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2012 BMW X1

The BMW X1 with M Sports package. (02/2011)
The BMW X1 with M Sports package. (02/2011) eb.andriuolo

The agonizingly long wait for BMW’s compact wagon is nearing an end . . . at least we think it’s nearing an end.

The trouble with the X1, as BMW puts it, is that it’s so popular in Europe that the launch here has been delayed — for months now — due to a lack of supply.

Luckily, we managed to get our hands on an X1 well in advance of the launch, which is later this year, to give you some answers as to what all the fuss is about.

While a close inspection and a test drive reveals a lot about the vehicle, the reason for popularity actually requires nothing more than to understand that the X1 is now the least-expensive BMW wagon in the line at about $35,000, slotted below the $40,000 X3. It just got a lot cheaper to own an all-wheel-drive BMW.

It doesn’t really look less expensive, though. In fact, the X1 looks a lot like the X3. A side-by-side inspection is really needed to reveal the X1’s more car-like profile in addition to a slightly more elongated nose.

The tape measure also confirms that the X1 is shorter and narrower overall by about eight inches and three inches, respectively. It’s also two inches shorter between the front and rear wheels. According to a BMW spokesman, the X1 actually shares its platform with the new Mini Countryman wagon, although that model is a further six inches shorter between the wheels than the Bimmer.

As far as cargo capacity is concerned, the X3 offers nearly double the area of the X1 with the rear seats up and close to 20 percent additional room when the second-row 40:20:20 split bench is folded flat.

The X1 doesn’t come up short in interior accommodations, however. The front seats feel wonderfully supportive, as they do in nearly all of BMW’s products, while rear-seat leg and knee room will only be a problem for passengers in the six-foot-plus range.

Also exemplary is the dashboard and controls that exude more than a modicum of good taste. The up-level interior package with its wood and soft leather trim is absolutely top-notch in design and execution.

Where the X1 makes a really radical departure from the X3 is under the hood. The sole powerplant is an all-new 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that puts out a very respectable 241 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. That’s a single horsepower more than the X3’s base non-turbo 3.0-liter inline six, but crushes that engine’s torque rating of 221 pound-feet.

The turbocharger installed on the X1 has been specifically engineered to reduce any delay in throttle reaction (called turbo lag), a problem that typical plagues turbocharged vehicles.

The X1 is also 400 pounds lighter than the X3, which is good news both in terms of performance and fuel economy. BMW claims that a zero-to-60 mph sprint takes a bit less than six seconds with the six-speed manual transmission, or in the 6.3-second range when equipped with the optional eight-speed automatic. Fuel-economy numbers have yet to be announced, but based on the Euro-spec models, 25/30 mpg (city/highway) highway using either transmission seems probable.

Regardless of transmission, all X1s come with BMW’s patented xDrive permanent all-wheel-drive setup. The system splits the torque equally between the front and rear wheels under normal driving conditions, but when necessary can shift 100 percent of the torque to whichever axle is driving the tires with grip. As well, xDrive will automatically direct added power to the outside rear wheel when turning to reduce understeer, which is a vehicle’s tendency to continue in straight line when the front wheels are turned.

To keep the starting price in mid-$30,000 territory, base X1s will be on the stark side, devoid of leather seats, fancy interior/exterior trim and a number mechanical/safety features. On the extra-cost sheet is a panoramic glass roof, bigger wheels, heated leather seats, up-level audio/navigation system and a sport steering wheel with paddle shifters for automatic-transmission models. Also offered is an aero body kit that’s part of the M sports package.

Keep piling it on and you’ll soon find yourself in X3 territory, but for buyers on a budget who are dead set on a BMW wagon, their wait is coming to end . . . at least we think it’s coming to an end.