How much has BMW changed in the past decade? Consider this: In the U.S. market the brand's least-expensive vehicle is not a sports sedan or a coupe; it's a compact crossover SUV.
The 2013 X1 sDrive28i shares its looks with its larger truck siblings, the X3 and X5, but the X1 is closer to a tall wagon than a true truck. Park it next to the X3 and you'll see that the X1 is almost 5 inches lower and 6.5 inches shorter.
But compared to the 128i, the brand's athletic but cramped entry-level coupe, the X1 is positively huge. There's ample room for two adults up front. Rear-seat legroom is adequate if front-row passengers pull their seats forward a bit. Cargo room is impressive, at 25 cubic feet. Given the X1's compact length, there's more than enough room for the vehicle's target audience: young, upwardly mobile types or empty-nesters.
The base model is the rear-wheel-drive sDrive28i. This is the one you'll see advertised next to a $30,800 base price. If you want all-wheel drive, then you'll have to step up to the xDrive28i. Both vehicles are powered by a 240-horsepower, twin-turbocharged four-cylinder engine mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. BMW says that 0-60 mph takes 6.3 seconds.
The X1's luxury features are mostly optional. The $6,000 Ultimate Package adds the biggest dollop of lavishness with keyless entry, universal garage door opener, auto-dimming mirrors, power front seats, navigation system, iPod and USB adapter and voice command capability. Other options include heated front seats, satellite radio and BMW Apps, among others.
The xDrive28i's four-cylinder engine does an impressive job juggling the conflicting demands of power and fuel economy. There's more than enough power for the parkway grand prix, yet it doesn't take a toll when it's time to fill up the tank.
Some of the credit should go to the X1's stop/start function, which shuts the engine off when the vehicle comes to a stop sign or stop light. It restarts instantly when the driver lifts her foot off the brake. Unlike similar systems from competitors such as Honda and General Motors, which are so smooth that you don't even know that it's happening, BMW's unrefined system makes itself known. The X1 shudders noticeably every time the engine shuts down and restarts. Thankfully, it can be shut off.
The X1's handling, as expected, is athletic and inviting. Its steering actually feels as if it's connected to the road, making this wagon fun to drive.
And, in that regard, it is a true BMW, even if its look and mission suggest otherwise.
2013 BMW X1 XDRIVE28I
Base price: $30,800
Price as tested: $45,995
Engine: Twin turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder
Power: 240 horsepower
0 to 60 mph: 6.3 seconds
Wheelbase: 108.7 inches
Length: 176.5 inches
Weight: 3,726 pounds
Cargo space: 25-47.7 cubic feet
EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 22/33 mpg
Bottom line: Small but stylish