Rejecting the more commonplace "Sports Utility Vehicle" term, BMW has always referred to the X3 and X5 as "Sports Activity Vehicles." It's an interesting distinction, reinforcing an image of BMW owners as energetic people with on-the-go lifestyles. However, while the X3 and X5 are perfectly good vehicles, they really don't stand out from the SUV competition well enough to justify their own category. For the SAV acronym to stick, we're going to need something much closer in spirit to wonderful sports sedans; descriptions such as nimble, quick, fast and agile come to my mind.
In other words, something like the new X1.
If there's ever going to be a "true" Sports Activity Vehicle segment, the newest BMW is the benchmark. Slotting in between the 3 Series sedan (on which it's based) and the bigger X3, the X1 combines the sedan's size and handling with the SUV's practicality and personality. Unlike the 3 Series Touring wagon, the X1 comes across as a fun-loving and fun-to-drive car, rather than a family mover. And unlike the larger X3, the X1 feels much more like a sports sedan than an SUV-it's a vehicle that wants to be driven. As a result, Canadians have been quick to get onboard with the X1, which has sold well thus far.
The X1's strong start is very important, because the competition is heating up. Technically, Infiniti was here first with the EX35, and Lexus is busily prepping the upcoming CX300h, a compact hybrid crossover. However, the biggest threat will likely come from Audi with the similarly themed Q3. Audi's entry might not drive as well as the X1 though, because the BMW X1's performance is seriously impressive already and Audi's model is not yet confirmed for Canadian market.
Looking at the bigger picture, there's a noticeable shift that echoes the movement from large sedans to mid-size and compact sedans roughly two decades ago. After years of larger and larger SUVs, consumers are once again realizing that we can get by with vehicles that are smaller and more fuel efficient-even better if those same vehicles are a blast to drive.
You can expect the X1 to be at the head of the fledgling SAV market next year, in the same way that the 3 Series continues to be the standard against which all other sports sedans are measured.
Design-Shorter than the X3 in both height and length, the X1's design is closely patterned after the larger SUV, but with a longer hood that's more in line with the 3 Series sedan. From some angles, however, the proportions are slightly off-that's particularly the case from the side, where the hood just seems a bit too long for the rest of the body.
The front-end styling is pleasing to the eye, thanks to a bold grille and the unusual placement of the fog lamps midway up the fascia to create what BMW calls a "three-eyed" look. The strong design continues around to the excellent rear hatch and vibrant LED tail lights.
Inside, the X1 is simple and utilitarian. It's not fancy by any means, but it does have that teutonic feel that expresses simplicity and business-like confidence that is classic BMW. This is no real surprise, as BMW has always favoured function over form, but it wouldn't hurt to balance the scales a bit more towards luxury.
The build quality is excellent, and the overall comfort level of the seats-front and back-are great in terms of providing supportive and sporty feel.
Performance-A turbocharged 2.0L inline-four is the only initial engine choice in Canada, producing 241-hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. It's a superb engine, with exceptional lowend torque that peaks at 1,250rpm, and comes with a slick, eight-speed automatic transmission.
BMW's xDrive all-wheel-drive system is standard, pushing 60 per cent of power to the rear wheels in normal conditions, and combining with the impressive suspension and near 50: 50 weight distribution to give the X1 amazing balance and agility.
It's a high compliment to say that the X1 feels like a 3 Series sedan, but it's not at all far-fetched. The slightly heavy steering is particularly noteworthy, providing considerable road feedback and direct control that make the X1 feel like the compact and nimble vehicle it's meant to be. In comparison to other cars in the small SUV category, the X1 drives with much more confidence and road feel.
For me personally, driving the X1 was so much fun that I could not imagine driving any other SUVs in this segment that will provide more fun factor.
Environment-The front seat area provides plenty of space, while it can be a bit tight at the back. Overall, the interior feels reasonably spacious and the optional panorama sunroof brings plenty of sun into the cabin.
Storage space is understandably limited up front. A small glovebox and centre console are offset by large door pockets, and X1s not equipped with navigation systems gain another bin where the screen would go. Cupholders are an annoyance, however, as BMW could only find space for one between the front seats-the second cupholder is a bit of an afterthought as it is installed onto the centre console with an attachment that sticks out of the dash area.
Buttons and switches are mostly where they need to be, and the controls are within reach.
In the back, BMW has made excellent use of the available space, maximizing the cargo area and creating a large, flat floor when the rear seats are folded. The seats split 40/20/40 for versatility, and also recline for added passenger comfort.
Features-The X1 is available in a single trim, the xDrive281, and sells for $38,500.
Standard equipment on the X1 includes ABS, automatic climate control, cruise control, heated front seats, CD/USB stereo with two subwoofers, and many other equipment. Additional features available separately include a keyless proximity entry system, power seats with driver memory, surround-sound system, and backup sensors. BMW also offers six option packages with features.
They include smartphone integration, adaptive headlamps, navigation, heated steering wheel, panorama sunroof, sport seats, and exterior accents. Fuel efficiency is rated at 10.2L/100km in the city and 6.5L/100km on the highway.
Thumbs up-Fun-loving personality; great exterior design; fantastic handling; thoughtful cargo area.
Thumbs down-Budget-conscious interior; subpar cupholders.
The bottom line-A true sports sedan in a SUV clothing.
. Acura RDX-$40,490 is the price for the RDX, which features a turbocharged 2.3L inline-four putting out 240-hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, a five-speed automatic, and Acura's exceptional Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive system What it lacks in pedigree the RDX makes up for with nimble handling and exceptional confidence in all manner of weather conditions.
. Audi Q3-Audi followers are anticipating the Q3 crossover, a compact and coupe-like SUV that will compete directly with the X1 when it arrives in the (hopefully) near future. If you can't wait for the Q3, there's always the excellent, larger Q5 powered by a turbocharged 2.0L inline-four producing 211-hp and 258 lb-ft of torque.
. Infiniti EX35-$39,900 is the starting price for the EX35 crossover, equipped with a 3.5L V6 generating 297-hp and 253 lb-ft of torque, a seven-speed automatic, and all-wheel drive.Like the X1, the EX35 slots in between Infiniti's G sedan and FX SUV in size, price, and capabilities, serving as an excellent alternative for consumers who can't decide whether they want a sports sedan or a more-functional SUV.