BMW X1 combines size and a sporty handle

The 2013 BMW X1 has 98 cubic feet The 2013 BMW X1 has 98 cubic feet of passenger room and 25 cubic feet of cargo space behind the back seat. Photo Credit: BMW / Scripps Howard News Service

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The 2013 BMW X1 is all about surprises.

At first blush, it looks like little more than a jacked-up compact hatchback, albeit a stylish and expensive one. That is reinforced by the notion that this is the smallest of BMW's sport utility vehicles.

But it's not so. This supposedly small all-wheel drive vehicle actually delivers more passenger and cargo space than the original midsize BMW X5 in 2000 or the subsequent X3 in 2004. Both have since grown larger.

At 14 feet 9 inches, the X1 is the same length overall as the new Land Rover LR2 and four inches longer than the Hyundai Tucson. But the X1 has 98 cubic feet of passenger room and 25 cubic feet of cargo space behind the backseat. (BMW lists the cargo area at 15 cubic feet, but it counts only to the top of the seat, not up to the roof as competitors do).

In contrast, the LR2 has 100 cubic feet of passenger and 24 cubic feet of cargo space. The Tucson's passenger/cargo numbers are 102/26.

That covers the accommodations. But there are significant differences. The Tucson is an entry-level crossover, where the LR2 tilts toward off-road performance. The X1, like all BMWs, is a high-performance road machine, though it has some off-road capabilities.

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You figure that out the first time you sit behind the X1's wheel. The ride is buckboard hard, mainly because the suspension system is tuned for sporty handling, which the tested X1 had in abundance with its optional M Sport Line option. Despite the hard ride, the wheels manage to maintain contact with the road, even on choppy road surfaces.

Power on the tested xDrive28i starts with the turbocharged 240-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine -- the same as that on the new BMW 328i sedan. It makes its way to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission. No manual gearbox is available.

BMW designed the turbo engine to maintain power and performance with better fuel economy. With two fewer cylinders than the previous in-line six-cylinder, the X1 delivers 22/33/26 mpg of premium gasoline on the EPA's city/highway/combined cycle.

Also enhancing the fuel economy is a stop-start system that shuts down the engine when you bring the X1 to a stop. It restarts when you take your foot off the brake.

Such systems are becoming increasingly common. They work fine on hybrids and other small-displacement engines. But when the engine is more powerful, the annoyance factor cancels out the minimal improvement in fuel economy. On the X1, there's a noticeable shudder when the engine restarts.

Fortunately, the stop-start system can be switched off -- something you'd certainly want to do if you want to get away quickly from a stoplight. With the system on, the restart produces a frustrating hesitation before you move off. With it turned off, the X1 gets a quick jump off the line with no turbo lag. Unfortunately, every time you shut down the engine, the X1 defaults to the stop-start system and you have to switch it off again.

Another minor annoyance is that you have to do some things twice. The X1 has pushbutton starting. When you push the button to stop, the engine shuts down; then you have to push it a second time to turn off the radio. Similarly, with the doors locked, you have to pull the inside handle twice -- first to unlock it, then to open the door.

The eight-speed automatic transmission shifts unobtrusively but it, too, is calibrated to improve fuel economy. As a result, it shifts quickly into the next higher gear if you're accelerating moderately. Sometimes it feels as if it happens too quickly and it immediately downshifts with slight pressure on the gas pedal.

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However, if you get your foot in it, the X1 delivers exciting shoulder-blade-in-the-seatback speed. Car and Driver Magazine rated the zero-to-60 acceleration at about six seconds, with a top speed of 127.

Inside, the tested X1 had five-star accommodations, with so-called Nevada leather upholstery, a panoramic sunroof, voice activation for navigation and other functions, satellite radio, Bluetooth wireless communications with iPod and USB adapters, powered and heated front seats, and auto-dimming mirrors. However, the sun visors do not slide on their support rods to block sunlight from the sides.

The tested X1 had a base price of $33,245. But it was loaded with nearly $13,000 worth of options, resulting in an as-tested price of $45,995.

SPECIFICATIONS

Model: 2013 BMW X1 xDrive28i four-door crossover utility vehicle.

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Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 240 horsepower.

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all wheel drive.

Overall length: 14 feet 9 inches.

EPA passenger/cargo volume: 98/15 cubic feet.

Weight: 3,725 pounds.

EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/33/26 mpg.

Base price, including destination charge: $33,245.

Price as tested: $45,995.

Contact Frank Aukofer at driveways6(at)gmail.com.

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