller than the current 3-Series sedan, the 2013 BMW X1 has seating for five, with generous legroom, but only for the driver and front passenger. The second row provides generous headroom, but only enough legroom for short-legged people on short trips. A good-sized cargo area behind the second-row seats is easily accessed via a rear hatch that opens nice and high. With rear seats folded, 47.7 cubic feet of cargo space is created.

Three X1 versions are offered, and their names read like super-secure passwords: sDrive28i, xDrive28i, and xDrive35i. The first two are equipped with a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder engine with 240 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, paired with an eight-speed Steptronic automatic transmission. The “s” model has two-wheel drive and the “x” has all-wheel drive. Fuel economy ratings are 24 mpg city, 33 mpg highway for the sDrive28i, and 22/30 for the xDrive28i. If you’re in the market for a compact luxury SUV, I mean SAV, and snow-stability is a big priority for you, take heed: The sDrive28i has rear-wheel drive, so the “x” model would be the better choice for your needs.

Base pricing, including the $895 destination charge, is $31,545 for the sDrive28i and $33,245 for the xDrive28i.

The third version, the xDrive35i, comes only in AWD configuration and is powered by a 3.0-liter turbo inline six-cylinder generating 300 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque. The transmission is a six-speed Steptronic automatic. This model, which is sold only in the North American market, is the one featured in this review. It has an EPA rating of 18 mpg city and 27 mpg highway, and a $39,345 base price with destination charge included.

Driving the xDrive35i is sport activity in itself. Blast-off occurs when accelerating from a stop or when already under way and at highway speed. Zero to 60 mph can be reached in 5.3 seconds. Steering is rugged and its response so quick, not only do both hands need to be on wheel, but a firm grip also kept.

The interior is signature BMW: High-quality materials pieced together with precision, and minimal ornamentation some might describe as maybe too understated. But as Leonardo da Vinci said, simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

A panoramic moonroof is standard on the xDrive35i, further enhancing enjoyment of the passenger cabin.

My tester’s $8,600 worth of optional equipment pushed the car’s total price to within gasping distance of $50,000. It includes an Ultimate Package ($5,000) that incorporates Premium, Technology, and Navigation packages. A heated steering wheel, heated front seats, rear-view camera and Park Distance Control were also on the extras list.

Operation of the telematics equipment, including navigation, is easy to figure out – a wildly welcome improvement over BMW’s infamously complicated and confusing systems of yore.

2013 BMW X1 xDrive35i: Base price, including destination charge: $39,495. Price as driven: $48,095.

Mary Lowry is a free-lance automotive writer who has been reviewing cars for more than 20 years. She is a member of the Motor Press Guild and a board member of the Northwest Automotive Press Association. Vehicles are provided by the manufacturers as a one-week loan for review purposes only. In no way do the manufacturers control the content of the reviews.

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