For its latest entry, the 2013 BMW X1, the German automaker is reviving the ancient formula of “big engine + little vehicle = marketing pay dirt” that gave birth to the muscle car back when Pontiac put a Bonnevile 389 into a Tempest. BMW isn’t shoehorning a V-8 into a compact SUV, but the X1 is getting a 300-hp/300-lb-ft turbo-six in addition to the base turbo-four.

The 1 Series-based newcomer -- codenamed E84 for nomenclature nuts -- is roughly Jeep Compass/Kia Sportage/VW Tiguan-sized, but with some 5 inches more wheelbase (108.7 -- check that dash-to-axle ratio), slightly more ground clearance (7 inches), and a roofline that's 5 or 6 inches lower than almost any other CUV. BMW is following Range Rover's Evoque (7-inches wider and $10K dearer) into this less-for-more party. Audi's Q3, Porsche's upcoming Macan, the even smaller Buick Encore, and myriad others are expected shortly, with the segment projected to grow by some 35 percent per year. To lure fashionable young folks, the entry-level X1 gets the 2.0-liter turbo N20 engine, rear-wheel sDrive, and the lowest sticker price available on any BMW: $31,545. All-wheel xDrive adds $1700 and the xDrive-only monster motor adds another $6100.

With 275,000 sold already (they're now built in China as well as Leipzig, Germany), we're getting the Life Cycle Impulse (mid-cycle refresh) version, which brings styling tweaks, EfficientDynamics tech like smart-charging and auto stop/start, plus an Eco Pro setting. It coaxes more efficiency out of the car by trimming climate control energy and coaching thriftier driving skills. Two $1900 interior/exterior trim packages are also offered: xLine and Sport Line, each with unique grille inserts, dash accents, wheels, and more. Standard equipment includes iDrive, rain-sensing wipers, and a 180-watt, eight-speaker stereo with HD radio, USB and aux inputs, and a level of bass response and sound imaging that makes the $875 harman/kardon option seem unnecessary. The BMW Apps function allows iPhoners to play Pandora radio, and display Facebook and Twitter messages on the iDrive screen. Naturally there's an M Sport Package of suspension starch, performance programming, and trim items ($2500), and an array of technology and luxury packages. Add everything to an X1 xDrive 35i and you'll ring up $52,890.

As for versatility, the cargo hold features rubber tie-down floor straps, tie-down hooks, an elastic strap, and a 40/20/40-percent split-folding rear seatback that also reclines to 31 degrees for comfort, or to 1 degree bolt upright to increase the seats-up cargo space by about 2 cubic feet. (Official SAE dimensions are not yet available, but Euro specs are 14.8 and 47.7 cubic feet.)

So how does the X1 drive? The xDrive 35i does seem to accelerate like one of those dangerous over-engined sleds from the '60s, but without the danger. Funny thing is, eight-speed gearing and probably 300 pounds less weight make up for a good bit of the sDrive 28i's 60-hp/45-lb-ft output deficit, making the acceleration lag feel like a whole lot less than the one second claimed by BMW (5.3 vs. 6.2). Our rear-driver also benefited from the M Sport package, and so felt perhaps a bit better buttoned-down, but still eager to understeer at the limit, and those limits were less clearly enunciated through the helm of the sDrive 28i, because that's the only model to which electric power steering can be fitted. The all-wheel-drive system crowds the electric motor, so all X1 xDrive models get BMW's sublime hydraulic-assist steering -- an endangered species to be protected and fostered. The six sounds sublime and has no detectable boost lag, but its aging six-speed is slower to shift and less engaging than the rapid-fire ZF eight-speed, which keeps the little N20 humming near its sweet spot. That's why we're guessing the slightly heavier xDrive28i might actually be the X1 to lust after. Couple xDrive with the M Sport package, and it gets a special performance programming algorithm that sends 80 percent of the torque to the rear during cornering, with a bit of braking to the inside wheel shunting torque outward to help rotate the car and ward off the understeer we felt in the rear-driver.

Both models of the X1 we tested hugged Germany's pristine Gorilla Glass-smooth roads with admirable body-motion control, but the non M-Sport all-season Pirelli P7 Cinturatos wailed like an eliminated "American Idol" contestant -- most unbecoming of an Ultimate Driving Machine. Because we were in Germany and we could, we ran the M Sport version with the high-speed tires up to its 149-mph limit and found it a bit light and wandery as perhaps too much air was crowding in under that 7-inch ground clearance.

When you see the X1 around other crossovers and SUVs, its significantly lower roofline makes it hard to imagine it as any sort of off-roader, although its superior ground clearance means it might get farther away from help than its subcompact cute-ute brethren before it gets stuck. Of course, if we can all agree nobody's going off-road, maybe the burning question facing would-be Bimmer owners in the showroom is "X1 or 328i Sports Wagon?" The Wangers musclecar fans will have to go for the 35i's 13 lb/hp setup. The auto journalist will always opt for the low-cg wagon. Probably the young BMW aspirant will be delighted with the $31,545 X1.


2013 BMW X1
BASE PRICE $31,545-$39,345
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, RWD/AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 2.0L/241-hp/255-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4; 3.0L/300-hp/300-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 24-valve I-6
TRANSMISSION 6-speed auto, 8-speed auto
CURB WEIGHT 3550-3900 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 108.7 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 176.5 x 70.8 x 60.8 in
0-60 MPH 5.3-6.3 sec (mfr est)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 18-24 / 27-33 mpg (est)
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 140-187 / 102-125 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.71-0.92 lb/mile (est)
ON SALE IN U.S. August 2012