A small but vocal contingent of sport wagon enthusiasts have clamored for years to have more wagons sold in the U.S., but manufacturers haven't been able to justify the cost in the face of relatively low sales. Like several other automakers lately, BMW believes it has created a clever workaround in the form of a compact crossover called the BMW X1.

Once you wagon enthusiasts are done scoffing, keep reading. No, the 2011 BMW X1 is not a 3 Series wagon, but it is built on the 3 Series platform. More than that, it's co-opted the AWD drivetrain from the 3 Series xDrive in an effort to give it more overall capability than a plain old wagon.

When the the U.S. market X1 finally arrives in early 2011, there will be only one powertrain to start: BMW's hallmark 3.0-liter inline six, naturally aspirated in this case and producing 258 hp and 228 lb-ft of torque on premium unleaded. With a curb weight of about 3700 lbs, it's no lightweight, but BMW says it'll still pull off a 0-to-60 sprint in 6.8 sec and hit a limited top speed of 127 mph, or 143 mph with an optional high-speed setup. On the European cycle, it'll even get up to 32 mpg highway, though it takes a big hit in the city and only returns 18 mpg. It'll also tow up to 4400 lbs.

All that hauling power hits the ground through BMW's six-speed automatic transmission, which mounts paddles on the steering wheel and a manual shifting gate on the gear selector for those looking for a little extra thrill. From there, the power is routed either through the rear wheels or BMW's xDrive AWD system, which features a 40% front, 60% rear distribution under normal conditions. Should any of the standard 17-in. or optional 18-in. wheels start slipping, the Performance Control system lifted from the X6 will use individual brake calipers and the differentials to route power to the other wheels.

The X1's suspension is similar in scope to that of the 3 Series and features a double-joint thrust bar up front, while a double-wishbone configuration helps to keep the rear wheels in line. The whole setup offers 7.6 inches of ground clearance, which, by way of comparison, is just a third of an inch less than the larger X3 offers. Braking is handled by single-piston calipers at all four corners clamping 13.7-in. front rotors and 13.2-in. rears.

If you were worried it would drive like an SUV and not a sport wagon, you can put those fears to rest. Going down the road, the European spec X1 xDrive28i we piloted recently in Germany felt very much like any normal 3 Series. The only hint of un-car-like behavior comes from the X1's narrow track and taller roof, which can give it a slightly top-heavy feel in sharp corners. But you get used to it quickly and it never becomes white-knuckle worrisome.

As any BMW should, the X1 has a beefy steering wheel connected to a quick ratio steering rack that requires only minute inputs to put you anywhere on the road. While it displays no dead spot on center, its steering feel doesn't quite seem up to par with its 3 Series cousin, though it's arguably better than just about any other crossover sold stateside. Despite a steady rain on the day of our drive, the X1 was relatively unfazed (thanks in part to the optional sticky winter tires on our tester) and it exhibited excellent road manners overall.

The X1's firm brake pedal stopped the crossover with authority, although its well-calibrated throttle could use a little more pep at tip-in. The six-speed automatic transmission our tester came equipped with was so silky smooth that at anything less than wide open throttle, you likely won't even feel it shift. The standard automatic shift programming is impressive and always seems to know when you want to hold a gear, but if you'd rather take matters into your own hands, a pair of push-pull paddles on the steering wheel delivers quick, crisp shifts at your command.

Impressive sound deadening keeps out most of the road noise but delivers a nice, muffled growl from the engine under strong acceleration. It's just enough to enjoy it without finding it irritating, and that wonderful inline-six pulls right up to redline with a gusto that makes you question its nearly 7-second 0-to-60 time. If BMW continues with its M-ification of it SUVs, an X1 M would no doubt be a lot of fun. On the other end of the spectrum, BMW could also potentially find buyers in the U.S. for the four-cylinder and diesel motors as well. BMW has indicated that it will eventually bring a diesel X1 to the U.S. sometime after launch.

Ok, so with more than 7 inches of ground clearance, it's not really a 3 Series. In fact, the ground clearance, cargo capacity and the height of the vehicle are the only places in which the X1 offers more size than the 3 Series. While the X1 stands some 3 inches taller than the 3 Series, it is roughly 8 inches narrower and 5 inches shorter front to back. It's also several inches smaller than the X3 in all dimensions as well.

That's not really fair, though, because the X1 never feels that small on the inside, unless you're the guy in the middle seat. It's a full five-seater, true enough, but we wouldn't recommend putting an adult in that middle rear seat for more than a quick jaunt. The upside for him or her is that even in the middle he or she will have plenty of headroom, because even with the optional panoramic sunroof, the ceiling of the X1 reaches up so high, you could probably convince Michelangelo to paint a fresco on it.

In fact, that fellow in the middle seat will probably be fine if he's the skinny type. While there's not much room width-wise, a wheelbase of nearly 109 inches leaves plenty of leg room for even long-legged rear seat passengers without forcing the front seat passengers into the dash. Four adults would be quite comfortable on a long journey in the X1, as both the front and rear seats are surprisingly comfortable.

They'll be able to bring some of their gear as well, as the X1 offers a solid 14.2 cu-ft of space with the rear seats up. Lose the rear passengers and cock the seats forward to a nearly vertical cargo position and the space expands to 17.2 cu-ft, almost the size of the cavernous trunk on the new 5 Series. Drop the seats all the way forward and you've got 47.3 cu-ft of space to haul everything you need for a very, very long weekend. Remember that 3 Series wagon mentioned earlier? It offers only 1.5 more cubic-feet of storage with the seats up and less than 2 cubic-feet more with the seats down.

Of course, if you do need to bring a third or fourth passenger, there are other options. The seats split 40/20/40 with the center pass-through offering space for two golf bags (since they won't fit in the back sideways), four pairs of skis or two snowboards. Drop either side seat along with the middle seat to make even more room for gear. For the little stuff, there's even a partitioned space under the cargo floor to keep it all organized.

Up in the front, anyone familiar with BMWs will recognize the dash as belonging to the Bavarian automaker. From the dual-gauge instrument cluster to the second-generation iDrive controller, the dash and center stack are unmistakably BMW. Thanks to the X1's narrowness, all of the controls are within easy reach, helped by the fact that BMW angles all of its center stacks slightly towards the driver. Pushing as many vehicle systems as possible to the iDrive interface keeps the dash clean and uncluttered while maintaining functionality. A single cup holder is augmented by a removable cup holder that fits into a slot near the front passenger's left knee and bottle-friendly cubbies in all four doors.

So where does the X1 fit then? Is it a taller 3 Series Wagon, or a modern incarnation of the original, more compact X3? In reality, it's both. And while it won't offer you the cavernous cargo capacity of a vehicle like the Subaru Outback (our 2010 Motor Trend Sport/Utility of the Year), it will go just as many places with a lot more style, although you'll pay a higher price for it. If you want to look as good as the fun you're having, than the X1 will likely make a fine choice. Too bad you'll have to wait more than a year to choose it here.


2011 BMW X1 xDrive28i
Base price$33,000 (est)
Vehicle layoutFront-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 5-door SUV
Engine Engines3.0L/258-hp/228-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve I-6
Transmissions6-speed automatic
Curb weight3750 lb (mfr)
Wheelbase108.7 in
Length x width x height 175.4 x 70.8 x 60.9 in
0-60 mph 6.8 sec (mfr est)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 20/30 mpg (est)
CO2 emissions 0.88 lb/mile (est)
On sale in U.S. Early 2011
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